The Science of Climate Change: Informing City Planning from Data to Preparedness


  • Opportunities for adapting to Climate Change in coordination with climate change scientists,  economists, and experts from engineering, architecture and public health
  • Technical resources and the environmental and policy contexts that inform the planning practice for climate change
  • Tested approaches for integrating the science of climate change data into preparedness planning


In response to anticipated climate change impacts, the City of Cambridge, Massachusetts, and Washington D.C.  have undertaken preparedness plans that integrate leading-edge science with real-world needs. Both projects employ academic research, climate scenario planning, risk assessment, engineering, and public health expertise to inform the city/district understanding of its vulnerabilities. Key innovations include translating downscaled climate change projections into future design storm scenarios; developing comprehensive hydraulic models that link flooding from precipitation, rivers, sea level rise, and storm surge to produce a realistic representation of potential impacts during these future storm scenarios; GIS modeling to capture geospatial, social, and economic  aspects of climate change impacts; and a prioritized ranking system that compares risks across seemingly unrelated sectors (e.g., public health and infrastructure) and assigns adaptation priorities based on these analyses. A key challenge is translating the uncertainty of climate change science into design criteria that can be used to build resiliency within existing and future development.