Case Study

City Planning

Providence, RI: Battling Climate Change and Severe Flooding


Severe flooding will increase for coastal cities, as sea levels continue to rise.

City trees are vital to Providence’s climate adaptation plan.

Providence, Rhode Island

Humid Continental


Metro: 79% White, 5.4% Black; 10% Latino; 3% Asian

City: 50% White; 16% Black; 26% Latino; 6.5% Asian; 1.5% Native American

Below Poverty Line: 13.7% Individuals

Rhode Island’s capital city and associated metro area sit at the head of Narragansett Bay where two major and three smaller rivers enter the estuary.

During major storms, especially when met with high tides and winds, causes significant flooding in the region. The city is already seeing more severe storms and is actively developing an adaptation plan to prepare for the impending impacts of sea level rise as climate change occurs.

Trees are a major element of the city’s adaptation and green infrastructure plan.

In the early 1900s, Providence was home to some 50,000 street trees. An inventory conducted in the mid-70s recorded 16,500 – it’s thought this loss of trees was to make way for off-street parking. Since that time, the city has recognized the value of trees for their range of ecosystem services including stormwater capture and infiltration. In a 2006 assessment, the urban canopy was up to 24% with 415,000 trees thought to be preventing 31.5M gallons of stormwater run-off annually.

Providence- and Rhode Island-based organizations and funders banded together to create cooperative solutions to more frequent severe coastal flood events.


Community and family foundations are most common source of funds for local urban forestry and green infrastructure projects.


  • The Green Infrastructure Coalition [GIC] engages 37 not-for-profit organizations with city planners and elected officials to coordinate a state-wide response to climate change and the increasing potential of severe flooding
  • Serves as a hub where partners can both learn and share ideas
  • Typically, projects are undertaken by one or more partners
  • Coalition keeps all members informed about each partner’s initiatives, and provides connections with agencies and experts.
  • Most projects are aimed at green infrastructure that can retard runoff from precipitation and coastal flooding.
Lessons Learned
  • Trees form a critical element of climate mitigation plans, especially in coastal areas;
  • Parking requirements can have unintended consequences for urban canopy cover;
  • Trees, along with permeable pavements, can promote on-site capture and infiltration;
  • Broad coalitions energize individual members and promote collaborative learning and cooperative projects.
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