Equitable Adaptation Legal & Policy Toolkit

Government Operations & City Programs

Cities have wide flexibility with programs and operations affecting how public lands are used, providing opportunities to integrate greening and natural resilience initiatives with a particular focus on targeting frontline communities in neighborhoods lacking greenspace. Investments can fund targeted tree planting, bioswales, rain gardens, permeable pavements, and more in public rights-of-way and other public spaces. In many cases, these investments can help cities meet federal requirements to manage stormwater and mitigate pollution of waterways.See footnote 1 In some cities, green infrastructure is even being utilized as a core component of water quality compliance, and there are opportunities to target these nature-based investments in environmental justice areas affected by stormwater challenges and pollution. Common programmatic approaches include parks and recreation programs, street greening initiatives, and utility programs.

Parks and Recreation Programs

Three children wearing navy blue shirts with white writing that say "NYC Parks" with their backs to the camera. There are two girls on rollerblades and helmets on either side of a boy wearing sneakers.
Students participate in a free afterschool program hosted by the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation. (Source: NYC Parks)

Public parks are important amenities for natural resilience as well as for community resilience and public health.See footnote 2 In addition to maintaining and improving upon existing parkland, cities can expand their parks programs and simultaneously address challenges related to vacant and abandoned land by creating programs for adaptive reuse that convert vacant lots to pocket parks or other greenspace. Adaptive reuse programs are often carried out in partnership with community organizations, as detailed further in the “Partnerships for Adaptive Reuse” section. City parks and public works departments should work closely with communities when planning improvements or designing new park space so that investments meet community needs. Cities can also design program criteria that help to target resources more specifically to neighborhoods lacking in parkland and recreational opportunities, as with the NYC Parks - Community Parks Initiative described below.

Street Greening Initiatives

Cities can integrate natural resilience and equity considerations into street design guidelines and greening initiatives typically overseen by transportation and public works departments.See footnote 3 Design standards can help ensure that street trees and other green infrastructure features are appropriate given the topography, soil, climate, and watershed considerations of a particular area; however, flexibility should be built in for transportation departments and other city agencies overseeing greening in rights-of-way to engage with communities on setting priorities.

Utility Programs

City utilities — particularly those overseeing stormwater — can play an important role in promoting nature-based investments that help improve resilience of communities and the natural environment.See footnote 4 Based on specific characteristics within city watersheds, utilities can plan green infrastructure projects in partnership with communities in the affected neighborhoods that will help manage stormwater flooding and reduce pollution from runoff. For example, the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission identified a list of long-term improvements, including priority green infrastructure projects, based on findings from its urban watershed assessment and outcomes from conversations with communities.See footnote 5

With any public space greening initiatives such as the programmatic examples above or other efforts (e.g., public facilities management), city agencies should ensure that maintenance needs are built into budgets and planning efforts in order to maximize the lifetime and effectiveness of green infrastructure at providing flood mitigation, pollutant filtration, and other ecosystem services that boost resilience. Cities should actively engage community members and partner organizations to set greening priorities that account for maintenance considerations, and to determine additional services or educational partnerships that could help create community stewardship of green spaces or otherwise provide compensation for ongoing maintenance.

Considerations of Government Operations & City Programs


  • Costs may include installation and maintenance of green features, including potentially educational partnerships to build community stewardship of green infrastructure.
  • Funding sources can include municipal/capital budgets, permitting fees, utility fees, etc. and various federal programs.


  • Environmental benefits include carbon sequestration, stormwater management and flood mitigation, and air and water pollutant filtration, among other benefits.
  • Investments can also help with energy conservation or efficiency (e.g., shading trees).


  • Public health benefits may result from improved air quality (lower asthma rates, etc.), access to nature (mental health), pollutant filtration, reduced urban heat, recreational opportunities, and more.
  • Cities can target investments to areas with less greenspace, historic underinvestment, but should engage communities in setting neighborhood greening priorities and addressing concerns related to greenspace maintenance, gentrification, and other challenges that may arise.


  • Coordination among city agencies and collaboration with community groups in neighborhoods where public investments are being considered is important to ensure investments meet community needs and address challenges upfront.


  • Cities may need to consider existing design standards or requirements (e.g., for right-of-way greening).
  • Cities might consider how government operations and programmatic greening investments can assist in complying with federal water quality requirements under the Clean Water Act.

Lessons Learned

  • Ensure that maintenance and operational needs and costs are built into budgets for parks and greening initiatives.
  • Help reduce greenspace gaps by targeting city programmatic efforts to frontline communities and neighborhoods where greening can achieve multiple health, social, and environmental goals. Cities can utilize a variety of indicators to prioritize neighborhoods of need, but should ensure to actively work with community members and organizations to identify community priorities and design solutions.



Table of Contents

  Read Previous Section Read Next Section  

Back to top