What are natural infrastructure systems ...

... and why should municipalities care about them?
 
The answer to this lies in the word ‘system’. For a municipality, a natural infrastructure system can be thought of as having Assets, Functions and Benefits. Understanding those components – and the interplay between them – tells municipalities why they should care, and directs them to what they can and should do.

ASSETS

Assets are the ‘things’ – tangible, physical features of a landscape. They are deemed to have value, and are available to meet needs. They can be enumerated, mapped, and easily quantified. 

In a financial system, this would be the ‘capital’; in a building, this would be the ‘foundation’; in a municipal system, this would be the ‘infrastructure’ – the entire system is dependent on these, and cannot exist without them.

Natural Assets in your community might include:
  • Wetlands/marshes

  • Trees

  • Escarpments

  • Open spaces

  • Native vegetation

  • Rivers and streams

  • Rivers and streams

  • Riparian areas

  • Coulees

  • Lakes

  • Forests

  • Groundwater aquifers

FUNCTIONS

Functions are the activities that assets naturally perform (or, what the ‘things’ do). These activities take place regardless of human presence; they are the ‘natural’ activities of the assets, taking place and being done as part of the natural cycles that affect the assets (carbon cycling, water cycling, nutrient cycling, etc.).

 

In other words, these actions occur regardless of whether humans derive value from them or not. 

Natural Functions might include:
  • Stormwater storage

  • Water disbursement

  • Water filtration

  • Air cooling

  • Water cooling

  • Moisture retention

  • Erosion control

  • Erosion control

  • Biodiversity maintenance

  • Wildlife habitat and linkage

  • Hydrologic connectivity

BENEFITS

Benefits are the advantages that humans derive as a result of an asset's natural function. This is the human-centric ‘so what?’ – of the all functions performed by all the assets, which ones satisfy specific wants or needs of human communities? 

 

In a financial system, these would be ‘profits’; in a philanthropic system, this is the ‘common good’; in a retail system, these would be ‘goods and services’ – in all cases, the focus is on the beneficial output.

Benefits for your community might include:
  • Flood mitigation

  • Drought mitigation

  • Recreation opportunities

  • Scenic views

  • Water cleansing

  • Heat island mitigation

  • CO2 sequestration

  • Oxygen production

  • Property value increases

  • Air cleansing

  • Stormwater conveyance

  • Wildfire mitigation

  • Spiritual connection / sense of place

  • Water retention