Moving Urban Adaptation Forward in the Great Lakes Region: Lessons Learned from the Great Lakes Adaptation Assessment for Cities

May 2015

Across the Great Lakes region, climate variability and change pose major risks to public finances, urban economies, health, safety, and quality of life. The negative impacts of climate change will be unevenly and unequally distributed across the region and across communities; thus, solutions must take into account socio-economic differences, variations in the vulnerability of different populations, and the distribution of available resources. To craft smart responses, cities require place-based information that accounts for both climate variability and climate change, as well as the geographic, social, environmental, and economic conditions contributing to vulnerabilities. Working with mid-sized cities across the region, the Great Lakes Adaptation Assessment for Cities (GLAA-C), an integrated assessment of the University of Michigan Graham Sustainability Institute (Graham), piloted an approach to address these climate risks and deliver locally relevant climate adaptation resources and strategies. Over the course of the three-year GLAA-C project, Graham staff worked closely with six cities with climatic, social, and economic diversity: Toledo and Dayton, Ohio; Kingston and Thunder Bay, Ontario; and Flint and Ann Arbor, Michigan. Engagement with these cities led to the identification of key resources needed for adaptation and an effective process for introducing these resources to empower stakeholder action and build trust between the climate data end-users and producers. This paper explains how the GLAA-C project adopted the integrated assessment model to build a flexible approach to addressing adaptation. It also describes the key lessons learned through engagement with the six cities, and identifies opportunities for scaling these lessons throughout and beyond the Great Lakes region. These lessons now inform the ongoing Urban Adaptation Program of the University of Michigan Climate Center, a recently formed center within the Graham Sustainability Institute.