Waterfronts of Portland and South Portland, Maine: Regional Strategies for Creating Resilient Waterfronts

This report from the Urban Land Institute (ULI) presents strategies to address climate change risks, primarily sea-level rise and storm surge, to the coastal cities of Portland and South Portland, Maine. The recommendations focus on supporting a climate resilient economy, planning and development (land use and coastal infrastructure), and leadership and governance. The report offers guidance to the cities’ decision makers and planners in building resilience to climate impacts through policy and planning.

ULI studied region’s economy to help develop climate resilience public policies. The report describes the region’s major economies, and strategies to increase resilience through diversification of the local economy. Portland and South Portland’s maritime, tourism, and container-shipping industries rely heavily on the port and waterfront which are put at risk by ocean warming, sea-level rise, and extreme storms. The port is a “working waterfront” that supports the local fishing industry, marine services, and petroleum storage and transshipment. Ocean warming and acidification are affecting local fish and lobster populations. Sea-level rise, and extreme storm risk put all waterfront industries at risk, and ULI suggests that “overreliance on these industries is contrary to the objective of economic vitality.” The ULI expert panel focused on waterfront resilience in the context of economic development alongside risk mitigation, land use planning, historic preservation, and design strategies. 

Some of the climate resilience recommendations include:

  • Develop a comprehensive risk assessment to understand the area’s risk exposure to climate impacts.
  • Allow innovative, mixed-use development near the waterfront that serves parking or pedestrian-oriented uses while also accommodating intermittent stormwater flooding.
  • Leverage mixed-use development near the waterfront to fund infrastructure improvements.
  • Explore using codes and standards to increase protection against storm surge and sea-level rise, increase energy efficiency, and protect historic resources.
  • Form an expert Risk Data Group to collect and assess the best available science on climate change projections for the region to inform planning efforts.
  • Form a Resilience Working Group of major stakeholders to work across jurisdictional boundaries along the waterfront to enhance coordination and funding of adaptation strategies. 

The Urban Land Institute expert panels are part of ULI’s advisory services which work to find practical solutions to complex land use planning and development issues. Portland and South Portland were selected for the first ULI panel focusing on resilience. The ULI expert panels are made possible through the support of the Kresge Foundation to assess how cities can better prepare for climate change.  


Publication Date: May 2014

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  • Assessment
  • Policy analysis/recommendations

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