Cities that embrace resilience-planning practices save lives, money and property

Photo by True Capture Studios, courtesy of Open Space Institute / Residents in Spring City, Tenn., discuss a flood-prone area in their community.

From severe floods to extreme heat, the impacts of a changing climate have taken a toll on residents and communities across the greater Chattanooga region.

"To see the impact of flood water in our town is heartbreaking and so traumatizing to our citizens and business owners," shares the resident of a community affected by flash floods. "It is not something you just get over in a couple of days. It takes months ... or years."

Building back after the devastation of severe weather or flooding is expensive, and the costs have only increased with inflation and the rising cost of materials. Over the last five years, Hamilton County alone has experienced more than $7 million in property damage, according to NOAA's Storm Events Database.

As cities confront increasingly severe environmental hazards, resilience, or the ability to bounce back from disruptions, has become a critical priority to protect neighborhoods, schools and businesses.

Here in this region, residents of Emma Wheeler Homes in Chattanooga, Spring City, South Pittsburg and Dalton have taken resilience planning into their own hands by participating in the Resilient Communities pilot program, created by Thrive Regional Partnership and the Open Space Institute. The program equips community members with the tools and relationships they need to build nature-based solutions that address environmental challenges such as severe weather.

After several months of planning, the Resilient Communities cohort is assembling catalytic projects that will enhance resilience in their neighborhoods. At the end of the program, each of these communities will be eligible for up to $20,000 in seed funding from the Merck Family Fund and the Footprint Foundation to jumpstart their resilience strategy.

There's no one-size-fits-all solution in resilience planning; every community is unique with different people, needs and perspectives. While each community will implement different strategies, they will all see the long-term benefits of nature-based planning, such as improved water quality, increased property value and improved quality of life.

Learn more about the Resilient Communities program by visiting

  photo  Photo by True Capture Studios, courtesy of Open Space Institute / Residents of Emma Wheeler Homes in Chattanooga participate in the Resilient Communities program.

What is a nature-based solution?

A planning practice that weaves natural processes into the built environment of a city, such as:

A rain garden for a site-specific solution that supports stormwater management

A tree canopy to cool a city in the summertime and reduce urban heat island effect.

Land conservation, an impactful solution at the watershed scale, which preserves all of the benefits we enjoy from the environment, such as clean air, water and recreation — what we call "ecosystem services."

Often, nature-based solutions yield great benefits for less costs, contributing to a communitys social, environmental and financial health.

(From FEMAs Building Community Resilience with Nature-based Solutions, A Guide for Local Communities.)