How One Small City Is Making Big Moves in Resilience Planning

NLC recently joined a community forum on hazard adaptation and mitigation in the city of Annapolis, Maryland, where federal, state and local agencies were working together to take action on climate change. Here’s what we learned.

This post was co-authored by Shafaq Choudry and Meri St. Jean.

Earlier this month, the Trump Administration made headlines by withdrawing the U.S. from the Paris climate accords. In the following days, a number of large city leaders — including Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, and Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel — also made headlines when they announced that their cities would continue to adopt, honor, and uphold the terms of the international agreement. The message was clear: cities will continue to lead.

But large cities are not the only cities that must be resilient in the face of climate change — and large cities aren’t the only ones taking action.

Annapolis, Maryland, population 38,856, is the first city to have created a cultural resource hazard adaptation and mitigation plan in the U.S. Their program, which is still being written, is a five-year initiative designed to mitigate the damaging effects climate change will have on the architectural heritage prevalent in the city’s historic district and on the city’s community character and identity. Annapolis is one of ten cities participating in NLC’s Leadership in Community Resilience Program and will use funding from the grant to support the city’s national conference, Keeping History Above Water.

A coastal city, many of the historic buildings and monuments in Annapolis lie within a flood plain, resulting in critical damage to the city center when a super storm or hurricane hits. The city’s hazard adaptation and mitigation strategy, aptly named Weather It Together, is a public-private partnership that addresses the impacts of climate change and sea level rise on historic and cultural resources in Annapolis. Impacts from coastal storms and tidal flooding are not a matter of opinion but rather a vivid reality that most residents recall during events like Hurricane Isabel.

Nuisance flooding in dowtown Annapolis (Alicia Moran, AM Media+Marketing)

NLC joined the Weather It Together team in Annapolis on June 15 at a free open house and community forum where federal, state and local agencies were working together to take action on climate change. Here’s what we learned.

Identify What’s Important to Your Community

An important initial step in resilience planning is being able to identify and prioritize the greatest threat or risk in your community. For Annapolis, the at-risk areas represented not just a cultural identity but a distinct economic powerhouse for the city, and even for the state. The Weather It Together team calculated that the total projected loss for one event like the 2003 super storm Isabelle would cost the city $241 million and compromise 147 historic structures. By quantifying the amount at stake, residents, city leaders and officials at the state and federal level can all understand the ramifications of inaction.

Community Participation Is Crucial

In Annapolis, resilience efforts aren’t just for the community. They’re with the community. For Lisa Craig, chief of historic preservation, an inclusive approach to building relationships is at the center of the city’s resilience efforts. “We value the fact that our property owners are invested in the future of this community as well.” Events like the community forum, online surveys, tours of the at-risk areas, and special lectures have helped Annapolis raise awareness and have given the Weather It Together team a way to track their progress.

A key message from the team in Annapolis is that property owners in the at-risk areas must be proactive about protecting their homes and businesses. At the beginning of the process, residents mostly thought the city was responsible for the protection of their properties. But through public forums, workshops, online surveys and informal polling, Craig’s team has seen a shift; residents are now taking more ownership of their properties, preserving and strengthening the city’s resilience.

All Levels of Government Are Needed

The community forum was a prime and leading example of federal, state and local agencies working in collaboration to build a resilient city. Annapolis Mayor Michael Pantelides and Mark Belton, Secretary of the Maryland Department of Natural Resources, set the tone of the event by emphasizing the importance of commitment to climate change. Partnerships with public, private and philanthropic stakeholders played an integral role in building necessary support and resources to generate the nation’s first cultural resource hazard mitigation plan. The takeaway: a diverse and creative range of partnerships like these must be a key mission for any resilience project, program or plan.

(L-R) Lisa Craig, Chief of Historic Preservation, Annapolis Mayor Mike Pantelides, and Mark Belton, Maryland Secretary of Natural Resources. (Alicia Moran, AM Media+Marketing)

While developing partnerships from outside resources is important, cities can’t forget that some of their strongest allies will come from within their city. Integrating resilient strategies into every department — from transportation to public safety and even historic preservation — will help your city launch a stronger and more coordinated effort. Annapolis worked with nine city departments toward the common goal of achieving greater city-wide resilience in the face of flooding disasters and, in turn, strengthened inter-departmental collaboration and coordination.

Small Cities Must Be Proactive

Large cities often have more resources than their small-city counterpoints. Federal grants and media headlines tend to focus their attention on the cities with the most people — but floods and natural disasters affect cities of 5,000 or 500,000 residents equally. It’s up to small cities to be proactive in their efforts to mitigate climate change, by energizing the community, seeking out state and federal partners, and sharing their findings with other cities, large and small, across the country.

The National Renewable Energy Laboratory is hosting a video submission contest for local governments, and NLC would love to see small cities represented. If you are a small- to mid-sized city facing a resilience challenge, submit a two- to five-minute video outlining your community’s biggest challenge or success in the area of energy, water, economic or infrastructure resilience by Friday, June 30, 2017. Video submissions will be reviewed by a panel of experts and potential funders. For more information or to submit a video, please contact Shafaq Choudry at

Featured image: A view of the Chesapeake Bay from downtown Annapolis, Maryland. (Getty Images)

About the authors:

shafaq_choudry_125x150Shafaq Choudry is a senior associate with the Sustainable Cities Institute at the National League of Cities.

meridith_st_jean_125x150Meri St. Jean is an associate for marketing, communications & technology at the National League of Cities.