Skip to content
CityLab
Design

When Climate Adaptation Plans Hurt the Urban Poor

And what cities can do to promote equity and sustainability.
A woman pushes a child in a wheelbarrow along the Industrial Canal levee in the lower Ninth Ward of New Orleans.
A woman pushes a child in a wheelbarrow along the Industrial Canal levee in the lower Ninth Ward of New Orleans.REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton

Hurricane Katrina was rushed into New Orleans by winds traveling 127 mph—a major Category 3 storm. The flooding it caused may well have been worsened by climate change’s rising sea levels. But the disaster it left in its wake was not primarily “natural”—it was human-made. A legacy of racially biased land-use planning, ineffective flood protection, and poor evacuation strategies left low-lying, low-income neighborhoods of color disproportionately devastated.

In the aftermath, New Orleans launched numerous efforts aimed at making the city more resilient to major storms. Among them was a special city commission’s so-called ‘Green Dot’ plan, which proposed replacing certain heavily damaged neighborhoods with water-absorbent parks and green space, while restoring others.