concrete road between trees

Adaptation Strategies

Climate Adaptation Strategies

“The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is now.”

Adaptation is already ongoing throughout Central Iowa, and has been for decades.

Flood protections like levees, Tiny Trees, Rain Campaign, Safe Routes to School & Complete/Green Streets – all are forms of adaptation. Each uniquely touches on the multi-dimensional needs of a community, organization, or region.

While these individual adaptation avenues may seem incremental; the sum of their impact has been, is now, and will continue to be notable as we continue to feel our climate shift.

This page will outline adaptation measures through the lens of Iowa’s Smart Planning Principles by building upon the 2011 US EPA Iowa Climate Adaptation and Resilience Report, and providing resources for deeper dives into adaptation strategies community’s and organizations can take on to increase resilience.

Iowa Smart Planning Principles

Iowa Code 18B.1 lays out tenets of community planning within the State of Iowa. Comprehensive planning and more across Iowa follow these principles. While it is recommended that a community does dedicate a specific plan to climate – it is not a requirement. Climate adaptation can be seamlessly incorporated into comprehensive plans and processes.

For a deeper dive into national trends in this area, APA created an in-depth guide Sustaining Places: Best Practices for Comprehensive Plans. Additionally, APA Washington produced a white paper on the topic: Planning for Climate Change Adaptation.


Governmental, community, and individual stakeholders, including those outside the jurisdiction of the entity, are encouraged to be involved and provide comment during the deliberation of planning, zoning, development, and resource management decisions and during implementation of such decisions. The state agency, local government, or other public entity is encouraged to develop and implement a strategy to facilitate such participation.

Adaptation Planning Strategies

  • Local governments’ responses to climate change need to be based on the best possible science. Because climate change is bringing about previously unrecorded conditions, projections based on new scientific modeling are the best way to anticipate and respond. Planners can develop the knowledge and skills to be able to communicate complex scientific information to citizens to help them understand climate change and its associated risks.

  • Current science indicates that the specific impacts of climate change are highly regional and even local in nature. Therefore, climate change policies cannot be based on a one-size-fits-all approach. Planning can promote processes designed to involve citizens in the identification and prioritization of adaptation strategies appropriate for their communities.

  • Plan implementation often falls short because of citizens’ resistance to politically controversial strategies. Despite the recognized validity of the science, it is the reality that climate change has become highly politicized. Communities stand a greater chance of implementing climate change adaptation strategies if the planning process is used to educate citizens on the validity of climate change science, and to build among the public a committed constituency for climate change adaptation.

Efficiency, Transparency, and Consistency

Planning, zoning, development, and resource management should be undertaken to provide efficient, transparent, and consistent outcomes. Individuals, communities, regions, and governmental entities should share in the responsibility to promote the equitable distribution of development benefits and costs.

Adaptation Planning Strategies

  • The natural systems affected by climate change – such as watersheds and aquifers – do not correspond to political boundaries. Coordination and collaboration to address climate change and its implications at a regional level can be encouraged through multi-jurisdictional planning processes.

  • The planning process can be used to provide opportunities for collaboration among design professionals (e.g., planners, architects, engineers), scientists, social scientists, economists, and other key professions to develop and carry out plans that adapt to the consequences of climate change.

  • Affected stakeholder groups can be engaged in initiatives to create and implement climate change plans to ensure that no group is isolated from the process. As the 2008 floods illustrated in Cedar Rapids, the populations often at highest risk from natural disasters are low-to moderate-income families in older housing located in higher risk areas. Plans can recommend land use patterns, standards, and regulations that will reduce the impacts of climate change on those populations least able to respond.

Clean, Renewable, and Efficient Energy

Planning, zoning, development, and resource management should be undertaken to promote clean and renewable energy use and increased energy efficiency.

Adaptation Planning Strategies

  • Planning for the planting of more trees in the community can help reduce the amount of energy needed to acclimatize homes and businesses. Trees are a natural and renewable resource that provide shade and wind barriers. As climate change induces changing temperature patterns, it is important to find renewable ways to acclimatize.
  • Renewable energy generation can happen across Central Iowa. Urban, suburban, and agricultural landscapes can all generated renewable energy. Already established rooftops are plentiful, creating pathways to enable installation of photovoltaic systems have the capacity to not only fill the energy needs of the building or property, but could also feed into systems for community use.
  • Communities can can tap into US Department of Energy’s SolSmart program for no-cost technical assistance to identify barriers and opportunities in solar energy incorporation. This is an opportunity to not only enhance renewable capabilities, but also spur market and job growth.
  • Utilizing Energy Districts can aid in building awareness and aid in creating more energy efficiencies. These districts can provide energy auditing and planning, tap partners for basic upgrades, assist in policy development, and promote local economic development.

Occupational Diversity

Planning, zoning, development, and resource management should promote increased diversity of employment and business opportunities, promote access to education and training, expand entrepreneurial opportunities, and promote the establishment of businesses in locations near existing housing, infrastructure, and transportation.

Adaptation Planning Strategies

  • The planning process can be used to develop strategies for diversifying local economies, to reduce risks that a weather-related disasters affecting one or a small number of employers will have a disproportionately negative impact on the local economy. Strong, diverse local economies are also more resilient, which means that communities are better able to recover quickly after natural disasters.

  • Planning can be used to provide incentives for businesses to adapt to the changing climate, such as revolving loan funds for independently owned local businesses to make structural changes that enable them to be better prepared to withstand weather-related emergencies and other side effects of climate change.

  • Job training opportunities are abundant as we adapt to climate change. Stormwater technicians and turbine technicians, energy auditors, renewable energy and EV system installers, climate outreach coordinators, and many more roles will continue to see an increased need. Partnering with local education systems for technical trainings not only invests in the student, but also in the community and Iowa.


Planning, zoning, development, and resource management should facilitate the revitalization of established town centers, and neighborhoods by promoting development that conserves land, protects historic resources, promotes pedestrian accessibility, and integrates different uses of property. Remediation and reuse of existing sites, structures, and infrastructure is preferred over new construction in undeveloped areas.

Adaptation Planning Strategies

  • Planning and design can identify geographic areas within currently-developed areas of communities and regions that are not located in hazard-prone areas for infill development, redevelopment of existing neighborhoods, preservation of historic structures, and the adaptive reuse of buildings.

  • Through the planning process communities can develop incentives and policies that promote infill development, redevelopment of existing neighborhoods, preservation of historic structures, and the adaptive reuse of buildings. Tax credits and other incentives and assistance should target the reuse and rehab of vacant properties.

  • State housing, transportation, and infrastructure programs can place a priority on infill development.

  • At the same time, local governments can create post-disaster redevelopment plans that discourage the reconstruction of buildings and infrastructure in hazard-prone areas following climate related disasters.

  • Furthermore, extending post-disaster knowledge can resilience community-wide. Urban flash flooding in a certain area? Major destruction during the derecho? Heat waves impacting vulnerable populations? Identify other areas with similarities and revitalize with a focus on climate resilience.

Housing Diversity

Planning, zoning, development, and resource management should encourage diversity in the types of available housing, support the rehabilitation of existing housing, and promote the location of housing near public transportation and employment centers.

Adaptation Planning Strategies

  • Plans can call for development patterns that mix land uses so jobs, services, schools, shopping and other destinations are near residents’ homes and neighborhoods, and less reliant on transportation networks that may be disrupted by weather-related disasters. Plans can encourage specific actions that remove barriers to mixed use project financing.

  • Plans can encourage policies that incentivize mixed-income development near job centers, to reduce the likelihood that weather-related disasters will disproportionately disrupt the employment of specific income classes.

  • Plans can encourage climate mitigation and adaptation measures be incorporated into housing stock. Stormwater management, tree canopy, energy efficiency, passive lighting, buried utility lines, EV charging plumbing, and more can help enhance resilience across during extreme weather and every other day.

Community Character

Planning, zoning, development, and resource management should promote activities and development that are consistent with the character and architectural style of the community and should respond to local values regarding the physical character of the community.

Adaptation Planning Strategies

  • Natural features (rivers, bluffs, woodlands) are the defining feature with which many communities are identified. Designing the built environment to protect and preserve the salient characteristics of the natural environment often will result in the side benefit of resiliency to natural disasters. For example, some river communities, such as Davenport, Iowa have eschewed structural flood protections in favor of an urban form that accepts flooding. Parkland and other open spaces along the river have come to be highly-valued community assets.

  • Plans can encourage treelined streets; which are found to be safer and more inviting to people. This can aid residents to prioritize walking or biking as mode-choice. Additionally, this can add carbon sinks to the environment to mitigate GHG emissions.

  • Plans can promote native landscaping. Iowa has lost much of it’s native landscape, encouraging property owners to reincorporate native landscaping and other best management practices can lead to better stormwater management, carbon storage, water quality, biodiversity, and more.

  • Community character can be founded and sustained in resilience. Green streets and town centers, higher-density and mixed-use development both promote walking which spurs economic development. Community solar projects create bonds between neighbors which leads to a more cohesive community. Awareness of resilience issues can create ambassadors and volunteers who wholly enhance sustainable programming efforts.

Natural Resources and Agricultural Protection

Planning, zoning, development, and resource management should emphasize protection, preservation, and restoration of natural resources, agricultural land, and cultural and historical landscapes, and should increase the availability of open spaces and recreational facilities.

Adaptation Planning Strategies

  • Plans can promote standards, regulations and incentives for water conservation, so that communities are better prepared to respond to lower water supplies. Water availability should be considered in development reviews, planning decisions, infrastructure investments, and development incentives.

  • Use planning policies regarding infrastructure investments, extension of urban services and utilities and preservation of natural or agricultural areas to create compact regional development patterns that avoid hazard-prone areas.

  • Identify and protect wetland areas that are critical to slow the release of water into streams during times of extreme rain events.

  • Establish strategies to promote redevelopment and compact new development that will minimize the conversion of farmland and woodland for urban use, to reduce the amount of impervious surface coverage in watersheds.

  • Develop state plans and programs to help farmers incorporate environmental protection practices, such as wetland protection, wetland restoration, buffer strips and natural ground cover (grasses) that have been shown to lessen the “flashiness” of stream flow. Promote federal, state and local funding for preservation of open space, farm and forest land.

  • Participation in watershed-wide planning and efforts leads to better communication with neighboring communities and multi-jurisdictional efforts.

Sustainable Design

Planning, zoning, development, and resource management should promote developments, buildings, and infrastructure that utilize sustainable design and construction standards and conserve natural resources by reducing waste and pollution through efficient use of land, water, air, and materials.

Adaptation Planning Strategies

  • The time horizons of plans themselves need to be extended to account for potential long-term impacts of climate change. Planners can no longer assume a “static” set of assumptions about the natural environment. 50-to 100-year time frames are not unreasonable planning horizons when developing scenarios about the future of a community’s built environment.

  • Plans can set design standards that promote the resiliency of the built environment in the face climate change. One example is to design sidewalks to distribute stormwater to open space for recharge and to prevent flooding.

  • Design communities, neighborhoods and individual development projects using techniques that reduce heat absorption throughout the community and region to lessen heat-island effects during periods of extreme high temperatures.

  • Encourage the use of passive lighting, renewable energy, and alternative transportation options through building and neighborhood development to lessen footprint and increase resilience.

Transportation Diversity

Planning, zoning, development, and resource management should promote expanded transportation options for residents of the community. Consideration should be given to transportation options that maximize mobility, reduce congestion, conserve fuel, and improve air quality.

Adaptation Planning Strategies

  • Plan schools and public facilities to be accessible by multiple modes (walking, biking, driving or transit) to reduce automobile reliance during times of emergencies.

  • Encourage development patterns generally that support community resiliency by providing for multiple transportation options to employment centers and retail centers.

  • Incorporate bike and car-share programs to lessen needed space or materials.