#SummerScienceFriday | What do Climate Resilient Neighborhoods Look Like?
Last week, we introduced our community resilience theme and learned that climate change is expected to impact Southern California communities through rising temperatures, extreme weather patterns, and regional water scarcity. This week, we’re going to take a closer look at the ways neighborhoods can adapt, mitigate, and anticipate these climate challenges while enhancing community health and quality of life.
Photo, bottom: The concept design for Perkins + Will’s Blatchford Redevelopment plan. The photo is a concept design for a sustainable community in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada called an "agrihood" - agricultural neighborhood.
Climate Resilient Neighborhoods
It’s no secret that our urban neighborhoods are paved with lots of cement. All of this pavement absorbs and emits heat and can cause temperatures to rise up to 19° F above ambient temperatures in densely urbanized areas (Heat Island Impacts, US EPA). In addition to heating up quickly, this cement and asphalt does a poor job of mimicking natural watershed processes. When it rains, stormwater splashes off of cement and other hard surfaces, causing it to flow over neighborhoods, picking up trash and pollutants as it goes. This water then makes its way into gutters which discharge (or flow out to) water bodies like the LA River and eventually, the Pacific Ocean. This traditional, single-purpose, “grey” infrastructure exacerbates neighborhood flooding and worsens water quality which impacts community and environmental health.
In contrast to traditional infrastructure, green infrastructure mimics the slow, spread, and sink functions of a natural watershed and has multiple benefits including: improved community wellness, increased local water resources, and additional habitat to support ecological resilience. (Check out a previous blog post ‘Create your Own Green Infrastructure’ to learn more about green infrastructure). With green infrastructure, sustainable landscapes and localized resiliency projects, homes, public spaces and commercial properties can be designed to:
Capture and make use of stormwater
Decrease runoff and flooding
Reduce water demands for landscaping
Combat dangerous urban heat
Encourage clean, active transportation
Protect pedestrians and cyclists
Increase green spaces for wildlife to thrive and residents to enjoy
Improve environmental quality through filtered water and air
Further, examples of climate-resilient communities can inspire similar projects, act as models for other communities, provide educational opportunities for children and adults, increase community participation with local community-based organizations and decision makers, increase connectivity with one another and empower people to take ownership of their neighborhoods and watershed. As you will see, enhancing the physical environment also enhances the quality of life for people living in them. Looking forward, climate-resilient communities have the power to sustain lasting health and happiness among individuals and families alike.
How do you think communities can be reimagined for better climate resiliency? Keep reading to explore the topics listed here. When you’re finished reading, feel free to share your thoughts, visions and ideas with us in the comments section below!
Homes and neighborhoods
Parks and schools
Landscape Resiliency Resources
Homes & neighborhoods
In the City of LA, 60% of developed land area is single-family residential homes and 35% of runoff comes from residential streets (WaterLA Report 2018). Hence, there is potential for neighborhood-scale projects to significantly enhance the health and resiliency of the watershed. Use this infographic to learn how you can make your home and neighborhood greener, healthier, and more climate-resilient:
Protected bike lane in Temple City, Los Angeles, California. Photo from StreetsBlogLA.
LA is covered in streets so they provide a great canvas for re-envisioning what climate-resilient cities can look like. Streets can be reimagined to:
Install permeable pavement on sidewalks and in parking lots.
Use light-colored pavers and cement to keeps areas cooler than heat-absorbing asphalt.
Make streets more walkable with protected sidewalks, protected crosswalks, and elevated walkways.
Incorporate space for bicyclists, pedestrians, buses, and trains. These changes encourage cleaner transportation and lead to healthier lifestyles.
Use green infrastructure, i.e. curb inlets, catch basins, infiltration trenches and galleries, etc., to capture runoff from streets and recharge local groundwater supplies.
Design curbside parkways with trees, native plants, and rain gardens
CWH is currently a partner on a green street project. Take a look at the Merced Avenue Greenway Project to learn about the innovative ideas being considered for a real green street in the San Gabriel Valley.
If you want to try your hand at virtual street design, visit streetmix.net to design your own street layout which incorporates public safety measures and natural landscapes. You can even name your street creation after your own street!
Parks and Schools
Parks, schools, green space, and other mixed use areas are a necessary part of a resilient, sustainable neighborhood. Besides being grassy escapes from urban life, parks and schoolyards can provide some of the following benefits:
Improved pedestrian mobility in cities
Important communal gathering space for parties, concerts, festivals, meetings, sporting events, and more
Space for exercise and recreation
Spaces to appreciate nature and the outdoors
Improved air quality and carbon dioxide absorption
Water capture and infiltration
Shade from trees
Increased habitat for animals and insects who may be losing shelter from our expanding urban environment
Preservation of native species
Healthy, resilient residents create healthy, resilient communities. Community gardens allow residents to practice healthy diets. Growing food and plants empowers residents to take ownership of space in their neighborhood and fosters appreciation for the land.
Community gardens have the following resiliency benefits:
Gardens can be watered using captured or recycled stormwater, decreasing water demands.
They provide increased diet diversity and access to fresh produce, especially in communities with limited access to healthy food.
Community gardens help address the problem of food deserts, places where grocery stores are few and far between.
Gardens provide opportunities for people to learn and teach each other about healthy food and sustainability practices.
Community gardens can also give community members of all ages a sense of purpose, especially for those that are unable to participate in the community in other ways.
Many of the features discussed above have clear benefits to resident health, i.e. cleaner air to breathe, cleaner water to recreate in, transportation with less carbon emissions, opportunities for exercise and new sources for nutritious food. Here are just a few more health benefits which can be associated with climate-resilient neighborhoods:
Safer outdoor spaces, community programs and learning opportunities increase the sense of community which can make people feel happier.
Incorporating natural elements into a neighborhood benefits the mental health of a community.
Natural vegetation incorporated into schoolyards makes children feel calmer and more collaborative.
Home and community gardens promote well-being and social-connectedness among adults.
Spending more time outdoors reduces the ill health effects of spending too much time indoors, including asthma, “Sick Building Syndrome” and even the spread of diseases.
Landscape Resiliency Resources
Visit Harvesting Rainwater for resources on how to redesign landscapes and harvest rainwater.
Visit University of California's SAFE Landscapes page for more tips about how to be fire resilient around your home and neighborhood. Also look into the Fire Safe Council in your community.
Visit the Theodore Payne Foundation, one of the best sources for California native plants in the LA area.
Chawla, Louise, et al. “Green Schoolyards as Havens from Stress and Resources for Resilience in Childhood and Adolescence.” Health & Place, vol. 28, July 2014, pp. 1–13. ScienceDirect, doi:10.1016/j.healthplace.2014.03.001.
Corraliza, JosŽ A., et al. “Nature as a Moderator of Stress in Urban Children.” Procedia - Social and Behavioral Sciences, vol. 38, Jan. 2012, pp. 253–63. ScienceDirect, doi:10.1016/j.sbspro.2012.03.347.