Increasing the number of open, green spaces or resilience districts within a community and access to them is vital to developing community-wide resilience. This part will first define green spaces, resilience districts, and related nature-based projects that are focused on broader, neighborhood resilience, and how they function within a community. It will then detail some of the benefits associated with increased access to green spaces and resilience districts pertaining to public health and social capital. Finally, this part will conclude that, despite these benefits, there is a current lack of access to green, nature-based parks, and open spaces, especially in underrepresented communities.
Definitions and descriptors used throughout the rest of this part include:
The implementation of green space and/or resilience district projects can provide a community with multiple benefits. From a health perspective, access to green and blue spaces like parks and canals can improve both mental and physical health. Studies have shown that interaction with natural spaces correlates with reduced stress and violence and overall enhanced community health.See footnote 8 From an environmental perspective, green spaces can also enhance water and air quality, and reduce temperatures due to the urban heat island effect.See footnote 9 Access to green spaces can also lead to more social cohesion and economic opportunities in a community as well.See footnote 10 From an economic perspective, “not only do street trees foster a community’s sense of place, but well-maintained streetscapes raise opinions about the quality of goods and services offered. In landscaped shopping districts, surveyed consumers were willing to spend 9–12 percent more than they would spend in an unlandscaped district.”See footnote 11 From a social perspective, communities get more involved in maintaining neighborhood gardens, intergenerational ties are strengthened, communities are more likely to invest in neighborhood improvement projects through community empowerment, and the opportunity to walk through a nearby park encourages neighborhood interaction.See footnote 12 This was especially important during the Coronavirus-19 (COVID) pandemic, where “green spaces became a lifeline for people to get out of the house, relax, and gather safely.”See footnote 13
Despite these benefits, many communities have significantly less access to walkable green spaces within their neighborhoods. This is particularly acute for underrepresented and overburdened communities. Due to historic inequities and redlining policies, in the most populated cities, neighborhoods that are primarily Black and Brown “have access to an average of 44 percent less park acreage than predominantly white neighborhoods,” with similar statistics in low-income communities. Policymakers and community leaders should work to reduce this gap so that overall community resilience — and the resulting benefits that implementing resilience districts and green projects can bring — are available for everyone.
The actions detailed below offer several ways in which regional and local policymakers can initiate actions that facilitate “greauxing” or growing green space assets and access to parks and nature. Local governments can seek to protect and expand green, open spaces through a combination of:
While not exhaustive, these legal and policy options can help to begin the process of decreasing the aforementioned access gap. It is important to remember, however, that the most effective laws, plans, policies, and projects for resilience districts and green spaces are community-specific, and should be designed to fit the specific needs and vulnerabilities of the neighborhood or district in question.
To allocate limited funding and resources, local governments can start enhancing green space and resilience opportunities by identifying the parts of parishes and municipalities that are most susceptible to flooding and growth pressures. Other data pertaining to the unique social aspects of a community (e.g., race, income, education, occupation), and where existing conversation opportunities exist should also be taken into account. In applying this data to parish and municipality maps, policymakers and project implementers can prioritize action in the areas/communities where green spaces and nature-based projects are needed most. It is also vital to emphasize that the best use of mapping and data tools involves not only identifying new areas that will be in need of protection or redevelopment to their natural state, but also the identification of existing green spaces that will need to be maintained.
To determine and prioritize investments in these areas, local governments should start by engaging communities and evaluating data sources including flood maps, census tracts, socio-economic status, ethnicity, existing green spaces, nature-based amenities, etc. Other examples that can help to prioritize investments for certain areas involve designating and mapping certain spaces within a community for distinct uses. Examples include regional growth maps and mapping context areas (see, e.g., the Louisiana Land Use Toolkit and next section for a more in-depth analysis).
One example where community engagement, mapping, and data collection have been combined can be found in Florida, with Miami-Dade County’s designation of Adaptation Action Areas (AAA).See footnote 14 In 2011, the State of Florida passed a law to enable local governments to adopt optional comprehensive plan designations for areas that experience coastal flooding and are vulnerable to sea-level rise for the purpose of prioritizing funding for infrastructure projects and adaptation planning.See footnote 15 Under the state Community Planning Act, local governments can adopt AAA and consider updating policies in their local comprehensive plans to increase a community’s resilience.See footnote 16 Throughout Florida, AAA mapping and designation have allowed local governments and stakeholders to align plans and capital projects to better leverage available resources; better educate and collaborate with community stakeholders to identify values, challenges, and potential solutions to adapt to sea-level rise; and create more forward-thinking plans that include, among other recommendations, next steps and potential policy changes that can be implemented.
Additionally, “AAA planning enhances opportunities to learn from and collaborate with residents, community leaders, and neighborhood organizations to determine which adaptation approaches are preferred for a given area.”See footnote 17 The collaborative aspect of AAA brings together stakeholders, organizations, and agencies when they otherwise may have been siloed to create a more holistic approach to address the short- and long-term needs of communities that are especially susceptible to the impacts of climate change. By engaging with the community early and often regarding climate vulnerabilities, unique community characteristics, and first-hand experiences — and combining this data with some of the mapping tools listed above — policymakers and project managers can create more access to green spaces in communities that need it while also maintaining those spaces that already exist, as was seen in the designation and implementation of the Little River AAA.
Description: Map of the Little River Adaptation Action Area. Credit: Savino Miller Design Studio, Adaptation Plan: Little River Adaptation Action Area 8 (2022).
For a more generalized analysis of the importance of mapping and data collection in a context beyond specifically resilience planning and green space expansion and maintenance, see Objectives 5.1, 5.2, and 5.3.
Mapping and data collection as discussed in the previous part directly impact how planning documents are designed and created. As previously stated in Objective 1.1, plans can set a comprehensive framework that guides how laws, policies, and projects are implemented. Plans go by many names and take a variety of forms. They are developed at different and multiple levels of government and are prepared on multiple geographic scales. Some are legally required and others are out-of-cycle (and have yet to be updated) or discretionary. Plans can also include implementation and tracking tools. Metrics and tracking mechanisms can help local governments and other partners evaluate progress after a plan is released and increase public transparency.
There are various types of plans that local governments can use in Louisiana to identify and prioritize green spaces, resilience districts, and nature-based projects. Throughout Louisiana, planning is typically treated “as a local matter,” as there are not many statutory standards or guidelines on a state level. To guide or regulate development and land use to better “greaux” new and protect existing green spaces and projects, local policymakers can consider developing or updating comprehensive plans or other types of relevant plans (e.g., adaptation and other individualized resilience plans). For more information on how planning documents can be used to encourage nature-based stormwater management solutions specifically, see Objective 2.2.
According to Louisiana state law, every parish and municipality has the authority to create a planning commission and appropriate funding for it.See footnote 18 Once created, the planning commission must make and adopt a master plan “for the physical development of the community.”See footnote 19 In Louisiana, a local comprehensive plan — referred to as a “master plan” in state statute — is “a statement of public policy for the physical development of a parish or municipality” that is adopted by that parish or municipality. Parishes and municipalities that adopt these plans are required to consider them when “adopting, approving, or promulgating any local laws, ordinances, or regulations which are inconsistent with that adopted elements of [said plan].”See footnote 20 As such, local governments are legally mandated to consider decisions before they make them if they are inconsistent with their comprehensive plans, if the jurisdiction has one.
This “look before you leap” procedural requirement encourages local governments to take actions that are consistent with their local comprehensive plans. In turn, this statutory provision provides some legal weight and adds importance to local decisions that come from comprehensive plans compared to other types of plans — including for nature-based plans and projects, such as resilience districts or programs that expand access to green spaces. Accordingly, if parishes and municipalities explicitly include green priorities and projects into their local comprehensive plans, these plans can serve as a guiding and coordinating force among “local laws, ordinances, and regulations” and ideally other supplemental and related plans and policies to build more resilient communities.
Jurisdictions that have or are interested in developing a comprehensive plan could start by updating or including a resilience/natural infrastructure element. This resiliency element can provide insights into the types and conditions of local communities’ capacity to withstand flooding and extreme weather events, and which types of projects or programs would best mitigate the impacts of these events. Further, local governments should aim to integrate other related comprehensive plan elements into any parts relating to expanding or maintaining access to green spaces, including projected demographics, changes and flood risk over different time horizons, social vulnerabilities, economic development, the environment, and other “green” community amenities. This can help to bring a more holistic picture of the climate impacts and resiliency challenges a parish or municipality is experiencing — which could be exacerbated or altered by population growth and transitions. This is in comparison to approaching resilience as an isolated element.
One example of a jurisdiction that amended its local comprehensive plan to incorporate increased access to more open spaces and green projects is the City of Gonzales, Louisiana. In collaboration with its residents, city staff, and elected officials, the city has created a strategic framework for the future growth of Gonzales that emphasizes the maintenance of existing wetlands and open spaces, and encourages property owners to work with businesses to implement innovative, green infrastructure projects to help with stormwater management, provide residents with environmental amenities, and more. In highlighting the importance that open spaces and green infrastructure has for a community in their comprehensive, strategic plan for the future, Gonzales acts as an example of a community that has designed a plan that addresses growth, but also balances community needs and environmental conservation.
Land-use maps developed as part of local comprehensive plans can guide where a community will grow as it develops. As outlined by CPEX, types of land-use maps include regional growth maps and context area maps. These can both be used in complementary ways that can encourage the expansion and incorporation of green, open spaces into a parish or municipality. These mapping tools can also be used to help support the creation or amendment of different types of zoning districts (see the subsequent part for more details on zoning ordinances).
Parishes and municipalities also have the authority to create more generalized planning documents that recommend the inclusion, expansion, and maintenance of open spaces and green projects in a community’s future. These plans can vary widely in scope, from a generalized parish- or city-wide adaptation and resilience plans, to plans that address or impact only one aspect of a community, like one certain neighborhood or sector (e.g., parks, stormwater management, etc.). One example of a more generalized city-wide strategy is Miami, Florida’s Resilient 305 Strategy, which is an adaptation and resilience plan that lays out dozens of action items that municipalities in Miami-Dade County can take to help these communities better prepare for and respond to the impacts of sea-level rise and flooding. The plan was developed by Greater Miami & The Beaches — a unique collaborative effort between the governments of Miami-Dade County, the City of Miami, and the City of Miami Beach. Included among the recommended resilience strategies are the expansion and support of nature-based infrastructure projects throughout the Greater Miami area and the restoration and maintenance of open spaces along the coast — especially shorelines.
One example of a more sector-specific plan is the Gainesville Parks & Recreation Strategic Plan 2018–2022 (Gainesville, GA) which outlines the agency’s five-year plan to develop and improve its parks and recreation programs to provide access and better serve the needs of all Gainesville residents. Included among many of the initiatives contained within the plan are projects like providing more access to quality, diversified amenities, and open spaces and introducing green infrastructure into already existing parks.
Description: Concept plan for Midtown Greenway in Gainesville, Georgia. Credit: Gainesville Parks and Recreation, Georgia, Midtown Greenway Concept Plan (2020), available at https://www.gainesville.org/DocumentCenter/View/835/Midtown-Greenway-Concept-Plan-PDF.
These two examples show that parishes and local agencies have the ability to design and implement plans that incorporate green infrastructure and open spaces into the projects and places in the community over which they have authority. Plans do not always need to be as broad as strategic comprehensive planning documents for entire areas, though developing and implementing local comprehensive plans is still recommended. They can be designed to specifically address resilience measures, or tailor-made to fit under the auspices of the authority a certain agency has — all while encouraging open spaces and green infrastructure for the benefit of the community.
In addition to planning, local governments can evaluate updating land-use and zoning ordinances to support local nature-based priorities — as well as encourage the expansion and maintenance of open spaces — to build community resilience. Ideally, any regulatory amendments will be guided by and aligned with relevant plans, especially local comprehensive plans. Tools and regulatory policies discussed in this part include: land use maps; zoning ordinances; subdivision ordinances; and additional ordinances like parking standards, rural corridor overlay districts, and landscaping standards.See footnote 26 The Center for Planning Excellence (CPEX) has developed a toolkit that can help communities either develop or amend land-use and zoning ordinances to better facilitate the development of green spaces and resilience districts (see, e.g., Louisiana Land Use Toolkit).
As was articulated in Objective 1.1, zoning ordinances provide the legal framework that governs the use and development of land in a municipality according to different districts based on the uses that are permitted (e.g., residential, commercial, industrial).See footnote 27
As part of any land-use and zoning ordinance, parishes and municipalities should include an intent section. This section outlines how the ordinances will be used to implement goals like protecting natural infrastructure and visual character, creating a range of housing opportunities and choices, creating mixed-use, walkable neighborhoods, encouraging community and stakeholder collaboration, and preserving rural character, natural beauty, and critical environmental areas, among others.See footnote 28 As outlined in local comprehensive plans, ordinance components can include defining regional growth sectors, context areas, zoning districts, building types, and official maps.See footnote 29 Mapping can be an instrumental tool in determining and designating which areas of a community should be slated for different types of growth, or in some cases, conservation. Information on how communities can better access mapping resources can be found in Goal 5. Ordinances can also include use provisions like requiring that certain spaces be kept open for gathering or outdoor recreation. They can also contain site development and landscaping standards like mandating that parking lots contain vegetation, permeable pavement, and buffers.See footnote 30
Overlay zones or districts can be an additional tool local policymakers can use to further protect open spaces. Usually, they are added or layered on top of base zoning districts. Overlay zones can further restrict or regulate certain areas based on “special characteristics in that zone, such as for natural, historical, or cultural resources protection.”See footnote 31
In both St. Tammany and Ascension Parish, local governments have used zoning to conserve open spaces, and are also contemplating how to better preserve green spaces like wetlands through planning and zoning processes. Both communities have developed language in their ordinances to conserve open space through actions like decreasing developable density outside commercial centers. Designating an area under a zoning ordinance — and an additional overlay zone, in some cases — can create special protections for areas that can then be redeveloped or preserved for open space purposes. For further discussion of how overlay zones and zoning ordinances can be used to encourage the implementation of nature-based projects more broadly, see Objective 2.2.
Subdivision ordinances are another tool that can be used separately from or in addition to larger land-use and zoning ordinances. Subdivision ordinances are basic ordinances that require different rules and use context areas to regulate development on a smaller scale. Similar to prohibitions in zoning ordinances, subdivision ordinances can prohibit development in areas that parishes would like to preserve for open spaces.
Other ordinances, like rural corridor overlay districts, parking standards, and landscaping standards can also be used to encourage or require property owners and developers to install specified types of green spaces, or plant trees and other types of native vegetation. Additionally, green and resilience incentives and regulations can include creating stormwater ponds and using setbacks and buffers with extensive tree canopies and permeable pavements.See footnote 32
The design and implementation of individualized projects can also help to expand or create new open spaces and introduce green infrastructure into a community. As established in Objective 1.1, examples and scales can vary from demolishing an existing structure on a parcel of land to creating a pocket park within a community, to restoring acres of land back to their natural state to offer ecosystem services and open space for recreation, as well as mitigate flood impacts.
When developing new or updating existing plans to increase the number and types of nature-based projects, such as green spaces and resilience districts, decisionmakers may consider the following crosscutting considerations and practice tips:
These tips are based on priority implementation best practices and considerations most relevant to this specific objective and do not present an exhaustive list for regional and local planners and policymakers. In addition to this objective, decisionmakers should, at a minimum, also refer to Goal Five for crosscutting considerations and practice tips including structuring equitable and inclusive community engagement processes and evaluating opportunities to build public-private-nonprofit-community partnerships.
It is important to acknowledge that every jurisdiction will be starting from a different place and have a unique local context and needs, among other factors. Therefore, these considerations and practice tips could be adopted individually, collectively, or not at all. It will be up to policymakers to work directly with their communities and other key stakeholders and partners to assess and determine potential tools and approaches to implement this goal and objective.
Many plans and ordinances specifically detail the expansion and maintenance of existing open spaces, green projects, parks, and protected areas. Examples include developing green space expansion plans and projects in conjunction with existing agency plans that are already funded (e.g., Miami-Dade Sea Level Rise Strategy [developing in conjunction with the Parks and Open Space System Master Plan’s Greenways, Trails, and Water Trails Vision]); leveraging the work of different land acquisition programs including for conservation and hazard mitigation programs like buyouts to expand existing open space; increasing waterfront setbacks to prohibit structures, which can expand existing buffers/open spaces between water/blueways and development (e.g., Overview of Selected Parishes’ Freeboard, Fill, and Open Space Rules); planting vegetation within public assets already owned by the government, including boulevards, parkways, and medians (e.g., Gentilly Resilience District: Blue and Green Corridors Project); and incorporating and maintaining more tree canopy and natural stormwater infrastructure projects into existing parks or open spaces that are slated for “basic upgrades.”
Prioritize the creation and maintenance of new green spaces and projects: In conjunction with the expansion and maintenance of existing projects and spaces, parishes can also develop new projects or protect new areas to expand access to nature throughout communities. The creation of entire neighborhoods with an emphasis on resilience will help to create a network of small spaces where water and stormwater runoff can go, helping to decrease flooding throughout the whole community.
Engage communities throughout planning and implementation to encourage buy-in: The life cycle of planning processes should begin with the community and continue beyond the point when a physical planning document is finalized. Education is particularly important in relation to the benefits of green projects and open spaces. Communities are more likely to push for the design and implementation of these types of plans, policies, or programs in their own communities if they are aware of the numerous benefits that green infrastructure and access to open, green spaces can bring to their neighborhoods. A bottom-up push for project or plan implementation can be extremely persuasive when it comes to prioritizing a parishes’ limited resources.
Develop public-private-nonprofit-community partnerships: Large-scale projects like resilience districts will require significant collaboration between a variety of partners, both government and otherwise. Resilience districts are typically designed by parish and municipal governments, but are relatively expensive to implement. As such, they often require financing and funding through private and other partners. Additionally, community-based organizations and residents should be consistently engaged so any project directly addresses the needs and challenges a community faces (see Objective 1.1 and Objective 5.1 for more information on community engagement practices).
The summaries below highlight resources and case studies available in Georgetown Climate Center’s Adaptation Clearinghouse that are relevant to this objective. They illustrate how many of the above benefits, practice tips, and planning, legal, and policy tools were or are being evaluated and used in practice in different jurisdictions. To learn more and navigate to the Adaptation Clearinghouse, click on the “View Resource” buttons.
2. Id.; Lucy Taylor & Deiter F. Hochuli, Defining Greenspace: Multiple Uses Across Multiple Disciplines, 158 Landscape & Urban Plan. 25 (Feb. 2017). Back to contentBack to content
6. Alan M. Berger et al., Theorizing the Resilience District: Design-Based Decision Making for Coastal Climate Change Adaptation, 15 J. of Landscape Architecture 6, 8 (2020). Back to contentBack to content
11. Id. Back to contentBack to content
12. Kathleen L. Wolf, The Health Benefits of Small Parks and Green Spaces, Parks & Recreation (Apr. 3, 2017), nrpa.org/parks-recreation-magazine/2017/april/the-health-benefits-of-small-parks-and-green-spaces/. Back to contentBack to content
15. Id. Back to contentBack to content
17. Savino Miller Design Studio, Adaptation Plan: Little River Adaptation Action Area 16 (2022). Back to contentBack to content
18. La. Rev. Stat. § 33.103-109 (2022). Back to contentBack to content
19. Id. Back to contentBack to content
20. La. Rev. Stat. § 33.101 (2022). Back to contentBack to content
22. Id. Back to contentBack to content
23. Id. Back to contentBack to content
24. Id. Back to contentBack to content
25. Id. Back to contentBack to content
27. Jessica Grannis, Georgetown Climate Ctr., Adaptation Toolkit: Sea-Level Rise and Coastal Land Use 19 (Oct. 2011), available at View Source; Indraneel Kumar, Purdue Extension Land Use Team, A Planning and Zoning Glossary 5 (Sept. 2017), available at View Source (Zoning is a “way of putting the comprehensive plan to work. A zoning ordinance contains regulations designed to implement the comprehensive plan. It includes, but is not limited to, permitted activities, setbacks, signs, parking, landscaping, environmental restrictions, density, and site plans. It provides for allowable land uses. Zoning is comprised of districts, ordinances, and the zoning map.”); Black’s Law Dictionary (11th ed. 2019) (Zoning is “The legislative division of a region, esp. a municipality, into separate districts with different regulations within the districts for land use, building size, and the like.”). | Back to contentBack to content
30. Id. Back to contentBack to content
32. Id. Back to contentBack to content
34. Id. Back to contentBack to content
35. Id. Back to contentBack to content