Municipalities are more responsive to natural disaster plans that focus on a single threat, such as flooding, than they are to comprehensive resiliency strategies like those outlined in a master plan, according to a hazard research team study evaluating how U.S. cities are adapting to the impacts of human-caused climate change.
The study, undertaken by Philip Berke, professor of urban planning at Texas A&M, and Ward Lyles and Kelly Heiman Overstreet, of the urban planning department at the University of Kansas, was published November 2017 in the Journal of Environmental Planning and Management.
"We saw two key strengths of narrower-scoped plans," said Lyles. “First, they made explicit connections to land use, transportation and other related plans cities already have adopted. Second, they typically include more recommendations aimed at steering development out of known hazardous areas into safer areas."
The study results, said Lyles, offer guidance to the many municipalities responding to the effects of climate change in the wake of hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria, by developing new hazard plans.
"Among the huge swath of places in the southeastern U.S getting drilled by hurricanes this year, only four cities had climate adaptation plans," Lyles said. The other “cities are going to ask: ‘What's the best way to start climate change adaptation planning?’"
The study’s findings might seem counterintuitive to municipal planners who believe small hazard planning steps are insufficient to impact the massive challenges presented by climate change.
But Lyles said the study indicates that concentrating in one area sets a clear foundation and builds momentum for future planning efforts.
“Cities that start by tackling the comprehensive range of climate-related impacts may lack the focus needed to robustly address climate change impacts, like flooding and severe storms," he said.