Prioritizing Climate Change in Planning Projects

What should urban planners reconsider when engaging in sustainable development?

Read Time: 3 minutes

January 10, 2023, 11:00 AM PST

By Devin Partida

Green roof in Rotterdam, The Netherlands

R. de Bruijn_Photography / Green roof in Rotterdam, The Netherlands

City planners in the modern age are in one of the most exhilarating positions in history—to design projects for a sustainable future. The climate crisis is changing operations in every sector, but building projects are distinct because much of the process could shift due to global climate goals. What should urban planners reconsider when engaging in sustainable development?

Understanding the Urgency

Global temperatures will exceed sustainable levels in the coming years. Climate goals aren’t being achieved at the pace humanity needs to progress. Growing populations, industrialization, and international development require urban planning to reframe project trajectories. Planners have to construct them sustainably and assist with alleviating the climate crisis.

Dismissing the relevance of the climate crisis created vulnerable cities. Countless urban locations worldwide are susceptible to climate-influenced risks, including:

  • Reduced citizen health and well-being
  • Increased natural hazard severity, like drought or wildfire
  • More radical temperature variances
  • Inability to sustain increased population due to urban migration

Sustainable urban planning projects will create standards for future construction. Outlining precedents and priorities will simplify processes and decrease resistance against climate-focused city planning.

Preparing for Disasters

The goal is to have cities worldwide that are sturdy enough to handle generations of wear and tear—including human use and natural impact. Though sustainable urban planning intends to mitigate some of the effects of the climate crisis, the side effects of it will not dissipate immediately. 

Therefore, cities must have an inherent resistance to the most intense elements humankind has ever experienced. Creating a building that can withstand hurricanes or tornadoes is a lofty goal, but it isn’t impossible. 

Urban planners can consider communal infrastructure for safety and security. Making buildings safe for sheltering during natural disasters prepares citizens for the worst-case consequences of the climate crisis. It solidifies a city’s emergency management plan and ensures residents have access to clean water and air in thoughtfully constructed buildings made from sustainable yet durable materials.

It’s not just about having robust infrastructure—designing landscaping to supplement resiliency is paramount. Although trees assist in mitigating heat island effects and adverse respiratory ailments in larger cities, brittle or damaged ones with shallow roots can cause more damage during storms. 

Installing Greener Cities

Keeping the climate crisis at the forefront of city planning projects is a worthwhile thesis, but how does execution look? Adaptability and independence are two overarching qualities of urban planning for the climate crisis. 

Adaptive city planning will prevent flooding or high winds from damaging too much while acclimating to climate intensity and severity. It also reduces the fear of resource scarcity and provides healthier environments for residents. Finding a balance requires city planners to get creative while balancing citizens’ and sustainability needs.

A prepared city equates to a more economically viable city. Businesses seek locations for the long term—investing in a site in a climate-friendly town with healthy residents is a financial no-brainer. Areas with Internet of Things (IoT) technology to automate monitoring or that use renewable energy to cut down energy consumption and costs are more enticing.

City grids connect every infrastructure facet. For example, public transportation relies on telecommunications and energy and takes a hit if one system has an outage. Planning cities where each necessity can operate without assistance will make them more resilient and disrupt inhabitants’ lives and daily operations less frequently.

Urban Planning for a Greener Future

Some locations need restructuring from the ground up. Other cities are just beginning their development journey, but they’re blossoming from an existing environmentalist mentality. No two areas are the same for urban planners, but most places will eventually transform into embracing renewables, instilling ethical building practices and implementing technological aids for maintenance. 

The future of city planning is one of the most impactful of the world’s sustainability initiatives, and its versatility and innovation will change the planet for the better.

Devin Partida

Devin Partida writes about current events, technology, and science. She is also the Editor-in-Chief of

Chicago Commute

The Right to Mobility

As we consider how to decarbonize transportation, preserving mobility, especially for lower- and middle-income people, must be a priority.

January 26, 2023 - Angie Schmitt

Green bike lane with flexible delineators and textures paint in Hoboken, New Jersey

America’s Best New Bike Lanes

PeopleForBikes highlights some of the most exciting new bike infrastructure projects completed in 2022.

January 31, 2023 - PeopleforBikes

Sharrow bike markings on black asphalt two-lane road with snowy trees

Early Sharrow Booster: ‘I Was Wrong’

The lane marking was meant to raise awareness and instill shared respect among drivers and cyclists. But their inefficiency has led supporters to denounce sharrows, pushing instead for more robust bike infrastructure that truly protects riders.

January 26, 2023 - Streetsblog USA

A tent covered in blue and black tarps sits on a downtown Los Angeles sidewalk with the white ziggurat-topped L.A. City Hall looming in the background

L.A. County Towns Clash Over Homelessness Policies

Local governments often come to different conclusions about how to address homelessness within their respective borders, but varying approaches only exacerbate the problem.

February 3 - Shelterforce Magazine

Rendering of mixed-use development with parks and stormwater retention on former Houston landfill site

A Mixed-Use Vision for Houston Landfill Site

A local nonprofit is urging the city to consider adding mixed-use development to the site, which city officials plan to turn into a stormwater detention facility.

February 3 - Urban Edge

Aerial view of downtown Milwaukee, Wisconsin at sunset

Milwaukee County Makes Substantial Progress on Homelessness

In 2022, the county’s point-in-time count of unhoused people reflected just 18 individuals, the lowest in the country.

February 3 - Urban Milwaukee

Write for Planetizen

Urban Design for Planners 1: Software Tools

This six-course series explores essential urban design concepts using open source software and equips planners with the tools they need to participate fully in the urban design process.

Planning for Universal Design

Learn the tools for implementing Universal Design in planning regulations.