Climate Action

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| Editors: Walter Leal Filho, Anabela Marisa Azul, Luciana Brandli, Pinar Gökcin Özuyar, Tony Wall

Community Planning Challenges: Climate Change Impacts on Cultural Heritage

  • Vada B. AntonakisEmail author
  • S. Jeff BirchallEmail author
Living reference work entry

Synonyms for Community Planning


Community planning encompasses the processes, structures, plans, and policies that govern the planning and management of communities. Professional urban planners utilize these community planning tools to problem solve and make improvements to the physical, social, and natural environments of a settlement. Planners also rely upon various stakeholders throughout the community planning process, including government officials, engineers, architects, and policy writers.

Though community planning is a uniquely Canadian term, it reflects similar meaning to city planning from the United States of America, town planning in the United Kingdom, and urban planning from the United States of America and Canada (Hodge and Gordon 2014). The phrase first appeared in the report Housing and Community Planning, which was prepared for the Canadian government to provide advice for dealing with challenges communities faced at the end of the Second World War (Hodge and Gordon 2014). Community planning gained common use over the next decade as it captured a broader and wider range of what was representative of settlements of all locations and sizes in Canada, including cities, towns, hamlets, suburbs, and agricultural communities located in urban, suburban, and rural areas.

Community planning challenges are the obstacles, threats, and risks that jeopardize the well-being, stability, and future of a community and its planning processes. Climate change, urban sprawl, environmental degradation, and demographic shifts are all relevant and significant examples of threats that have tangible and intangible impacts. Tangible impacts take direct physical form and include phenomena such as sea-level rise or flooding that can damage infrastructure and natural environments. Intangible impacts take an indirect form and are less visibly noticeable, including inadequate access to public transit for low-income neighborhoods that in turn creates accessibility barriers for residents.

To address community planning challenges, planning practitioners and decision-makers turn to policy making, plans, and other methods including developing tool kits, strategies, and best practices. These policies and other resources employed in community planning are informed by a variety of stakeholders and are developed with context-specific challenges in mind. As a result, community planning is in a constant state of evolution as needs shift and new information, techniques, innovations, and ideas for combatting challenges are introduced.

Heritage planning is the application of heritage conservation and seeks to manage change of cultural heritage wisely in the context of a modern and changing world. This subset of the professional urban planning discipline seeks solutions to the loss or degradation of cultural heritage through a planning context. Heritage planning is interdisciplinary but is typically led by a heritage planner or conservation officer who connects stakeholders and other professionals to assist with conservation.

Heritage planning is managed through policy standards and best practices. At the international level, consensus of best practice is decided through intergovernmental organizations and professional associations, including the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) and the International Council on Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS). These standards are then adopted by countries into national policy. How heritage is managed within each country varies, but national policy and management typically involves state/provincial and local municipal levels as well.

Heritage conservation is a broad discipline that extends beyond heritage planning and addresses all aspects of enhancing and retaining historic places (Kalman 2014). Conservation captures a wide range of all measures carried out to preserve historic resources, including the following treatments as defined by the Australia ICOMOS Burra Charter (ICOMOS 2013): preservation, restoration, rehabilitation/adaptation, and reconstruction. Heritage conservation is carried out through a number of professions and roles. These stakeholders include heritage planners, conservationists, and officers, as well as historic resource managers, conservation scientists, and conservation and heritage architects.

Cultural heritage, as defined by UNESCO (1989, p. 57), is “… the entire corpus of material signs - either artistic or symbolic - handed on by the past to each culture…” Cultural heritage includes all tangible and intangible artifacts of human history ranging from buildings, monuments, books, and artworks to traditions, languages, and oral histories. Heritage planning typically deals with the tangible aspects of built cultural heritage (buildings, monuments, and structures), but can also include cultural landscapes, and intangible aspects of heritage. Common terms used for referring to cultural heritage include heritage assets, historic resources, and historic sites.


Climate change is one of the most significant planning challenges facing communities today. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC 2014) states that there have been observed decreased snow and ice levels and increased global mean sea levels and atmospheric and oceanic temperatures. These altered climate dynamics are largely anthropogenic, or human-driven in nature (Tollin et al. 2017; IPCC 2014), and have led to an increase in the frequency, intensity, and duration of extreme weather events across the globe (IPCC 2014). As a result, there is a change in dynamics of storm surges, heavy rainfall, droughts, and heat events. Impacts of climate change, compounded with existing stresses, affect urban areas, including residents, infrastructure, cultural assets, and natural environments.

Climate Change Threats for Coastal Communities and Cultural Heritage

Coastal communities in particular are experiencing increased stresses as a result of climate change. According to the Global Climate Risk Index 2018, published by Germanwatch, the top ten countries most affected by climate change from 1997 to 2016 were all coastal countries (Eckstein et al. 2017). Increases in population and the urbanization of these countries over recent decades have led to a massive increase in coastal development. These pressures are only expected to continue to intensify, leading to further socioeconomic and environmental changes (Neumann et al. 2015).

These changes are creating monumental hurdles for community planning in coastal regions. Along with the existing community stresses and threats of rapid urbanization, conflict over resources, and environmental degradation, the loss of cultural heritage is intensifying in coastal regions (Markham et al. 2016). Erosion, coastal and ravine flooding, sea-level rise, and extreme weather events (Phillips 2014a; Markham et al. 2016) are directly causing adverse and irrevocable damage to cultural heritage community assets in those coastal communities. Community planning practitioners and decision-makers are being confronted with how to quickly and efficiently address and incorporate appropriate adaptation and mitigation actions into heritage policy to manage these threats to cultural heritage. Evidently, the consideration of climate change effects and incorporation of adaptation and mitigation strategies into planning policy is critical for the future of heritage assets; failure to address threats may lead to permanent damage, abandonment, or inappropriate interventions that may compromise the significance or authenticity of heritage assets (Phillips 2014a).

Value of Heritage in Communities

Addressing and managing these impacts are integral for heritage, as it makes considerable contributions to communities which include economic, environmental, and social benefits. A rich local heritage attracts tourism, provides employment opportunities, and generates investment in historic areas (Phillips 2014b). Built heritage, such as historic homes, old factories, religious assemblies, and other buildings, promotes sustainable development and growth in communities through the adaptive reuse of existing buildings. Cultural heritage also contributes to the character and identity of communities (Phillips 2014b). Heritage serves as a connection to the past and can help create a strong sense of community and local identity, creating a sense of belonging, meaning, and attachment to these places. From an educational perspective, cultural heritage serves as a valuable informational resource; it illustrates the governance and social structures of previous generations and can reveal important stories and information about cultural groups. Additionally, cultural heritage has potential to contain valuable information about past human adaptations and mitigations to climate change which could help inform current strategies (Phillips 2014b).

Climate Change Impacts on Cultural Heritage

A rare, finite, and nonrenewable resource, cultural heritage is particularly vulnerable to climate change impacts (Phillips 2014a; Graham and Spennemann 2006). As a vital asset for communities, it is paramount to understand and acknowledge the hazards that cultural heritage faces. Since the adoption of the World Heritage Convention in 1972, climate change has been recognized as one of the most significant threats to emerge for cultural heritage (Markham et al. 2016). When climate change causes damage to cultural heritage assets or causes them to be forcibly moved, a part of their significance and meaning is diminished and becomes irreplaceable (Jarvis 2014; Markham et al. 2016). This threat occurs through two main forms: direct physical impacts and indirect impacts.

Direct Impacts

Direct physical impacts to cultural heritage occur through exposure to climatic parameters such as wind, sea level, precipitation, temperature, and humidity (Daly 2014). The most vulnerable components of cultural heritage to direct physical impacts include tangible assets, such as built heritage (buildings, structures, and monuments), archaeological sites, and parks and gardens. Changes in soil moisture and humidity pose a threat to built heritage as historic buildings are typically more porous than their modern counterparts. Increases in soil moisture lead to greater salt mobilization, which damages decorative details through the forming of crystallization on these surfaces (Colette 2007; UNESCO 2007).

Building foundations of heritage structures can be destabilized through these increases or decreases of soil moisture and by changes in freeze-thaw cycles (Markham et al. 2016). Structural damage can also occur due to increased precipitation from increasingly volatile extreme weather events (Colette 2007). Many coastal heritage structures are located along cliffs and are frequently prone to foundation destabilization from erosion and cliff collapse (Murphy et al. 2009). In addition to climate fluctuations in moisture and humidity, flooding (either from sea-level rise or storm surges) poses a major threat to historic buildings or archaeological sites not suited to prolonged immersion in water (Colette 2007; Murphy et al. 2009). Exposure to moisture through flooding and post-flood drying increases susceptibility to mildew, mold, and rot in heritage buildings (Markham et al. 2016; UNESCO 2007).

Indirect Impacts

The indirect impacts that climate change has on heritage are subtler than the physical direct impacts, making them all the more crucial to address. Climate change indirectly assaults cultural heritage through disrupting the way cultures live, work, worship, and socialize (Colette 2007). Changes in the physical environment through associated sea-level rise and extreme weather events, such as storm surges, heavy rainfall, drought, and heat events, can interfere with how cultures behave in, interact with, and utilize cultural building sites and landscapes. Ignoring the cultural effects of these events could lead to the improper care, neglect, or even abandonment of important cultural heritage assets. Climate impacts also can affect livelihoods, and food security can force communities to find new resources and relocate, resulting into the loss of cultural traditions, customs, and rituals.

Community Planning Challenges for Coastal Cultural Heritage

Planning practitioners are faced with a multitude of challenges when it comes to planning for coastal cultural heritage. Challenges and restraints related to stakeholder consensus, policy and planning time scales, and cost and modification restrictions are common in heritage planning; however, they are made increasingly complex when climate change impacts are introduced.

Stakeholder Consensus

Coordinating with stakeholders and decision-makers to identify cultural heritage values, assets, and conservation preferences in the community must be addressed before heritage policy decisions can be made. Finding consensus on what is important, what should be conserved, how it ought to be done, who has authority over the sites and decisions made, and how maintenance and/or restoration will be funded can be an onerous task for cultural heritage planning practitioners. In many, “decisions about what to conserve and why are often taken independently from those dealing with how to conserve, and vice versa” (Avrami et al. 2000, p. 3). This gap can create a non-ideal situation where not all perspectives and information are shared between those working on the what and why (e.g., conservation groups and community members) and those working on the how (planners and decision-makers). These matters are further complicated in achieving stakeholder consensus when the cultural heritage assets are held in private ownership (Hall et al. 2016).

Property owners may not wish to comply with the rules that would govern aspects of how they are able to modify or use their property and choose not to have their property designated as a cultural heritage site or resource. This resistance can lead to tensions, disagreements, and conflicts that slow down the cultural heritage planning process. Planning practitioners must work closely with cultural heritage conservation professionals and other stakeholders to gain community buy-in and support in order to successfully carry out cultural heritage planning activities.

These matters become significantly more complicated in the light of climate change impacts for coastal communities. The large number of human settlements in coastal areas over multiple centuries has resulted in certain climate change-sensitive coastal regions hosting dozens or in some cases hundreds of cultural heritage sites. Sea-level rise is causing damage to historic sites along the world’s coastline and has already resulted in a number of losses of historic sites around England and Europe that will continue to occur (Murphy et al. 2009). As cultural heritage sites continue to be threatened by climate change, decisions of what assets will be prioritized and how it will be managed will have to be made. This issue raises questions on how differing stakeholders will agree with what should be prioritized and how it should be managed, even as higher profile sites with national and international recognition come into contention (Hall et al. 2016).

Policy and Planning Time Scales

Policy and planning time scales create challenges for the effective management of coastal cultural heritage. When it comes to climate change impacts, planning policy overall is often lagging behind in incorporating mitigation and adaptation strategies to these threats (Birchall and Bonnett 2018). Headway has been made at international levels with organizations such as UNESCO recognizing the impacts and significance of climate change on cultural heritage; this has resulted in the publishing of several of works on the research of climate change impacts and strategies for mitigation and adaptation (UNESCO 2007; Colette 2007). However, these polices have yet to make their way to local-level planning policy in any significant way; there is a disconnect between community planning and heritage conservation and difficulties in implementing effective planning time scales that contribute to this issue.

Although heritage planning is a recognized subset of planning, there are obstacles that exist between planning and heritage conservation which prevent the effective incorporation of international policy. First and foremost, what a planner can do will depend greatly on the political and administrative context they are in (van Assche and Duineveld 2013). Documents, policies, and information for heritage conservation may exist, but if the political and administrative context does not include the adoption and incorporation of these works into the planning framework, there is very little the planner can do to implement or enforce actions that would address threats to heritage.

For planning practitioners in coastal communities, low political will to implement heritage conservation becomes a significant barrier to managing the vulnerabilities of heritage assets to the effects of climate change. Heritage planning has a considerably higher chance of becoming part of the planning process if there is a strong planning system in place (van Assche and Duineveld 2013). For coastal countries that lack strong governments and administration, the ability to include heritage conservation plans is further undermined, leaving those responsible for planning with even less ability to manage threats to heritage.

Planning policy and process time scales play an important role in effectively addressing the impacts of climatic variations on cultural heritage. Planning time scales refer to the lengths of time and cycles of planning policies and processes. Time scales can range from weeks for the approval of permits to years and even decades for the revision and renewal of municipal development plans, bylaws, zoning, and other related policies, such as building codes and standards. Due to this long-term nature of planning cycles, there are difficulties for implementing effective planning time scales for the impacts of climate change on cultural heritage (Hall et al. 2016) even if political will to do is high. Often, adaptation, mitigation, and renewal/renovation of heritage assets for climate change require large-scale investments and typically occur over long periods of time (Hall et al. 2016).

Slow planning time scales have substantial consequences on heritage assets that are currently vulnerable or are already being impacted by sea-level rise or extreme weather events. The inability to react quickly to climate threats will lead to the damage of heritage assets and could involve costly reactive measures to protect or restore the assets. In order for heritage conservation strategies to be effective, realistic planning time frames are critical for the adaptation and mitigation to climatic threats (Hall et al. 2016).

Cost and Modification/Conservation Restraints

Cost and modification/conservation restraints inhibit the ability to realize the plans and policies set in place to safeguard heritage from threats of climate change. Although maintenance of cultural heritage in the context of climate change may be a key concern among stakeholders (Hall et al. 2016), if there is little to no funding available for conservation projects, very little can be done to implement and safeguard cultural heritage against threats. In the report Climate Change and the Historic Environment, Cassar (2005) notes that coastal heritage sites are under the highest level of threat, but lack adequate management strategies, and that funding to monitor and record these sites is critical for conservation but is likely “unrealistic.” As Hall et al. (2016) point out, adaptation and mitigation for historic resources can require large-scale investments; this is problematic for planning practitioners in coastal communities with small or limited financial budgets and large amounts of historic resources. Even in cases where actions, such as the recoding of sites, excavation of archaeological remains, or relocation of building have taken place, full mitigation and adaptation using these options is simply not finically feasible in coastal communities with considerable numbers of heritage assets (Murphy et al. 2009).

Modification or conservation restraints complicate the process of implementing climate change adaptations for cultural heritage. Planning practitioners are limited not only by the restraints of funding but the types of interventions that can be made to heritage assets. Modifications are complicated, as they may not comply with the strict modification requirements laid out in conservation policy (Hassler 2006). Strict requirements for alterations exist for assets that have been designated as historic resources and greatly limit the types of interventions/modifications that are able to be made to a historic resource. In the highest levels of conservation, components, such as windows in historic buildings, are only allowed to be replaced by ones of the same era and style, and changes to structure, unless true to the period and style of the building, are typically not allowed. These types of restrictions are problematic for two key reasons. Firstly, there are issues related to cost; if assets become damaged due to the effect of climate change, finding historically replacements and the instillation of these replacements is a costly endeavor compared to modern installation of the comparable components.

Secondly, disallowing for interventions such as modern, more efficient infrastructure, or alterations to adapt to climate change can do more harm to heritage assets than good. Noninvasive or invisible fixes may not always be a possible solution for adapting heritage to climate change threats (Hassler 2006; Cassar 2005); moderate to significant alterations may need to be implemented to ensure the conservation of heritage assets. If the appropriate interventions are not made to safeguard heritage, historic resources are left vulnerable; rising sea levels and extreme weather events are likely to cause more significant damages to the heritage asset than the interventions would. This raises the question not only to local planning practitioners but to global practitioners of what elements must we forfeit in order to conserve the rest (Hassler 2006; Cassar 2005).

Future Directions

Climate Change, Cultural Heritage, and Community Planning

“Changes to cultural heritage caused by climate change cannot be viewed separately from changes in society, demographics, people’s behavior, the impact of conflicting societal values and land-use planning which will also need to evolve in the face of climate change” (UNESCO 2007, p. 24). Therefore, in the context of community planning, a cultural heritage challenge cannot be viewed separately from a community planning challenge as they are highly linked to one another. To effectively address each of these challenges, they must be considered in respect to each other.

Community heritage values need to be given prominence, with processes for their management and conservation mainstreamed into overall planning frameworks. Further, planning frameworks should be considered in the development of heritage conservation guidelines, policies, and practices (Getty 2009). It will not be possible to retain all heritage sites or fully protect them due to restraints of resources and funding. As a result, collaborative efforts of stakeholders and heritage and planning practitioners will be needed to prioritize, document, and record historic resources to ensure conservation of information and records for the future (Murphy et al. 2009). Monitoring, management, and maintenance of heritage resources also play a significant role in heritage conservation (Hall et al. 2016).

These steps are integral to have in place as they assist with observing and understanding the effects heritage assets are experiencing, provide guidance for appropriate measures and interventions to be implemented, and allow for evaluation throughout these processes to ensure the integrity of the resource is preserved (Hall et al. 2016). In addition, heritage and planning practitioners must work collaboratively to establish realistic plans and time frames for planning processes in order for these conservation strategies to be successful (Hall et al. 2016).

In terms of evolution in the face of climate change, substantial challenges lay ahead for community planning practitioners that will need to be addressed; however, despite all the difficulties climate change impacts create for community planning challenges, it also offers the possibility for community planning opportunities. In the face of challenges, opportunities for new information, techniques, innovations, and ideas for community planning will evolve as old methods suited a different time and context become obsolete. The conservation of cultural heritage in the face of climate change will require these innovative planning opportunities to ensure the safeguarding of heritage for the future.

Practitioners and academics have already begun to explore what the future of community planning for cultural heritage may look like, expressing new ideas for consideration. Hall et al. (2016) suggest exploring policy options of directing funding toward the restoration and preservation of built heritage resources rather than investment in new works. The restoration or adaptive reuse of existing heritage buildings has the potential to benefit not only heritage but also the environment through the reuse of existing materials.

Flatman (2009) suggests the consideration of a “heritage offset” in the same way a person may sponsor a “carbon offset” for the planting of a tree to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Programs could be created to sponsor heritage resources through donations of individuals, groups, businesses, or governments wishing to offset the damages to heritage from climate change. These funds could be put toward various projects for heritage conservation including documenting, restoring, or fortifying heritage assets against threats. In Daly (2014), the author identifies a framework for assessing the vulnerability (exposure, sensitivity, and adaptive capacity) of archaeological sites to climate change which can be used by heritage practitioners. This framework could be adapted for use of all cultural heritage sites to assess their adaptive capacity and integrate findings into planning policy and strategies.

In the adversity of climate change, communities have the potential to reinvent themselves and become more resilient and sustainable, environmentally, socially, and economically. The ideas above highlight only a small sample of the vast possibilities for community planning opportunities in the context of climate change. These actions to combat community planning challenges for heritage nonetheless will be unsuccessful unless significant and immediate actions are taken at an international level to reduce greenhouse gas emissions; without these actions, threats associated with climate change will continue to intensify and exacerbate community planning challenges. These threats are already being experienced by coastal communities around the world. Subsequently, it is paramount for planning practitioners to address the community planning challenges that arise through policies that take into account the full impacts of climate change. Current stakeholders, professionals, and governments will have to plan not only for current community challenges but will have to consider dynamic and complex future urban problems and include these in their policies, plans, and tool kits to ensure the resilience and sustainability of communities into the future.



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Copyright information

© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of Urban and Regional Planning, Department of Earth and Atmospheric SciencesUniversity of AlbertaEdmontonCanada

Section editors and affiliations

  • S. Jeff Birchall
    • 1
  1. 1.Urban and Regional Planning, Department of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences, University of AlbertaEdmontonCanada