Green Infrastructure Toolkit


Equitable Planning

Planning is one way to ensure that equity is centered in how cities are deploying green infrastructure solutions. This section includes examples of city, county, regional, and community-driven plans that address equity in making decisions about green infrastructure solutions to climate threats. Truly equitable approaches will be developed through diverse and inclusive planning processes; this section also highlights how planners are engaging with communities in the design and development of plans. Community-driven plans can ensure that residents have power in determining how green infrastructure solutions are deployed in their neighborhoods. This section also includes tools to help planners consider socioeconomic and other risk factors when developing plans and identifying potential neighborhoods for green infrastructure investments. 

Related Resources

Resilient New Orleans: Strategic Action to Shape Our Future City

The Resilient New Orleans plan, adopted in 2015, presents an example of how cities can use planning to address equity and water resilience. More than a decade after Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans still faces combined threats from severe storms, sea-level rise, subsidence, aging infrastructure and economic inequality. The report is framed with equity at the forefront, acknowledging the disparate impacts of flooding and extreme weather on communities of color. The plan presents the city’s vision for enhancing resilience to climate impacts and other stressors and includes a detailed focus on green infrastructure and other nature-based approaches to enhancing resilience. The plan recommends that the city utilize local vegetation to promote more effective soil drainage, transition vacant lots into rain gardens to collect and detain water from heavy rainfall events, incorporate green infrastructure in city redevelopment projects, create training for jobs in green infrastructure installation, and support workshops and trainings to facilitate small-scale green infrastructure projects on homes and businesses.

The Cleveland Tree Plan

The City of Cleveland, Ohio is working to combat public health risks from increasing heat by planting trees in areas lacking tree canopy and with the most at-risk residents. Increased tree canopy cover can provide multiple benefits, including reduced urban heat islands, improved water quality, improved air quality, reduced carbon pollution, lowered energy costs, and improved wildlife habitats. The City created the Cleveland Tree Plan in 2015 in order to reach its goal of increasing the City’s tree canopy. The plan lays out a commitment to plant trees in a more equitable manner. The City has developed a methodology for prioritizing tree planting sites and considers socioeconomic characteristics of potential sites and the benefits that tree planting will deliver in neighborhoods including, stormwater management benefits, energy savings, heat stress reduction, public health benefits, economic development and neighborhood revitalization, and reutilization of vacant lands. Equity ranking criteria are used to ensure that plantings narrow the canopy gap in lower-income neighborhoods, in consideration of population densities, unemployment rates, and child poverty rates. A goal of the Cleveland Tree Plan is to reduce risks of heat stress for the City's most vulnerable residents, including the elderly, people with health conditions (such as cardiovascular disease or diabetes), and residents without access to air conditioning. The City has found that its most at-risk resident primarily reside in lower-income neighborhoods that lack tree canopy.

One New York: The Plan for a Strong and Just City (One NYC)

The 2015 OneNYC plan for New York City lays out strategies for dealing with income inequality along with plans for managing climate change impacts, while establishing the platform for another century of economic growth and vitality. The plan includes recommendations for using green infrastructure as a strategy for addressing increasing risks of flooding and urban heat. The plan recommends that the city provide job training and increase the number of government jobs to install and maintain green infrastructure projects; that green infrastructure be deployed in environmental justice communities to address flooding and water quality, with a focus on communities prone to flooding and drainage problems (such as Southeast Queens); and that the city invest in parks and green space in underserved communities and integrate enhancements that improve stormwater management, reduce pollution, and enhance flood resiliency.

NYC Climate Justice Agenda 2016: Strengthening the Mayor's OneNYC Plan

This NYC Environmental Justice Alliance (NYC-EJA) report is an example of how community-based organizations can hold cities accountable and ensure that city plans are facilitating equitable outcomes. This report analyzed Mayor Bill de Blasio’s 2015 OneNYC Plan and provided recommendations about how the city can strengthen its initiatives to address equity and climate justice, including through investments in green infrastructure. The report encourages the city to prioritize communities facing disproportionate risks from climate change, provide greater funding for green initiatives, and develop partnerships with local grassroots groups to support local initiatives and promote genuine community engagement. Specifically, the report calls on the city to reassess and prioritize green infrastructure investments to build new parks and community gardens to create open spaces in low-income communities, and funding for coastal resiliency projects (i.e., living shorelines and other natural barriers to storm surge) in low-income communities and communities of color.

South Ironbound Resiliency Action Plan - Newark, New Jersey

This plan, developed by the Ironbound Community Corporation, presents an example of how community-based organizations can lead community-driven planning initiatives and develop recommendations to inform city decisionmaking on green infrastructure and resilience. In 2015, the Ironbound Community Corporation developed this Resiliency Action Plan to build climate resiliency in the South Ironbound neighborhood and to inform policymaking in the city of Newark, New Jersey. The South Ironbound neighborhood is particularly susceptible to flooding and extreme weather impacts due to storm surge and sewer back-ups. The plan includes a green infrastructure component to address anticipated heavy rain events and combined sewer overflow events. It recommends the development of a Green Infrastructure Strategic Plan, implementation of specific demonstration green infrastructure projects; public workshops to educate business owners and residents about the benefits of green infrastructure; training for residents in the installation of green infrastructure to create job opportunities; among other recommendations. The plan also recommends that a Greening Vacant Lots Program be created to facilitate adaptive reuse of brownfield, vacant, and underutilized sites for purposes of green infrastructure and other climate resiliency uses. Detailed action plans provide a schedule for implementation, responsible parties, potential partners, and potential sources of funding and financing.


City of Portland and Multnomah County, Oregon Climate Action Plan 2015

This City of Portland and Multnomah County Climate Action Plan, released in 2014, shows how local government plans can address emissions reductions and climate adaptation while centering social equity, and the plan includes specific recommendations about directing investments in green infrastructure to frontline communities. The plan discusses climate threats to the region including increasing temperatures and high-heat days, recurring droughts, and increasing intense rainfall events. It recommends the use of green infrastructure and a substantial increase in the city’s urban forest canopy cover, to reduce the urban heat island effect, and improve water and air quality. For example, the plan calls for an increase in forest canopy cover throughout the city (at least to 25% in residential areas and 15% of the central city) to provide shade and sequester carbon, while creating root systems that will prevent erosion and landslides during heavy rainfall events. Specifically, the plan acknowledges the need to deploy green infrastructure in underserved communities where disparities in access to green space and age, asthma, and income levels leave populations particularly susceptible to the impacts of heat and pollution. The city advocates for equitable implementation, prioritizing populations with the greatest need. The plan specifically highlights the diverse community of East Portland as an area where investments are needed, where transportation concerns are greatest, and lower-income residents are increasingly concentrated due to rising housing costs in the city. The city convened an Equity Working Group with representatives from community-based organizations serving low-income communities and communities of color to inform the development of the plan.

Memphis, Tennessee Mid-South Regional GreenPrint

The Mid-South Regional Greenprint plan, released in 2015, is an example of a plan that utilizes open spaces and green infrastructure as the foundation for improving social equity, transportation, and public health across a large metropolitan region. The 25-year plan seeks to connect the four counties within the region using a “Greenprint Network” of trails, greenways, parks and other natural spaces to mitigate flooding and promote community growth, among other benefits. The plan includes a Greenprint map of proposed “connected green infrastructure projects” that were strategically selected by considering the region’s population densities, transportation networks, social and economic disparities, and employment levels. The plan articulates a goal of creating 448 miles of new greenway trails and providing safe, environmentally-friendly transportation options and a network of greenspace for all citizens, with a focus on underserved and disadvantaged communities. The plan centers equity-driven throughout addressing socioeconomic disparities, public safety, and job creation. Equitable participation in the process and community ownership throughout implementation were also a focus of the planning process. The plan was developed by a consortium of municipalities, nonprofits, businesses, and residents representing the geographic and racial diversity of the area.

Planning for Equity in Parks with Green Infrastructure

From the Natural Recreation and Park Association, this report summarizes research on the social and health outcomes related to the implementation of green infrastructure and parks in traditionally underserved communities. Findings suggest that while green infrastructure and green space can buffer climate impacts, they also enhance social equity by building social capital, improving health outcomes, and increasing economic opportunities. This resource can help users communicate the benefits of making investments in green infrastructure in underserved communities and ways that green infrastructure projects can be designed and implemented to maximize the socioeconomic benefits of projects (e.g., by incorporating a training and local hiring component)


NAACP Equity in Building Resilience in Adaptation Planning

From the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), this report contains a list of indicators as measures of vulnerability and resilience to help policymakers design and assess the equity and effectiveness of adaptation measures. Indicators include measures of pre-existing vulnerability and risk factors (e.g., age, race, health, income) and process and outcome indicators for demonstrating successful adaptation. The aim of this resource is for city planners, community organizations, elected officials, and other decision-makers to consider these equity based indicators as they design climate adaptation plans, programs, and policies. Although not specific to green infrastructure, these indicators could be used by policymakers as a starting point for considering equity in the development, design and evaluation of plans and programs focused on green infrastructure.

EJSCREEN: EPA Environmental Justice Screening and Mapping Tool

The Environmental Justice Screening and Mapping tool (EJ SCREEN), developed by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) can help users target investments in green infrastructure to communities based upon environmental and demographic indicators. The tool combines environmental and demographic data to provide maps that highlight specific environmental issues and especially susceptible areas. Environmental indicators include air quality, traffic proximity and volume, wastewater discharges, and proximity to hazardous waste facilities. Demographic data helps users map census tracts based upon income, education, race, linguistic isolation, and age (under 5 or older than 64). The tool provides a low-cost, accessible way to help users develop green infrastructure approaches that can benefit communities facing environmental and socioeconomic challenges.

Equity Foundations: USDN Capacity Building Program

This resource provides general professional development training for city sustainability directors and their staff on how to integrate racial equity in sustainable development and planning. Although this resource is not specific to green infrastructure, it can city staff address equity considerations in the planning and design of a range of sustainability projects and programs, including green infrastructure investments. The program is available online and includes a curriculum of five webinars, videos and worksheets. The program was developed by the Urban Sustainability Director's Network in partnership with the Government Alliance on Race and Equity and the Center for Social Inclusion.

  Equity and Environmental Justice Equitable Investment