Equity & Resilience
The City of Worcester is committed to making the city and its population resilient to flooding, high heat, and other climate change impacts.
Municipal Vulnerability Preparedness Plan
In 2019, the City put together a Municipal Vulnerability Preparedness Plan, identifying 3 critical hazards that will be exacerbated by climate change: Extreme Heat, Urban Flooding, and Winter/Ice Storms.
This plan guides the City as it takes strategic action to build equitable climate resilience in these vulnerable areas.
Municipal Vulnerability Preparedness Plan
What is Resilience?
“Resilience” is a term often used in discussing climate change actions. Climate change resilience is the ability of a community to adapt and thrive in the face of extreme shocks and stresses. Resilient communities anticipate risks, plan to limit their impacts and adopt strategies that integrate all community systems – civic, environmental, social and economic – to mitigate and support recovery from extreme events while providing a good quality of life.
Environmental Justice in Worcester
The State of Massachusetts identifies a community as an Environmental Justice community if it has any of the following characteristics:
- Block group whose annual median household income is equal to or less than 65% of the statewide median.
- 25% or more of the residents identify as a race other than white.
- Household has no one over the age of 14 who speaks English only or very well.
Using these characteristics, approximately 70% of Worcester is a designated “environmental justice” census tract.
Urban heat can be dangerous. As temperatures climb, the most vulnerable members of our City can face serious health risks. In 2022, the City completed a Heat Risk Assessment which identified the most heat-vulnerable parts of Worcester.
Cooling the City
The 2022 Heat Risk Assessment resulted in recommendations to develop more reflective surfaces and to increase the total tree canopy across Worcester by 30,000 – 35,000 trees. Tree investments will be prioritized in areas with a higher vulnerability and all trees added by the City will be positioned to shade impervious surfaces like pavement.
Climate change impacts, such as extreme storm events with high precipitation, can result in increased stormwater runoff and flooding.
The City is working on a Drainage and Green Infrastructure Master Plan and undergoing stormwater system assessment and modeling, in order to identify opportunities for green infrastructure, as well as develop improvements to the stormwater system. Master Plan goals are:
- To develop a comprehensive understanding of the municipal drainage system and its constraints in conveying stormwater runoff during peak events.
- Identify the most vulnerable areas using infrastructure and social resilience framework.
- Prioritize actions to move toward a pipeline of near-ready projects that advance flooding resiliency, when funding allows, with a focus on a hybrid approach of nature-based solutions and grey infrastructure enhancements.
One of the best tools to combat flooding is Green Infrastructure: natural, sustainable projects that absorb stormwater and runoff, deflect heat, and even filter pollutants. Green Infrastructure is a new approach to development, contrasting traditional Gray Infrastructure, like underground pipes or concrete installments.
The Green Worcester Plan prioritizes Green Infrastructure development, and the City has already completed many installments. In 2018, the City redesigned the Senior Center parking lot and built a large rain garden and bioswale where heat-absorbing pavement once stood.
Growing Worcester's Tree Coverage
Planting more trees (and protecting existing ones) is one of the most effective actions we can take to help reduce climate change impacts.
The City of Worcester has established an Urban Forestry Tree Commission and also kicked off the development of the first Urban Forest Master Plan. The Plan will serve as a roadmap to proactively manage and grow the City's tree canopy and provide a shared vision for the future of the urban forest to inspire us to plant, care for, and protect our trees.
Data: i-Tree Canopy Cover Assessment and Tree Benefits Report, 2023