Professional Practice

Smart Policies for a Changing Climate (Adaptation, Mitigation, and Resilient Design)

Climate change is a threat to people and the ecosystem services on which we depend. Extreme weather events are on the rise. Flooding, drought, and wildfires are more frequent and more severe. Higher temperatures are increasing community health risks. The changing climate is causing species dislocation and accelerating the rate of species extinction. Global agricultural systems are increasingly stressed. These early effects are harbingers of the more severe consequences that science tells us we can expect in the future if we do not act.

Even without climate change, standard development patterns and practices are putting our people and our communities at risk. Natural systems that protect shorelines are removed to make way for development. Engineered stormwater systems designed to move water rapidly off buildings and pavements disrupt natural hydrology, contribute to water pollution, and weaken or destroy marine ecosystems. “Pave the planet” development replaces natural vegetation with impervious surfaces, leaving even inland communities outside floodplains prone to flooding. Development patterns emphasizing car travel isolate communities from recreation opportunities and contribute to unhealthy, sedentary lifestyles. Taken together, these practices have made our communities and people more vulnerable and set the stage for significantly greater loss of property and life in the face of inevitable natural disasters.

We can, and must, do better.

In September 2017, the American Society of Landscape Architects convened the interdisciplinary Blue Ribbon Panel on Climate Change and Resilience. The panelists included a diverse range of practitioners, experts, and stakeholder representatives, with experience working at various scales in different geographic and technical areas. The panel was given two tasks: first, to identify the most important design and planning approaches for creating healthy, climate-smart, and resilient communities, and second, to identify specific public policy recommendations to support those approaches. This report summarizes their work and their recommendations. It is a blueprint for securing a sustainable and resilient future.

Core Principles

The Blue Ribbon Panel identified the following core principles that provide a basis for public policies that support resilience.

Policies should be incentive-based wherever feasible
Incentive-based policies invite collaborative and cooperative solutions to climate change impacts and should be employed as a primary approach   Although mandates may be necessary to achieve community-wide benefits, policies that rely on fees, penalties, or mandatory requirements can reduce community acceptance and create opposition  Positive incentives may include direct financial incentives, priority treatment (eg , expedited permitting processes for higher quality development projects), and/or recognition (eg , awards for participating organizations) Policies and incentives should always include intentional, thoughtful, and inclusive community engagement.

Policies should promote holistic planning and provide multiple benefits.
Policies to promote resilience should be developed through holistic, cross department/agency planning that considers broad community quality of  life goals in addition to development and climate-related concerns.
Policies should address environmental justice and racial and social equity issues.
Negative environmental impacts, both current and resulting from new development, are frequently concentrated in specific areas and populations within the community. These same populations typically are less engaged due to barriers to participating in community decision making. Policy design and implementation should include input from and benefit the entire community.

Policies should reflect meaningful community engagement.
Effective community engagement (eg , charrettes, surveys, town halls) is critical for development and implementation of  appropriate and effective resilience strategies and policies. Community members have valuable knowledge of  their own ecological, social, and cultural environment that can inform policy goals and help avoid potential stumbling blocks. Conversely, community engagement that merely “checks the box” can create avoidable controversy
and opposition  Community engagement should address the social and racial equity and environmental justice issues described above

Policies should be regularly evaluated against performance measures and reviewed for unintended consequences.
Policies should include performance measures with clearly defined metrics and benchmark goals. Performance measures should include both quantitative (eg , dollars spent, stormwater
reduced/flooding avoided, air quality, etc ) and broader goals (eg, community attitudes, access to and use of  public space, etc ). Public reporting of  policy outcomes, both intended and unintended, should be transparent and comprehensive.

Policies should address broader regional goals and issues as well as local and site-specific concerns.
To achieve resilience goals, policies must reach across political boundaries and should be developed based on landscape ecology and a blend of  science and planning using a regional, national, and/or global scope.

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