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Residents, not climate professionals, serve as experts to form Cincinnati's climate resilience plan

Cincinnati, OH, USA

At a Glance

Cincinnati, OH collaborated with non-profit partners and involved community members to create a holistic strategic plan centered around ensuring the city's sustainability and resilience in the face of climate inequity.

Problem Addressed

With a population of 307,266, Cincinnati residents have begun to face growing challenges from both extreme heat and increased precipitation.

Cincinnati's overall temperature is expected to rise seven degrees by the end of the century, including two major heat waves each year. This would account for 30 dangerously hot days per year, leading to higher rates of asthma, heat rash, cramps and heat stroke. The city has additionally seen a 40% increase in precipitation in very heavy rain events, which could cause the Ohio River to surge by 25% in the next 30 years. The storms in 2017 alone cost the city over $50 million.

With the effects of climate change becoming more prevalent each year, with the effects more pronounced for Black, Indigenous and other people of color, Cincinnati moved to operationalize sustainability and resilience strategies to foster more equitable and inclusive programs and practices.

Cincinnati used/is using a Sustainability Strategic Plan to address this/these challenge(s).

Solution(s) Used

To position themselves as a leader in emissions reductions and climate adaptation, Cincinnati's sustainability team outlined a citywide goal to put sustainable strategies into motion. The goal framed the 2018 Green Cincinnati Plan, complete with comprehensive recommendations to advance the sustainability, equity, and resilience of the city.

The plan's four proposed goals were to collaborate with community partners to create a sustainability-focused equity playbook, operationalize the equity playbook, expand sustainability and equitable resilience city and department-wide, and advocate for sustainability and resilience across city staff and community leaders. To kick off the process, Cincinnati entered a partnership with environmental non profits, Groundwork Ohio River Valley (Groundwork ORV) and Green Umbrella.

Groundwork ORV secured a Climate Safe Neighborhoods (CSN) grant to work with at-risk communities to develop extreme weather event prevention measures. They held six meetings with neighborhood members to understand what climate disruptions looked like from their perspective, which were concluded as they produced the region's first neighborhood-level resiliency plan.

Cincinnati was selected to work in the NOAA/NIHHIS heat island mapping program, which provided them with equipment to measure the impact of urban heat island effect across town. After collecting over 10,000 data points, the city produced a map highlighting the critical need for cooling strategies.

Another grant from Kapwa Consulting helped the city synthesize community engagement work into the city's first Climate Equity Indicators Report, a collection of neighborhood-level climate vulnerability data that will be used for future climate resilience planning and program development.

Outcomes

  1. A neighborhood-level resiliency plan for extreme heat, flooding and air pollution formed by interviews and conversations with Cincinnati residents who were paid for their time and expertise.
  2. Cleanly aggregated neighborhood-level climate vulnerability data in the Climate Equity Indicators Report, which will be fundamental for future climate resilience planning.
  3. Recruited resident volunteers to collect over 10,000 data points aggregated into a heat map, which showed a 9 degree Fahrenheit temperature difference between city locations.
  4. Heat risk mapping highlighted heat burden, giving key officials critical evidence to push for cooling strategies like tree planting, public pools and cooling centers.

Lessons Learned

  1. Partnering with local organizations that played diplomatic roles to connect residents with partner organizations and government agencies helped the city foster deep community relationships.
  2. Getting feedback from community members and providing them with compensation was essential, as they serve as the experts on life in their neighborhoods.
  3. Thinking about the plan in terms of processes, and not just outcomes helped the city think critically about procedural equity when co-creating programs with the community.
  4. Spending extensive time in each of the city's 52 neighborhoods ensured that the sustainability team had adequate engagement city-wide.

Who Should Consider?

Communities looking to address climate change and increase its sustainability and resilience with community needs at its forefront.

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