Graham Sustainability Institute

Great Lakes Cities

Project Summary

Effective adaptation to climate change is nowhere more critical than in cities because most people now live in urban environments. The Great Lakes watershed accounts for one-fifth of the world’s fresh water and houses approximately 10% of the US and 25% of Canadian populations (40 million people total). Climate change impacts in the Great Lakes region are anticipated to worsen risks of flooding, reduce water availability and quality, increase problems related to heat stress, and negatively impact economies in cities dependent on tourism and recreation.

Despite these anticipated risks and their substantial adverse impacts on populations in the Great Lakes region, many urban decision makers highlight the need for place-based climate science and options for responding to impacts. The Great Lakes Adaptation Assessment for Cities worked closely with regional partners and urban decision makers to identify adaptation needs, opportunities for action, and relative costs of different response options.

Through the support the University of Michigan Graham Sustainability Institute and the Kresge Foundation, and in collaboration with Great Lakes Integrated Sciences + Assessments (GLISA), this Integrated Assessment (IA) strengthened the science and decision making necessary for more effective urban climate adaptation in the Great Lakes region (both Canada and the U.S.). The IA was led by several University of Michigan (U-M) faculty research teams in coordination with partners across the region.

See:      GLAA-C Fact Sheet

Key Outcomes

For cities to develop and implement effective climate adaptation policies, they require a wide range of scientific, social, and policy information. This project engaged experts from diverse fields to:
  • develop and enhance climate adaptation planning and strategy development by working with city staff and decision makers from six representative Great Lakes cities. Work with these cities now serves as an important resource for similarly situated cities in the region.
  • integrate social and climate science data to enhance city-level adaptation plans, activities, and spatial data and inform existing and future infrastructure investments
  • create the Cities Impacts and Adaptation Tool (CIAT) that can be used by stakeholders to synthesize, communicate, and apply climate relevant knowledge for urban resilience under different climate scenarios.
  • partner to develop the Great Lakes Atlas, an interactive map that provides social, economic, and demographic statistics on 225 counties across the Great Lakes region. This demographic information is combined with detailed data about municipal spending, land use change, and climate change characteristics to demonstrate how climate change intersects other conditions and concerns in the region.
Video: Adapting to Change and Building Resilience


  • Great Lake Cities Climate Adaptation Fact Sheets: A variety of climate adaptation strategies have been implemented throughout the Great Lakes region. Climate scientists provided historical climate data and worked wtih municipalities to assess climate risks, such as flooding and increased heat and aging infrastructure. Key factors considered by many city leaders include specific risks to vulnerable populations, emergency response, and public health. Lessons learned from interacting with these cities are summarized in this series of fact sheets . 
  • GLAA-C Evaluation Report: This is the final report of an internal evaluation of GLAA-C's IA process, which had the dual purposes of 1) evaluating how well the IA process helped GLAA-C meet its stated project goals and 2) assisting the Graham Institute with reflecting upon and learning from the IA process in order to improve future IA projects.
  • Public Perceptions and Attitudes Toward Climate Change Fact Sheet: Between April and May of 2012, GLAA-C conducted a random-sample phone survey that targed midsized cities in the Great Lakes Region. The survey was completed by 2,049 participants.
  • Local Leaders Survey:  An anlysis of over 90 responses collected during a 2013-2014 survey of city administrators, managers, commissioners, directors of departments, and other key decision-makers throughout the Great Lakes region aimed at understanding how they are addressing climate impacts.
  • Cities Impacts and Adaptation Tool (CIAT): This online climate adaptation planning support tool was designed to support decision makers at the municipal level in the Great Lakes Region. It provided usable local-scale data such as demographic and socioeconomic data from the Canadian and US Census, current and projected climate trends, and adaptation strategies pulled from existing municipal planning documents from across North America.  It also identified a unique set of “climate peer” cities, or cities whose current climate matches your city’s projected climate, through an interactive map interface.
  • Socioeconomics and Climate Change in the Great Lakes Region Tool: Developed collaboratively between GLAA-C and Headwaters Economics, this interactive shows how the social and economic characteristics of the Great Lakes Region are impacted by regionally specific changes in climate. The map features statistical information on over 225 counties throughout the Great Lakes region.
The Kresge Foundation and Graham Sustainability Institute provided $1.2 million of project funding in 2011.