Climate Adaptation in the City of Ann Arbor, Michigan

Jessi Kershner
Posted on: 2/21/2013 - Updated on: 3/02/2020

Posted by

Rachel Gregg

Project Summary

Climate impacts within the Great Lakes region include warmer temperatures, changes in precipitation, and increased frequency and intensity of storms, which are likely to affect human and natural systems in significant ways. The City of Ann Arbor, located in southeast Michigan, has been and continues to be a climate leader within the region, and is currently implementing myriad strategies to incorporate climate into planning efforts.


In the Great Lakes region, average temperatures have increased by 2.3˚C from 1968 to 2002; by 2100, climate projections suggest that average temperatures will be 3.6 to 11.2˚F higher (GLISA 2012). Changes in precipitation are much less clear – annual average precipitation is likely to increase or remain stable while winter and spring precipitation may increase more significantly. Increased frequency and intensity of severe storms are also projected to occur (GLISA 2012). Climate changes are likely to impact human health by increasing heat stress, particularly in urban areas where infrastructure and impervious surfaces trap heat, resulting in higher temperatures (e.g., urban heat island effect). Warmer temperatures and changes in precipitation are also likely to affect forests by potentially increasing pests and diseases, increasing forest fire frequency, or causing certain tree species to no longer survive in the region. Precipitation changes and increased frequency and severity of storms are also likely to impact aging stormwater infrastructure, resulting in more combined sewer overflows and pollution (Bergquist et al. 2012).

The City of Ann Arbor, located in southeast Michigan, is the sixth largest city in the state with a population over 112,000 people. Ann Arbor is a climate leader within the Great Lakes region, having signed the U.S. Conference of Mayors Climate Protection Agreement to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and promote policies to address climate change; it is also an active member of ICLEI-Local Governments for Sustainability and as such, is committed to engaging in sustainability, climate protection, and clean energy initiatives. The city is engaged in numerous efforts to incorporate climate adaptation into planning efforts.


The City of Ann Arbor has not developed an independent climate change adaptation plan. Instead, they have focused on creating a set of priorities through a sustainability lens, wherein climate adaptation is integrated (although not always explicitly called out) in current city planning. For example, Ann Arbor is working on incorporating climate projections into its urban forestry plan update in order to assess the effects that changing climate conditions may have on tree species being considered for planting. Scientists at the Great Lakes Integrated Sciences and Assessments Center (GLISA) provided temperature and precipitation projections to city staff so that they may get a sense of what changes have occurred and what changes are likely to occur in the future. For example, climate information could be used to plant a diversity of species resilient to potential impacts, with the intention of avoiding a catastrophic loss of forest. City staff are currently going through the draft urban forestry plan and identifying places to add in climate, as well as incorporating an assessment and monitoring component to look for indications that changes in climate are affecting the urban forest.

Using a grant from Home Depot, the City of Ann Arbor has developed a Sustainability Framework, which integrates goals from all (~27) of Ann Arbor’s planning documents. The Framework is organized into four theme areas: Land Use and Access, Climate and Energy, Community, and Resource Management, and includes 16 sustainability goals. The purpose of the Sustainability Framework is to organize 20 years of planning into a core set of 16 goals that will be integrated into the Master Plan in Fall 2012 and used across the organization.  Mitigation efforts fall under the Energy Conservation goal and Adaptation efforts fall under the Safe Community goal.

The city is also working on numerous other projects including a health impact assessment in low-income neighborhoods, updating their Climate Action Plan, and a unique financing mechanism to reduce stormwater input and fund major improvements. The city is working with the county health department and the University of Michigan to research whether planting trees in low-income neighborhoods is likely to reduce health impacts associated with warmer temperatures. The city is also working on updating its Climate Action Plan, which is mostly focused on mitigation but does contain some adaptation strategies. In its update, staff are considering listing specific adaptive activities so they are poised to take advantage of funding or other opportunities when they arise. Ann Arbor credits residents’ stormwater utility bills if they install green infrastructure such as rain barrels, rain gardens, and porous pavers to reduce the amount of stormwater entering the sewer system. The city uses the amount of pervious and impervious surfaces on a property to determine stormwater rates.

The City of Ann Arbor is engaged in many other adaptation-related activities, which can be found in Bergquist et al. (2012). Additionally, they sent several staff to the Institute for Sustainable Communities’ Climate Leadership Academy for training to help identify relevant mitigation and adaptation tools and resources to support staff in understanding how climate change could affect the programs they manage.

Outcomes and Conclusions

The City of Ann Arbor is engaged in many “adaptive” projects that are not specifically called out as “climate adaptation.” The city believes that integrating the best available climate science into each planning effort is preferable to developing a stand-alone adaptation plan. The city is working with local universities to develop accurate climate planning scenarios that can then be integrated into current planning efforts. There are existing planning processes for many of the systems managed by the city and integrating the best climate data into these processes is least disruptive and likely to have the greatest benefit to educating staff and developing the best plans.


Kershner, J. M. (2012). Climate Adaptation in the City of Ann Arbor, Michigan [Case study on a project of the City of Ann Arbor]. Product of EcoAdapt's State of Adaptation Program. Retrieved from CAKE: (Last updated October 2012)

Project Contact

Matthew Naud
Environmental Coordinator
[email protected]

Affiliated Organizations

The City of Ann Arbor is committed to providing excellent municipal services that enhance the quality of life for all through the intelligent use of our resources while valuing an open environment that fosters fair, sensitive and respectful treatment of all employees and the community we serve. ​

On Feb​r​uary 19, 2013, Ann Arbor City Council adopted the sustainability framework as an element of the City Master Plan​. The sustainability framework identifies 16 sustainability goals to help make Ann Arbor more sustainable. Learn more about what you can do to sustain A2!