Great Lakes Adaptation Assessment for Cities

Rachel M. Gregg
Posted on: 3/26/2013 - Updated on: 3/02/2020

Posted by

Rachel Gregg

Project Summary

The Great Lakes Adaptation Assessment for Cities (GLAA-C) project aims to advance climate change adaptation in the region. The project consists of a number of components, including collaborating with six cities in the region to either develop standalone adaptation plans or incorporate adaptation into existing plans and policies; providing online resources to support information sharing and exchange; researching climate and socioeconomic data and developing a series of case studies that demonstrate adaptation in action; designing a tool to support capacity building and assessment of the costs and benefits of action and inaction; and establishing a network of researchers, practitioners, and private sector representatives to support the project, provide recommendations, and facilitate cross-sector collaboration.


Evidence of climate change is already visible in the Great Lakes region, characterized by shorter winters, increasing annual average temperatures, more frequent and extreme heat and precipitation events, and decreasing lake ice cover (Kling et al. 2003). Projections show that these effects are likely to continue and worsen with increasing variability in temperatures and weather patterns. These climatic changes and their associated secondary effects on the natural and built environments and human communities in the Great Lakes are the focus of the three-year, GLAA-C project. The overarching purpose of the project is to bring together researchers and practitioners to develop actionable climate change adaptation strategies, plans, and policies for cities in the Great Lakes region.

The GLAA-C project is led by six co-Principal Investigators from the University of Michigan, including Arun Agrawal (School of Natural Resources and Environment), Maria Carmen Lemos (School of Natural Resources and Environment), Elisabeth Gerber (Ford School of Public Policy), Larissa Larsen (Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning), Marie O’Neill (School of Public Health), and Ricky Rood (School of Engineering and School of Natural Resources and Environment). The project is administered by the Graham Sustainability Institute and funded with matching support from The Kresge Foundation; project staff also work with researchers from the Great Lakes Integrated Sciences and Assessments Center (GLISA).


The GLAA-C project is entering the second year of a three-year project. Project staff are in the process of selecting Great Lakes cities to collaborate with on adaptation planning; this may include developing standalone adaptation plans for the individual cities or assisting city officials to incorporate climate change adaptation strategies into existing policies and plans. Project staff, the co-PIs, and students have initiated the research and outreach needed to generate support for the project and advance its progress.

The co-PIs and their students have engaged in a number of research projects on climate impacts and gathered relevant socioeconomic data for the region, including:

  • Collecting information on climate change impacts to the Great Lakes region, including heat waves, flooding, and lake level changes;
  • Examining microclimates in the Great Lakes and creating a climate zone mapping strategy to support collaboration between cities as they plan for climate change;
  • Identifying and applying eight variables of adaptive capacity – institutions, infrastructure, wealth and financial capital, social capital, political capital, human capital, information, and technology – to the cities of Ann Arbor and Grand Rapids, Michigan;
  • Identifying how regulations and financial capacity affect urban adaptive capacity in four Ohio cities – Toledo, Dayton, Avon Lake, and Elryia; and
  • Creating and conducting two surveys that focus on attitudes towards and challenges of climate change with both residents and elected and appointed municipal leaders.

All of this information will be used to support adaptation planning for five pilot cities in the region. In addition, the project team is developing adaptation databases, the Cities Impacts and Adaptation Tool (CIAT), and the Urban Council on Sustainability and Adaptation (UCSA).

Online adaptation resource databases. These databases, focused on networks, best practices, and the private sector, will facilitate information sharing and exchange. The first will include organizations that are currently working on urban sustainability and climate change issues in the region, as well as some groups that are working outside the region. The best practices database will include a library of resources, tools, strategies, and case studies of adaptation that are relevant to the Great Lakes. The private sector database will include members of the recreation, tourism, real estate, and construction industries who are engaged in incorporating adaptation strategies into their work. All three databases and relevant information will be incorporated into an interactive project website to be launched in 2013.

Cities Impacts and Adaptation Tool (CIAT). The form and function of the CIAT is still under discussion as the project team examines how to best serve cities. The original plan was to create a user-friendly tool that would incorporate the most up-to-date climate impact data for cities in the region, combine that data with relevant socioeconomic data, and develop a cost-benefit analysis to help cities identify options. The project team is currently conducting a survey of existing tools and an assessment of user needs in order to guide the direction of the tool’s development.

Urban Council on Sustainability and Adaptation (UCSA). The UCSA is intended to act as an advisory committee to support the project and provide recommendations to support urban adaptation planning in the region. The goal of the USCA is to form a multi-sector network of representatives who are working on adaptation initiatives to exchange ideas and facilitate the flow of information between these sectors. The project team hopes to convene this group by early March 2013 and include public and private sector representatives.

Outcomes and Conclusions

The GLAA-C project team is planning to work closely with five cities in assessments of impacts, vulnerability, and adaptive capacity before developing strategies that may be incorporated into existing plans or policies or form the basis of standalone adaptation plans. To support this effort, the team is collecting climate impact and socioeconomic data, adaptation case studies, and tools and resources to enhance collaboration and information exchange. A workshop, Forwarding Adaptation in the Great Lakes Region, was held November 7-9, 2012, hosted by the Graham Environmental Sustainability Institute and the Institute for Sustainable Communities. The meeting brought together officials and stakeholders from cities in the region to assess risks and begin creatively thinking about ways to respond and adapt to climate change. After the conference, the project team will identify the five pilot cities based on their adaptive capacity.


Gregg, R. M. (2012). Great Lakes Adaptation Assessment for Cities [Case study on a project of the Graham Sustainability Institute at the University of Michigan]. Product of EcoAdapt's State of Adaptation Program. Retrieved from CAKE: (Last updated April 2013)

Project Contacts

Affiliated Organizations

Reporting to the University of Michigan (U-M) Provost, the Graham Institute is a collaborative partnership of schools, colleges and units across the U-M. We foster cross-disciplinary collaboration to create and disseminate knowledge and to offer solutions related to complex sustainability issues.

Through the support the University of Michigan Graham Sustainability Institute and the Kresge Foundation, and in collaboration with Great Lakes Integrated Sciences + Assessments (GLISA), the goal of GLAA-C is to bring together researchers and practitioners to develop actionable climate adaptation programs for cities in the Great Lakes region. GLAA-C works with cities in the Great Lakes region to develop and implement climate adaptation strategies in these cities.