Nature-based solutions get an online showcase

By Erika Bolstad | 04/06/2017 07:40 AM EDT

A new website aimed at helping communities adapt to rising seas, tidal flooding and other climate-change-related risks starts with this simple question: What kind of hazards does your city face?

From there, it’s a multiple choice of water-related problems, such as coastal erosion and riverine and stormwater flooding.

The website was created for Naturally Resilient Communities by the design firm Sasaki and sponsored by the Kresge Foundation. It’s a collaboration of organizations interested in addressing nature-based solutions to the sort of flooding problems expected to only increase in the coming years: the Nature Conservancy, the American Planning Association, the American Society of Civil Engineers, the Association of State Floodplain Managers and the National Association of Counties.


"There was this shared interest and this shared vision that there was a role for nature in creating more resilient communities going forward," Nate Woiwode of the Nature Conservancy said in an interview. "We were seeing that in the planning sphere; we were seeing that in the executive sphere, in the engineering sphere. It may not be entirely mainstream yet, but it’s definitely there."

The website itself features 30 nature-based solutions. Among them are plans to restore rivers to their natural floodplains and coral reef restoration programs. They also include ideas for implementing green roof and permeable pavement solutions in communities.

The need for such solutions is growing, the coalition notes. Five major hurricanes since 2005 led to $230 billion in damage and more than 2,200 deaths. Nearly all Americans live in counties that have had federally declared weather-related disasters since 2010, Linda Langston, director of strategic relations with the National Association of Counties, said in a statement.

"What we know from a scientific standpoint is that healthy natural systems can reduce flood risk," Woiwode said. "Whether it is mangroves, whether it is rivers that have enough room to move and a natural floodplain to inhabit, or if it’s coastal wetlands."

Such systems can also work with man-made infrastructure like dams, levees, sea walls and stormwater systems. But the ideas on the website go beyond flood reduction or resilience building, Woiwode said. People who live in close proximity to natural spaces are healthier, and the nature-based solutions they’ve showcased can help communities foster more robust public health practices.

"It isn’t just purely nature for nature’s sake," he said. "Public health studies show us this. Communities that have a neighborhood park tend to have higher property values. These are investments that make sense, not just from a flood reduction standpoint, but from a broad community resilience standpoint."