How can smart planning help cities adapt to climate change?

Find out how green infrastructure is helping cities not only benefit environmentally and economically, but also adapt to the the effects of climate change.

Climate change is certainly a taboo subject in today's U.S. political climate. Fortunately, though, cities are adapting to the impacts of climate change while making a smaller environmental impact themselves.

A new report from the Center for Clean Air Policy found that cities that implement best practices in city planning -- specifically with green infrastructure -- can help communities improve air quality and human health, while creating economic prosperity, and a lower demand on energy. And ultimately, make cities more resilient to the effects of climate change.

The report looks at green infrastructure like permeable streets, green roofs, parks, urban forestry, and flood resistant buildings.

While climate change means longer heat waves, urban heat islands, rising sea levels, increased flooding, and droughts, the report finds that cities that are putting green infrastructure initiatives into practice are seeing some major benefits.

  • Portland’s Green Street projects retain and infiltrate about 43 million gallons of water per year.
  • New York City’s 2010 Green Infrastructure Plan estimates that every fully vegetated acre of green infrastructure will lead to $8,522 in reduced energy demand, $166 in reduced CO2 emissions, $1,044 in improved air quality, and $4,725 in increased property value.
  • Since 2006, Philadelphia has dramatically reduced storm runoff and saved approximately $170 million.
  • Chicago values its urban forestry at $2.3 billion with a total carbon sequestration rate of 25,200 tons/year, value of $14.8 million/year.
  • Seattle's King Street Center uses rainwater for toilet flushing and irrigation. The system provides 60% of the annual water needed for toilet flushing, conserving approximately 1.4 million gallons of potable water each year.

"'The Value of Green Infrastructure for Urban Climate Adaptation' is intended as a resource for planners and decision makers at all levels of government," said Steve Winkelman, Director of Adaptation Programs. "The innovative examples we review indicate that green infrastructure investments can provide a cost-effective way to enhance community resilience and prosperity."

Unfortunately, there are plenty of cities that still aren't aware of the benefits of green infrastructure. According to the report:

Many communities either are unaware of the benefits of green infrastructure to begin with or believe it’s more expensive or difficult to implement than traditional grey approaches. Meanwhile, communities that have embraced green infrastructure may not have connected it with adapting to climate change, or if they have, they may not possess the necessary capacity, know-how, or resources to plan and implement solutions.

Because climate change impacts different regions in different ways, the report suggests that local expert in cities are necessary to help local governments understand the resources available to help their individual city adapt to climate change. These experts must also make the case to elected officials that these projects have major benefits to the community. Because they don't just help they environmental, but the city itself.

Ultimately, the net-value of enhanced social, environmental, and economic resilience from green-infrastructure will be at the core of resilient communities in a climate changed future.

Photo: Henryleonghw/Flickr

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