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Great Lakes Cities

Great Lakes Cities

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Project Summary

Effective adaptation to climate change is nowhere more critical than in cities because most people now live in urban environments. The Great Lakes watershed accounts for one-fifth of the world’s fresh water and houses approximately 10% of the US and 25% of Canadian populations (40 million people total). Climate change impacts in the Great Lakes region are anticipated to worsen risks of flooding, reduce water availability and quality, increase problems related to heat stress, and negatively impact economies in cities dependent on tourism and recreation.

Despite these anticipated risks and their substantial adverse impacts on populations in the Great Lakes region, many urban decision makers highlight the need for place-based climate science and options for responding to impacts. The Great Lakes Adaptation Assessment for Cities worked closely with regional partners and urban decision makers to identify adaptation needs, opportunities for action, and relative costs of different response options.

Through the support the University of Michigan Graham Sustainability Institute and the Kresge Foundation, and in collaboration with Great Lakes Integrated Sciences + Assessments (GLISA), this Integrated Assessment (IA) strengthened the science and decision making necessary for more effective urban climate adaptation in the Great Lakes region (both Canada and the U.S.). The IA was led by several University of Michigan (U-M) faculty research teams in coordination with partners across the region.

See:      GLAA-C Fact Sheet

Key Outcomes

For cities to develop and implement effective climate adaptation policies, they require a wide range of scientific, social, and policy information. This project engaged experts from diverse fields to:
  • develop and enhance climate adaptation planning and strategy development by working with city staff and decision makers from six representative Great Lakes cities. Work with these cities now serves as an important resource for similarly situated cities in the region.
  • integrate social and climate science data to enhance city-level adaptation plans, activities, and spatial data and inform existing and future infrastructure investments
  • create the Cities Impacts and Adaptation Tool (now retired) that was used by stakeholders to synthesize, communicate, and apply climate relevant knowledge for urban resilience under different climate scenarios.
  • partner to develop the Great Lakes Atlas, an interactive map that provides social, economic, and demographic statistics on 225 counties across the Great Lakes region. This demographic information is combined with detailed data about municipal spending, land use change, and climate change characteristics to demonstrate how climate change intersects other conditions and concerns in the region.

Video: Adapting to Change and Building Resilience

Fact Sheets

A variety of climate adaptation strategies have been implemented throughout the Great Lakes region. Climate scientists provided historical climate data and worked wtih municipalities to assess climate risks, such as flooding and increased heat and aging infrastructure. Key factors considered by many city leaders include specific risks to vulnerable populations, emergency response, and public health. Lessons learned from interacting with these cities are summarized in this series of fact sheets.

Ann Arbor

Located in Southeast Michigan, the City of Ann Arbor is a leader in sustainability and environmental planning. Known as tree city, Ann Arbor has a total population of 113,934 spread over 27 sq. miles, and is home to the University of Michigan. Average per capita income in Ann Arbor is $30,498 USD.

Download the Ann Arbor Climate Factsheet PDF)


Columbus is facing increasing heavy precipitation events, possibly leading to greater flood risk and reduced water quality, and drier and hotter summers. Columbus also faces increasingly frequent water issues, including flooding events and drinking water contamination from algae and nitrates. City leaders are actively addressing climate adaptation measures and have charged the Columbus Green Team, Climate and Energy Working Group to develop adaptation and mitigation measures.

Download the Columbus Climate Factsheet (PDF)


Located in Southwest Ohio, the Dayton leaders are innovative. Strong regional partners and a can-do spirit are the building blocks of climate change adaptation efforts. The City has a total population of 141,527 spread over 57 sq. miles. Average per capita income in Dayton is $16,702.

Download the Dayton Climate Factsheet (PDF)


Located in Southeast Michigan, the City of Flint faces is located along the Flint River. The Imagine Flint Master Plan is focused on making the City sustainability and better able to address climate change efforts. The city has a total population of 102,434 spread over 34 sq. miles. Average per capita income in Flint is $14,910 USD.

Contact the Flint Climate Fact Sheet (PDF)


Located in Eastern Ontario on the Northeast shore of Lake Ontario and at the headwaters of the St. Lawrence River, the City of Kingston aspires to become ‘Canada’s Most Sustainable City.’ The city will be addressing climate change impacts through mitigation and adaptation in its Climate Action Plan. The city has a total population of 123,363 spread over 450 sq. kilometers. Average per capita income in Kingston is $31,370 CAD.

Download the Kingston Climate Factsheet (PDF)


Minnesota is the fastest-warming state in the continental U.S. during the winter, with temperatures and overnight low temperatures contributing the most to the rapid warming (1970-2012, NOAA). City leaders are adjusting infrastructure to accommodate a growing population, and more severe temperatures and precipitation events.

Download the Minneapolis Climate Factsheet (PDF)

St. Paul

In 2015, St. Paul secured a grant from the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency to develop a strategic climate change Resilience Framework. Part of the Framework includes increasing green infrastructure to improve storm water management. Other aspects of the Framework focus on improving communication about how to reduce the effects of climate change on city residents, especially more vulnerable populations.

Download the Saint Paul Climate Factsheet (PDF)

Thunder Bay

Located in Northern Ontario on the north coast of Lake Superior, Thunder Bay is a leader in sustainability and climate change adaptation planning. The City has a total population of 108,359 spread over 447 sq. kilometers. Average per capita income in Thunder Bay is $31,182 CAD.

Download the Thunder Bay Climate Factsheet (PDF)


Located in Northwest Ohio on the shores of Lake Erie, the City of Toledo identifies climate change as a matter of environmental, economic, and health concern. The city has a total population of 287,208 spread over 84 sq. miles. Average per capita income in Toledo is $18,758 USD. More information on trends in the climate of the Toledo region over the last forty years can be found on GLISA’s website.

Download the Toledo Climate Factsheet (PDF)


  • GLAA-C Evaluation Report: This is the final report of an internal evaluation of GLAA-C's IA process, which had the dual purposes of 1) evaluating how well the IA process helped GLAA-C meet its stated project goals and 2) assisting the Graham Institute with reflecting upon and learning from the IA process in order to improve future IA projects.
  • Public Perceptions and Attitudes Toward Climate Change Fact Sheet: Between April and May of 2012, GLAA-C conducted a random-sample phone survey that targed midsized cities in the Great Lakes Region. The survey was completed by 2,049 participants.
  • Local Leaders Survey:  An anlysis of over 90 responses collected during a 2013-2014 survey of city administrators, managers, commissioners, directors of departments, and other key decision-makers throughout the Great Lakes region aimed at understanding how they are addressing climate impacts.
  • Socioeconomics and Climate Change in the Great Lakes Region Tool: Developed collaboratively between GLAA-C and Headwaters Economics, this interactive shows how the social and economic characteristics of the Great Lakes Region are impacted by regionally specific changes in climate. The map features statistical information on over 225 counties throughout the Great Lakes region.

The Kresge Foundation and Graham Sustainability Institute provided $1.2 million of project funding in 2011.