PLAN 76: Article
Helping Cities Adapt To Climate Change

Adapting to the Risks of Climate Change in Massachusetts

The MIT-USGS Science Impact Collaborative, a field-based graduate training program in the Department of Urban Studies and Planning, has released a new publication entitled Managing Risk: Helping Cities in Massachusetts Adapt to Climate Change.

Based on research begun in the fall of 2009, the report features case studies of efforts underway in four coastal cities to anticipate and respond to the likely impacts of climate change. The research team began by interviewing people in 19 Massachusetts cities then narrowed their focus to Boston, Gloucester, New Bedford and Lynn. In the report, adaptation efforts in these four cities are compared with what other Massachusetts cities are doing.

While most people interviewed understood that greenhouse gas emissions might be affecting New England’s climate, and many have been working to reduce emissions locally, few have begun to think about how to proceed if worst-case scenarios occur. The authors have identified six steps that every city can take to begin to manage the risks associated with climate change:

1. Begin conversations now. Many stakeholders who have been active in mitigation efforts can be tapped to help with adaptation.

2. Use available data. While global change science has not produced precise predictions, enough information is available to assess a community’s vulnerabilities and the risks cities are likely to face.

3. Build on existing approaches. Public agencies in many cities regularly assess flood hazards, potential coastal erosion and other impacts that overlap the effects of climate change; adaptation efforts should begin with a close review of all such hazards.

4. Incorporate climate change into everyday decision-making. Include an adaptation perspective in all infrastructure investment and land-use decisions.

5. Use ‘scenario planning’ to identify no-regrets actions. Think of things that will help meet a variety of important objectives while simultaneously reducing climate change risks.

6. Collaborate. Initiatives such as the Urban Leaders Adaptation Initiative and ICLEI-Local Governments for Sustainability’s Climate Resilient Communities Program connect elected officials with others around the country so they can find out what’s working elsewhere.

Over the next few months, the Massachusetts Climate Change Adaptation Project will prepare three simulations that public officials, business leaders, environmental advocates and community activists can use to learn more about ways of responding to the risks associated with climate change by reducing their vulnerability and increasing the resilience of their community. For more information about the project, and to obtain a copy of the report, visit

The Science Impact Collaborative is supported by the US Geological Survey. Student interns are trained to help groups with conflicting views engage in productive conversations. The report was prepared by a team including MCP students Tyler Corson-Rikert and Evan Thomas Paul with assistance from Jessica Agatstein, Ka Hei Fioni Cheung, Cristen Chinea and Susan Schwartz. The faculty supervisor was Lawrence Susskind, Ford Professor of Urban and Environmental Planning.