Equitable Adaptation Legal & Policy Toolkit

Planning Tools for Natural Resilience

Planning can create an important framework for implementing natural resilience solutions. It is important to initiate planning processes with a strategy for actively and meaningfully engaging frontline communities in order to help ensure that underrepresented groups have a leading role in the process and that planning processes result in equitable outcomes. Natural resilience solutions can be integrated into a wide range of planning efforts at different scales, from city- or county-wide scales, to agency-specific plans, to neighborhood-level plans. States can also enact requirements for local governments to integrate equity into various planning processes that affect how local governments plan and invest in green space. Each of these different planning processes comes with different constraints and flexibilities, and may involve a different mix of stakeholders. Some of the planning tools that could be used to integrate natural resilience and equity include comprehensive of general planning, local hazard mitigation planning, adaptation and resilience planning, and green infrastructure and urban forestry planning.

About 50 people in varying couples and family groups enjoy the sunshine on the shore of a lake, some sitting in camp chairs, some fishing.
Collierville, Tennessee (Source: Mid-South Regional Greenprint)

Comprehensive or General Planning

Typically completed at the county or city scale, comprehensive planning is a process typically mandated by the state legislature for units of local government (county and/or municipal), and the resulting comprehensive plan creates the framework for zoning codes and land use regulation.See footnote 1 For this reason, it is a powerful tool, as other regulatory tools and planning efforts must be consistent with the comprehensive plan. It is also typically a highly burdensome process to update a local comprehensive plan, and tangible outcomes in equitable natural resilience solutions may not be realized until after the policies and actions identified in the comprehensive plan are implemented through zoning code changes, further adding layers of administrative and political complexity.

Local Hazard Mitigation Planning

State, tribal, and local (county or city) governments are required to develop hazard mitigation plans in order to be able to access certain sources of federal disaster assistance from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).See footnote 2 Hazard mitigation plans identify vulnerabilities and risks relating to natural hazards, and strategies to mitigate these risks in the long-term; nature-based features and natural resilience are a logical category of strategies to include for mitigating risk from certain types of natural hazards (e.g., flooding, heat).

Adaptation and Resilience Planning

Often completed at citywide, individual agency, or even a neighborhood scale, climate adaptation and resilience planning is perhaps the most common way that cities are integrating natural resilience and equity into planning. Although some adaptation plans are developed by a single agency or to cover a single sector, most of these planning efforts cover multiple agencies and sectors city-wide, and are intended to provide a comprehensive framework for building resilience within communities and across the built and natural environments in urban settings.

Green Infrastructure and Urban Forestry Planning

Some local governments are opting to create plans specifically to coordinate green infrastructure approaches and investments (green infrastructure planning), or to provide an assessment of and strategy for preserving and enhancing their tree canopy (urban forestry planning). These plans can be utilized to identify target neighborhoods and/or categories of green infrastructure strategies. While some of the strategies may require changes in local zoning codes or other legislation to implement (e.g., passing a new tree ordinance if the city doesn’t already have one), green infrastructure and urban forestry plans can ultimately influence the uptake and implementation of greening on both public and private property, including existing development.See footnote 3

This list is not exhaustive, however, as there are numerous examples of sector- or agency-specific plans that may include goals and actions relating to equity and natural resilience. For example, in Philadelphia, the coalition Soil Generation is partnering with the Philadelphia Parks & Recreation department and a planning/design firm to lead a public process that will ultimately develop an Urban Agriculture Plan for the city.See footnote 4

Regardless of the scale or type of planning, the needs of frontline communities affected by (or within the scope and scale of the plan) should be a central component of the planning and decisionmaking processes. And in advance of, or in conjunction with, planning efforts, cities should also assess existing and future vulnerabilities to climate change. In order to effectively integrate equitable natural resilience solutions into planning efforts, cities should have an understanding of their climate-related risks (e.g., flooding — whether driven by rainfall/stormwater, riverine, or coastal geography, extreme heat, drought, etc.) and the overlap of high-exposure areas with frontline and disadvantaged communities and areas lacking greenspace; in many cities there is a high correlation and overlap between these three categories. This information can help cities ensure that plan components relating to natural resilience investments, and the planning process itself, target communities most likely to be affected first and worst by the impacts of climate change.

Considerations of Planning Tools for Natural Resilience


  • Costs of planning efforts may include vulnerability and risk assessments and other data initiatives to inform priorities, such as outreach and engagement costs (including compensation for community members’ time).


  • Planning efforts can lay the groundwork for implementation of projects that achieve environmental benefits ranging from carbon sequestration and air/water pollutant filtration to stormwater and flood mitigation.


  • City-led planning efforts should aim to meaningfully engage communities through trusted representatives to understand and integrate community priorities, and address community concerns related to greening.
  • Regardless of the planning scale or topic (e.g., comprehensive, hazard mitigation), plans should center equity in setting a vision, goals, and actions for building resilience.


  • Robust community outreach and engagement can be resource- and time-intensive, particularly for planning efforts at larger (city or county) scales.
  • Certain planning processes can be highly burdensome and time-consuming (e.g., comprehensive plan updates); cities should take advantage of planned update timelines to evaluate how equity is addressed in comprehensive plan chapters and policies relating to green infrastructure and natural resilience, and make changes needed, allowing time for adequate community engagement.


  • Cities must consider and comply with any federal and state planning requirements (e.g., incorporating climate change into hazard mitigation planning).
  • Comprehensive plans create an overarching framework with which local regulations and other planning efforts must be consistent; cities can use the process of updating comprehensive plans to center equity.

Lessons Learned

  • Build in adequate time and resources for meaningful community engagement throughout the planning process.
  • Utilize periodic plan update cycles (e.g., with comprehensive plans, hazard mitigation plans) to ensure that needs for developing and implementing equitable natural resilience solutions are fully integrated.



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