The $1 billion in National Disaster Resilience Competition (NDRC) grants recently awarded by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) is a critical step in helping states and communities across the nation become more resilient to the impacts of climate change, according to ULI. In addition, the grant proposals and winning applications have highlighted the important connections between urban design and development and improving community resilience.

ULI has worked to strengthen these connections through the community resilience advice it has provided to many communities in states receiving awards, including Norfolk, Virginia; New York City; communities in New Jersey, New York, and Connecticut; and two NDRC finalists, St. Tammany Parish, Louisiana, and Duluth, Minnesota. ULI has also provided resilience advice to Portland, Maine; Seattle, Washington; and communities in Northern Colorado; and it plans to work with several other communities over the next two years.

ULI’s work in these places was provided through the Institute’s highly regarded Advisory Services program, through which ULI members volunteer their expertise to advise communities on how best to address pressing urban growth challenges, including redevelopment and revitalization, in the context of a changing climate. In each case, ULI panelists offer recommendations focused not just on building back, but also on building better—and linking land use decisions to future economic, environmental, and social resilience.

“As our understanding of resilience has improved, we are seeing innovative approaches to the planning, design, development, financing, and insuring of real estate,” says ULI leader Jim Heid, founder of UrbanGreen in San Francisco, who has chaired several ULI community resilience panels. “That was certainly evident with the applicants for the National Disaster Resilience Competition program.

“It’s clear that communities are realizing that it is not always possible—or wise—to keep building where, and how, they have always been built. At a time when changing climate and changing economic norms are challenging us daily, we need to think harder—and work smarter—about how we build our neighborhoods and connect our communities. This reality is compelling the real estate industry to partner ever more closely with the public sector and other stakeholders to develop in a way that protects both the built and natural environment, now and into the future, while leading to more vital and thriving places to live.”

ULI’s resilience advisory panels, supported by the Kresge Foundation, have produced recommendations tailored to the environmental, economic, and demographic specifics of each location, but all have underscored the critical role that thoughtful land use and real estate planning play in strengthening communities. Recommendations typically focus on strategies that help communities not just withstand severe weather-related events, but also improve overall livability and spur economic investment. For instance:

  • In Duluth, ULI advised the city to create a stormwater management system that also could serve as a recreational amenity and focal point for revitalization of an underinvested neighborhood.
  • In St. Tammany Parish, the panel provided recommendations on how to pursue a more compact development pattern and rethink the approach to transportation in order to ease daily congestion and allow more efficient evacuation.
  • In Norfolk, the panel recommended the protection of vulnerable waterfront property to serve as a natural buffer for flooding and sea-level rise and to double as park space for a new mixed-income, mixed-use development centered on public transit.
  • In northern Colorado, the panel looked at three very different communities and emphasized the need for a stronger regional approach to growth, noting that extreme weather events do not respect political boundaries and that each community’s economic future is inextricably linked to the success of its neighbors.

“Improving resilience is about much more than just reducing disaster-related risk,” said Sarene Marshall, executive director of ULI’s Center for Sustainability. “Community resilience needs to address not just environmental factors, but quality of life and economic prosperity.

“Sustainability, livability, health, and prosperity are all necessary components of resilience, and land use patterns link these all together. This holistic view is helping communities think beyond catastrophes and evolve into thriving places with more potential and promise than ever before.”