Equitable Adaptation Legal & Policy Toolkit


Creating Environmental Benefits Through Community Engagement

The following resources and case studies provide examples of practitioners using community engagement processes to implement climate adaptation solutions that create environmental benefits for the community.

Lessons Learned

  • Practitioners should design engagement processes to include communities that will be most affected by climate change and structure processes to identify community priorities and solutions that will deliver environmental co-benefits (e.g., reducing air pollution and urban heat islands).


Related Resources

LA Green Zones Program: Groundtruthing

The Los Angeles County, California, Department of Regional Planning (DRP) developed the Green Zones Program in 2015, to attain equitable development for the next 20 years, and to help update the Los Angeles County General Plan. Centering on environmental justice and community engagement, the program aimed to ensure that residents of all income levels can enjoy the development of the County under the changing climate and severe heat. The Green Zones Program Framework contained four elements: land use policy, community engagement, environmental justice screening map, and prevention and mitigation. "Groundtruthing" was the main procedural tool utilized by the program to collect and study the potential environmental hazards information in the communities. It emphasized the importance of collaboration with community members and community-based organizations. Groundtruthing was not a one-time event, but a continuing effort between the government and the local communities.

Citizen Science: Mapping Urban Heat Islands in Richmond, Virginia

The urban heat island mapping project in Richmond, Virginia is a collaborative project that brings community members together to collect temperature variation data in order to design community-scale adaptation plans. Richmond is a highly populated city that has encountered increased urban heat island effect in recent years. While current technology such as satellites can provide city-scale urban heat data, a more detailed, block-by-block examination of temperature variation in each community has to be studied to understand which communities are most vulnerable to the extreme heat. "Citizen-scientists" were gathered to help measure temperatures in their own city, and related human activities or land use. The citizen-scientists included students from the University of Richmond and Virginia Commonwealth University, the Virginia Academy of Science, the City of Richmond’s Sustainability Office, and Groundwork RVA - a nonprofit focused on empowering local young people in the communities. 

Louisiana Strategic Adaptations for Future Environments (LA SAFE) Adaptation Strategies

Louisiana Strategic Adaptations for Future Environments (LA SAFE) is a community-based planning and capital investment process that will help the state fund and implement several projects, including for managed retreat, to make its coasts more resilient. In 2016, Louisiana’s Office for Community Development–Disaster Recovery Unit received a nearly $40 million grant from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development through the National Disaster Resilience Competition and additional state and nongovernmental funds to implement LA SAFE. The grant will support the design and implementation of resilience projects to address impacts in six coastal parishes that were affected by Hurricane Isaac in 2012 (Jefferson, Lafourche, Plaquemines, St. John the Baptist, St. Tammany, and Terrebonne). The state partnered with the nonprofit Foundation for Louisiana to administer LA SAFE and facilitate an extensive, yearlong community engagement process that will result in the implementation of ten funded projects across the six parishes. LA SAFE adopts a regional approach to addressing coastal flood risk; projects are designed to address risk and resilience across multiple sectors (e.g., housing, transportation, infrastructure, economic development), and to advance adaptation projects to achieve different risk-based goals (e.g., reshape development in low-risk areas that will receive populations migrating from coastal areas, retrofit development in moderate risk areas to accommodate increasing flood risk, and resettle people in high flood risk areas losing land and population). By contemplating a regional, rather than parish-specific, approach to addressing coastal risk, LA SAFE provides a model that other states and local governments may consider when making long-term adaptation and resilience investments including for managed retreat.

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania Community Heat Relief Plan

The City of Philadelphia’s effort to tackle heat disparities in the city via its Beat the Heat Hunting Park Community Heat Relief Plan (the Plan) provides a roadmap of how to conduct an inclusive climate planning process through a community-based approach to combat urban heat emergencies. The Plan was released in July 2019 by the city’s Office of Sustainability (OOS), in response to increased heat being identified as one of the main climate change threats in the City of Philadelphia. OOS found that communities, where low-income residents and residents of color reside, are also most vulnerable to the heat. To cope with the heat disparities, in the summer of 2018, OOS initiated the Beat the Heat pilot project in Hunting Park, which was identified as the most heat-vulnerable neighborhood. The purpose of the project is to learn the causes of heat disparities and utilize a community-driven decisionmaking process to generate possible solutions for staying cool in the future. The Plan is a collaborative work effort of city agencies, Hunting park organizations, residents, and community groups. Through the community engagement process, three priority areas were identified: 1. Staying cool and safe at home; 2. Staying cool and safe in public spaces; and 3. Greening and tree planting. Corresponding recommendations and the next steps are further being discussed and presented. The Plan also provides a step-by-step toolkit for communities facing similar situations to reduce inequities and build resiliency.

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