Using Smart Growth Strategies to Create More Resilient Communities in the Washington D.C. Region

This publication from EPA's Smart Growth Program examines climate resiliency planning and policy options for local governments in the metropolitan Washington area. The guide describes smart growth approaches that can reduce climate change-related risks to the land use, transportation, water, and buildings sectors. The report was developed as part of a technical assistance project that EPA conducted with the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments.

While the guidebook was developed for the DC region, it presents approaches that can be used in other city, suburban, or rural settings and in places with similar climate change projections.

The guide offers approaches that meet multiple community goals and can often be incorporated into existing community development processes, policies, and regulations. The strategies encourage compact development that offers a range of transportation options, uses resources more efficiently, and creates attractive and thriving neighborhoods - providing additional short- and long-term benefits that improve the community regardless of the extent of climate change. Many of these approaches include smart growth strategies that some local governments in the region already use but that could be enhanced to help communities better adapt to climate change.

This guidebook is intended to give local governments some guidance on how to plan for and adapt to climate change in an anticipatory way. Many of the strategies described are “no regrets,” meaning they will provide benefits even if the effects of climate change turn out to be less severe or different than projected - and they bring multiple benefits beyond climate specific adaptation.

The smart growth strategies focus on three major goals:
• discouraging new development in particularly vulnerable areas,
• protecting people and assets in vulnerable areas, and
• encouraging sustainable growth in appropriate, less vulnerable areas.

In addition, the first section provides a general approach to planning for climate change - describing the process of building and utilizing a vulnerability assessment and a climate readiness plan. The following section highlights regional approaches, specifically, that address climate impacts in the focal sectors - land use, transportation, water, and infrastructure.


In September 2011, the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments (MWCOG) convened meetings of land use, transportation, water, and building sector representatives to discuss the challenges facing the region and individual jurisdictions in adapting to climate change. Through these discussions and subsequent reviews with MWCOG and representatives of jurisdictions in the region, EPA and the consultant team developed and refined the strategies in this guidebook.

In July 2013, MWCOG released a complementary report, "Summary of Potential Climate Change Impacts, Vulnerabilities, and Adaptation Strategies," that is based on lessons it learned from its work on climate adaptation, which included the EPA technical assistance. For more information, the MWCOG report is reviewed in this clearinghouse as well.

Publication Date: November 2013

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  • Adaptation plan


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