Smart Policies for a Changing Climate


The American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA) convened a Blue Ribbon Panel on Climate Change and Resilience last fall to offer communities strategies for adapting to global climate change and its impacts on human health and the environment. The panel, composed of leaders from landscape architecture, planning, engineering, architecture, public policy, and community engagement, met September 21-22, 2017, at the ASLA Center for Landscape Architecture in Washington, D.C.


Executive Summary

Climate change is intensifying the negative impacts of standard development practices and putting people and communities at risk. We need a new paradigm for building and enhancing communities that works in tandem with natural systems and considers the needs of all. To meet that goal, ASLA’s interdisciplinary Blue Ribbon Panel on Climate Change and Resilience identified the following core principles, key planning and design strategies, and public policies that will promote healthy, climate-smart, and resilient communities.

Core Principles

  • Policies should be incentive-based wherever feasible.
  • Policies should promote holistic planning and provide multiple benefits.
  • Policies should address environmental justice and racial and social equity issues.
  • Policies should reflect meaningful community engagement.
  • Policies should be regularly evaluated against performance measures and reviewed for unintended consequences.
  • Policies should address broader regional goals and issues as well as local and site-specific concerns.

Natural Systems

Designing and planning in concert with natural systems promotes resilience, capitalizes on the multiple benefits provided by natural systems, and provides greater long-term return on investment than conventional development. Design and planning solutions must also address biohabitat to ensure plant and animal communities remain resilient in the face of climate impacts.

Solutions and Recommendations Summary

  • Provide dedicated funding for green stormwater infrastructureii.
  • Require new development to retain stormwater on site.
  • Incentivize planting of locally/regionally appropriate and biodiversity-supporting vegetation; require planting of pollinator-friendly vegetation on public lands.
  • Protect and enhance natural vegetative buffers, including wetlands and water’s edge plantings, along coastlines and inland waterways.
  • Prioritize retention and expansion of green space; address inequities in access to open space and recreation.
  • Adopt a national urban and suburban tree planting strategy to preserve and expand tree canopy.
  • Promote or require water conservation and water reuse technologies.
  • Adopt a national water strategy to protect critical water sources.
  • Incentivize healthy soil management practices.
  • Preserve wildlands.
  • Assess climate change risks to biodiversity and promote greenways and biocorridors for plant and animal migration.

Community Development

Compact, walkable, transit-oriented development reduces energy use. When designed in concert with natural systems, these “smart growth” communities are also resilient and climate smart.

Solutions and Recommendations Summary

  • Require transit-oriented development using green infrastructure and complete streetsiii principles and integrating clean energy and energy efficiency.
  • Reuse/redevelop brownfieldsiv and grayfieldsv, including for open space.
  • Require environmental justice analysis and view transit policy through an equity lens.
  • Develop municipal and regional climate resilience plans and require climate change analysis of existing laws and regulations.
  • Restructure insurance programs to encourage resilient rebuilding.
  • Create community investment trusts to fund green infrastructure and resilience projects, including clean energy projects.
  • Assess and address public health impacts of climate change.
  • Require walkable open space within a quarter mile radius of all residential development.

Vulnerable Communities

Special attention must be paid to communities that are at special risk from the effects of climate change. These include communities located in coastal and inland floodplains as well as underserved and low-income communities.

Solutions and Recommendations Summary

  • Assess and address climate impacts on vulnerable communities.
  • Focus on environmental justice and equitable access to transportation, housing, jobs, and recreation and open space.
  • Develop relocation, retreat, and/or evacuation plans.
  • Limit or prohibit building in floodplains to protect life, property, and floodplain function.
  • Update Federal Emergency Management Agency flood maps and include projections of climate change impacts.
  • Limit or prohibit building in fire-prone rural areas.
  • Promote mixed-income housing and mixed-use development that provides easy access to essential services.
  • Establish/increase low-income housing and new market tax credits.


Transportation must be considered through multiple lenses: as critical connectivity from homes to jobs, amenities, and essential services; as a major source of greenhouse gas emissions; and as a contributor to or detractor from a community’s appearance and function. Planned and designed thoughtfully, transportation systems can promote resilience.

Solutions and Recommendations Summary

  • Require transit-oriented development, including affordable housing, with multimodal green and Complete Streets.
  • Provide equitable access to transportation options, including safe, connected pedestrian, bicycle, and transit routes.
  • Anticipate, plan, and provide infrastructure to support electric vehicles and new transportation methods and technologies.
  • Apply technologies and design strategies to achieve net-zero-carbon streets.
  • Promote regional transportation planning and development.


At the same time that farmland is being lost to expanding development and sprawl, agricultural systems are being stressed by the effects of climate change and unsustainable farming practices. Current and future impacts on food production and security, including equitable access to healthy food options, must be addressed.

Solutions and Recommendations Summary

  • Preserve farmland and support local food production.
  • Incentivize urban and suburban agriculture.
  • Incentivize conservation agriculture that builds healthy soil, increases food’s nutritional value, and sequesters carbon.
  • Encourage location of affordable healthy food sources/options in underserved areas.


i. “Resilience is a capability to anticipate, prepare for, respond to, and recover from significant multi-hazard threats with minimum damage to social well-being, the economy, and the environment.” Source: www.globalchange.gov/climate-change/glossary

ii. “Green infrastructure is a cost-effective, resilient approach to managing wet weather impacts that provides many community benefits. While single-purpose gray stormwater infrastructure—conventional piped drainage and water treatment systems—is designed to move urban stormwater away from the built environment, green infrastructure reduces and treats stormwater at its source while delivering environmental, social, and economic benefits.“ Source: www.epa.gov/green-infrastructure/what-green-infrastructure

iii. “Complete Streets are streets for everyone. They are designed and operated to enable safe access for all users, including pedestrians, bicyclists, motorists and transit riders of all ages and abilities. Complete Streets make it easy to cross the street, walk to shops, and bicycle to work. They allow buses to run on time and make it safe for people to walk to and from train stations.” Source: smartgrowthamerica.org/program/national-complete-streets-coalition/what-are-complete-streets/

iv. “A brownfield is a property, the expansion, redevelopment, or reuse of which may be complicated by the presence or potential presence of a hazardous substance, pollutant, or contaminant.” Source: www.epa.gov/brownfields/overview-brownfields-program.

v. A grayfield is a previously developed site.



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