Although the federal and state governments have an integral role when it comes to planning and preparing for the impacts of a changing climate, cities are the ones on the front lines. Municipalities increasingly are grappling with how best to protect people and infrastructure in the face of climate change. Actions at the local level ultimately will determine how our communities and neighborhoods respond to hotter temperatures, changes in precipitation, rising sea levels, water supply challenges, and other climate-related impacts.
Fortunately, many cities around the U.S. have been tackling this issue head on. Major cities like New York and Boston have been among the national leaders on climate change planning—and they are taking steps to move beyond just planning.
- Map of major Boston landmarks and the 100-year flood zone in 2100 under a high emissions scenario (Image credit: Union of Concerned Scientists)
Boston’s coastal location makes it extremely vulnerable to sea level rise. A number of notable landmarks, including Faneuil Hall and Quincy Market, are at risk from flooding due to climate change. Consequently, the city has asked developers to consider these risks in project planning. For example, the new Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital nearing completion in Charlestown has incorporated potential flooding risks into the building’s design. It sits 12 feet higher than sea level, patient rooms are on the higher floors, and critical mechanical and electrical systems are housed on the roof instead of in the basement like traditional buildings.
- The new Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital was designed with sea level rise in mind (Image credit: ImageShack user ledjes)
New York City also faces a variety of climate change risks, ranging from more frequent and intense storms to increased flooding and sea level rise. To ensure that climate change planning remains a long-term fixture of the Big Apple, the New York City Council recently passed legislation making the city’s two climate change panels, the New York City Panel on Climate Change and the New York City Climate Change Adaptation Task Force, permanent. This is an important step towards institutionalizing climate change as a part of routine municipal planning and operations. In addition, the city has taken steps to reduce vulnerability to climate impacts by implementing green infrastructure to reduce stormwater runoff and by flood proofing vulnerable structures. New York also is taking a hard look at a wider range of strategies to address climate change risks, including more extreme heat waves and more intense rain events.
- An enhanced tree pit in Brooklyn absorbs runoff and filters pollutants (Image credit: NYC DEP)
Across the U.S., cities are facing challenges from a changing climate as more extreme events, such as heavy downpours and severe flooding, occur. Cities like Boston and New York are being proactive and taking climate change preparedness to the next level by turning planning into on-the-ground actions. Other cities should take heed and take action.