Rural Areas Left Behind in Climate Adaptation Plans

While resources pour in for urban climate resilience projects, smaller communities often bear the brunt of extreme weather events.

2 minute read

October 29, 2021, 7:00 AM PDT

By Diana Ionescu @aworkoffiction

Midwest Flooding

George Burba / Shutterstock

According to Timothy Schuler, climate adaptation planning in the U.S. "has, with some notable exceptions, tended to focus on large metropolitan areas, particularly in the wake of Hurricane Katrina and Superstorm Sandy." But more recently, "Hurricane Ida served as a harsh reminder that the nation’s rural and smaller coastal communities often bear the brunt of the effects of climate change, suffering extensive flooding and other damage, yet lack the resources to rebuild or to implement measures that could prevent future disasters." These areas, Schuler writes, essentially become a "national climate sacrifice zone," overlooked and underresourced as climate change brings increasingly disastrous effects. 

Yet "some 60 million people—1 in 5 Americans—live in rural areas," with the total rising to almost 90 million when including towns of 2,500 to 50,000 people. Weak political support, a low tax base, and "lack of access to the kinds of technical assistance design professionals provide to urban resilience projects" leave rural communities behind when it comes to resilience planning. 

To mitigate the problem, organizations such as the Coastal Dynamics Design Lab (CDDL) provide cost-free "design and planning services to underserved areas, specifically around issues of disaster recovery and resilience." Projects like this "point to the value of university-affiliated design studios and research hubs, which at times offer smaller communities the only avenue through which they can access climate adaptation planning assistance." Additionally, "while smaller communities can stymie traditional design and planning models, they can serve as important testing grounds for how to work sensitively in other under-resourced places."

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