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Climate Change Vulnerability Assessment & Neighborhood Plans

Based on the best available science, the City of Cambridge has committed to prepare the community for the unavoidable impacts of climate change. The City will continue to work on reducing its contribution of greenhouse gas emissions, which are the primary cause of climate change, in an effort to help slow the rate and extent of impacts. But it is clear that some impacts are already occurring and more is to come.

To establish a technical foundation for the Resilient Cambridge Plan, Cambridge conducted a rigorous climate change vulnerability assessment, focusing on the risks from increasing temperatures, precipitation, and sea level. The assessment sought to identify Cambridge's key physical and social vulnerabilities. The findings are available in Climate Change Vulnerability Assessment (CCVA) Report - Part 1 and Part 2, which are posted under the CCVA Report tab.

To inform the citywide Resilient Cambridge Plan, the City is developed two neighborhood climate resilience plans for the Alewife area and The Port. This plan was been coordinated with the Envision Cambridge comprehensive plan and the Urban Forest Master Plan. The Resilient Cambridge Plan has been guided by an inter-departmental steering committee consisting of the Public Works, Public Health, and Community Development Departments. A consultant team led by Kleinfelder, a Cambridge based architecture, engineering, and sustainability services firm, worked with City staff to develop the plan. Citizens, institutions, businesses, and other stakeholders were engaged through public meetings, workshops, focus groups, surveys, and community events and the Envision Cambridge public engagement process. 

Resilient Cambridge Plan Released

The City released Resilient Cambridge, the citywide climate change preparedness and resilience plan, and presented it at a public meeting on June 17, 2021.

Comments on the Resilient Cambridge Plan are being accepted.  Comments may be submitted through the Resilient Cambridge Response Form or emailed to climate@cambridgema.gov

The City Manager directed City departments to prepare a Climate Change Vulnerability Assessment (CCVA) and preparedness and resilience (CCPR) plan based on a recommendation from the City's Climate Protection Action Committee. The CCVA has been completed and work has begun on the CCPR Plan.

The vulnerability assessment is largely a technical study of Cambridge's physical and social vulnerabilities to increasing temperatures, more intense storms, and storm surge flooding associated with sea level rise. The CCVA serves as the technical foundation for the CCPR Plan. The CCVA consists of two summary reports -- Part 1 on risks from increasing temperatures and precipitation and Part 2 on risks from rising sea levels and coastal storm surges. The summary reports are backed up by technical appendices covering climate projections, modeling of flood risks and urban heat islands, economic and public health assessments, and detailed vulnerability ratings and rankings for physical assets and neighborhoods. Priority planning areas and issues are identified.

The CCPR Plan will recommend strategies to increase the city's level of preparedness and resilience to more intense and longer heat waves, higher average temperatures, changes in precipitation patterns and intensity, and risks from rising sea levels and storm surges from coastal storms. The strategies will cover parcel, neighborhood, citywide, and regional scales. The CCPR Plan is paralleling the Envision Cambridge Plan by focusing first on the Alewife area of the city, where there is relatively more flood risk, particularly from future sea level rise and storm surges. A second neighborhood plan will be developed for The Port and then the work will be rolled up into a citywide plan.

Project Steering Committee

  • Iram Farooq, Assistant City Manager for Community Development
  • Owen O'Riordan, Commissioner of Public Works
  • Kathy Watkins, City Engineer, Public Works Department
  • Nancy Rihan-Porter, Manager, Community Resilience & Preparedness, Public Health Department
  • Sam Lipson, Environmental Health Director, Public Health Department
  • Susanne Rasmussen, Environmental & Transportation Planning Director, Community Development Department
  • John Bolduc, Environmental Planner, Community Development Department

Resilient Cambridge Consultants

  • Kleinfelder - Project lead, coordination, plan development, engineering, and production
  • MWH-Stantec - Hydrologic modeling and engineering
  • Woods Hole Group - Extended Boston Harbor Flood Risk Model
  • Chester Engineering - Bioengineering
  • UMass Boston - Community resilience, technical direction
  • JSI - Public health
  • HR&A - Economic analysis
  • Consensus Building Institute - Public engagement facilitation
  • Buro Happold - Energy and sustainability

CCVA Technical Advisory Committee

  • Richard Amster, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
  • Kathleen Baskin, Massachusetts Executive Office of Energy & Environmental Affairs
  • Andrew Brennan, Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority
  • Peter Crawley, Resident
  • Mark DiOrio, Bulfinch Properties
  • Barry Hilts, Cambridge Health Alliance
  • Bryan Koop, Boston Properties
  • Penn Loh, Resident
  • Thomas Lucey, Harvard University
  • Penni McLean-Conner, Northeast Utilities
  • Andy Reinach, Alexandria Real Estate Equities
  • Gregory Russ, Cambridge Housing Authority
  • Terrence Smith, Cambridge Chamber of Commerce
  • Kevin Walsh, Massachusetts Department of Transportation
  • Richard Zingarelli, Massachusetts Department of Conservation & Recreation

CCVA Expert Advisory Panel

  • Bruce Anderson, Boston University
  • Peter Frumhoff, Union of Concerned Scientists
  • Stephen Hammer, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
  • Henry Jacoby, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
  • Joyce Rosenthal, Harvard University
  • Daniel Schrag, Harvard University
  • John Spengler, Harvard University

CCVA Consultants

  • Kleinfelder (Lead) – Project Methodology, Vulnerability Assessment, Risk Modeling, Integration of Disciplines
  • Paul Kirshen, University of New Hampshire – Vulnerability Assessment, Scenario Development, Modeling
  • Consensus Building Institute – Stakeholder Engagement
  • Catalysis Adaptation Partners – Economic Analysis
  • Pat Kinney, Columbia University – Public Health
  • AMEC – Vulnerability Assessment, Ranking Systems
  • ATMOS Research – Climate Change Projections
  • The Resiliency Place – ICLEI ADAPT Tool
  • Stantec - hydrologic modeling
  • VHB - hydrologic modeling
  • U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, New England District - Urban Forest

While the City develops the Climate Change Preparedness & Resilience (CCPR) Plan, we are engaged in various activities to advance the city's level or preparedness in the meantime. These activities include:

Metro Mayors Climate Change Preparedness Task Force

  • Cambridge is part of the group of 15 metro Boston cities that have committed to work together to prepare the region for climate change.

Cambridge Flood Viewer

  • The Flood Viewer is a tool to look up flood elevations, ground elevations, and flood extent based on FEMA flood insurance zones and the Cambridge Climate Change Vulnerability Assessment.

Urban Forest Canopy Assessment Update

  • The City worked with the University of Vermont Spatial Analysis Lab in 2012 to measure Cambridge's urban forest canopy using 2009 data and assess it's distribution and potential for expansion. The urban forest canopy assessment was updated in 2017.  Another update is planned for 2018 after new data is collected.

Flooding: Is Your Property Protected

  • The Public Works Department produced an information guide for Cambridge residents on how to protect homes from flooding.

Cambridge Compact for a Sustainable Future

  • The sustainability compact is an initiative launched by the City, MIT, and Harvard in 2014 to foster collaboration among Cambridge's institutions, businesses, and government to advance sustainability in the city. One focus of the compact is on climate change preparedness.

DOER Community Clean Energy Resiliency Initiative

  • The Cambridge Water Department was awarded a grant of $851,868 to assess the feasibility and plan implementation of islandable energy storage at the Sullivan Water Treatment Plant. If feasible, the project would involve installation of battery storage, fed by the plant's 170 kilowatt solar photovoltaic system, and switching equipment to be installed so that a portion of the faclity could be operated during an outage of the electric grid.

Urban Forest Master Plan

  • The Public Works Department led the development of Cambridge's first Urban Forest Master Plan, which looks at all trees on public and private property as a system,  The plan established goals and strategies to maintain and expand the urban forest to provide a range of environmental and public services, including reduction of urban heat islands and cooler and safer outdoor environments.

Municipal Vulnerability Preparedness Action Grant

  • Cambridge has been designated as a MVP community under the Commonwealth of Massachusetts's new Municipal Vulnerability Preparedness (MVP) program.  This means the Commonwealth recognizes that the City has completed a vulnerability assessment and makes the City eligible for action grants.  Cambridge was awarded $118,000 in the first round of grants issued in May 2018.  The grant will be used to evaluate the CRLS-War Memorial-Public Library complex for its role as an emergency community shelter and possible ways to make it more robust and resilient; work with community organizations to develop business plans for two "resilience hubs"; and develop toolkits and workshops on climate change preparedness and resilience for renters, small residential properties, small businesses, and large businesses and organizations. The Cambridge Public Health Department was awarded an MVP grant in 2022 for a project that will prepare the Cambridge Community Corps to engage in and lead climate change preparedness efforts.

The City is currently developing Cambridge's first Climate Change Preparedness and Resilience (CCPR) Plan.  The completed Climate Change Vulnerability Assessment (CCVA) serves as the technical foundation for the CCPR Plan.  The development of the CCPR Plan started with a focus on the Alewife/Fresh Pond area and a plan has been issued.  A second neighborhood plan for The Port neighborhood has been issued.  A citywide CCPR Plan will be completed by the end of 2019.  As CCPR documents become available, they will be posted here.

Cambridge Climate Change Preparedness & Resilience Plan - The Port

The Port Preparedness Plan

Appendix 1:  Gray and Green Infrastructure Analyses for The Port

Appendix 2:  Energy Resilience for The Port

Cambridge Climate Change Preparedness & Resilience Plan - Alewife

CCPR Alewife Preparedness Plan (single page format)

CCPR Alewife Preparedness Plan (double page format)

CCPR Alewife Preparedness Handbook

CCPR Appendix A:  Evaluation of Upstream Flux in the Mystic River & Alewife Brook

CCPR Alewife Appendix B:  Green Infrastructure Analysis & Urban Heat Island Modeling

CCPR Alewife Appendix C:  Local Perceptions of Disaster Preparedness in the Alewife District of Cambridge, MA

CCPR Alewife Plan Public Feedback Report

CCPR Alewife November 30, 2018 Public Workshop Boards

PDFs of the boards used at the interactive stations for the public workshop to collect feedback on the CCPR Alewife Plan are provided for reference.


A:  A Prepared Community

B:  Adapted Buildings

C:  Resilient Infrastructure

D:  Resilient Ecosystems

CCPR Alewife Vision

Cambridge Alewife Area Climate Change Flood Risk Illustrations

  • These photos illustrate the projected depths of flooding at 4 locations in the Alewife area associated with current flood scenarios and future flood scenarios with climate change.

CCPR Alewife Public Meeting - April 12, 2017

Climate Change Vulnerability Assessment (CCVA) Report - Part 2 (February 2017)

This report focuses on vulnerabilities to rising sea levels and coastal storm surges. The summary report will be accompanied by two technical reports.

CCVA Report - Part 2

Technical Report - Sea Level Rise and Coastal Storm Surge Projections

Technical Report - Sea Level Rise and Coastal Storm Surge Vulnerability Assessment

Climate Change Vulnerability Assessment (CCVA) Report - Part 1 (November 2015)

This report focuses on vulnerabilities to increasing temperature and precipitation. The CCVA report consists of a summary report and three technical reports.

CCVA Report - Part 1

Technical Report: Climate Projections and Scenario

Technical Report: Critical Assets and Community Resources

Technical Report: Vulnerability and Risk Assessment

CCVA Part 1 – Updated Information (April 2017)

How the precipitation flood model was updated:

The model for projecting flooding from extreme precipitation has been updated to integrate manhole and riverine flooding into one model. The updated model includes flows from tributary regions of Somerville, Belmont, Arlington and Malden River, extends downstream to the Amelia Earhart Dam, and reflects the recent reconstruction of the Cradock Bridge in Medford. The updated model is more reliable in depicting flooding risks. The updated model developed using ICM-2D integrates the previous Mystic River basin FEMA HEC-RAS riverine hydraulic model with the City of Cambridge combined sewer model in the Alewife Brook watershed. This allows for more dynamic interaction between riverine flood levels and the piped infrastructure’s response to it, which results in more realistic and accurate representation of actual flooding conditions. Also, since the updated model is calibrated to available river stage and flow data at multiple locations in the Mystic River watershed, it is expected that this model will better simulate the flows and flooding in Cambridge for future precipitation scenarios.

Updated priority areas for precipitation flooding & revised key findings:

The updated precipitation flooding maps for the 100 yr. and 10 yr. storms for 2030 and 2070 do not show significant difference in the extent of flooding to the exception of small larger areas around Fresh Pond where few items have been added as at risk for flooding or removed. More significant changes are reported in the depth of flooding with less depth of flooding. Key findings remain the same as the Alewife Area remains one of the most vulnerable area to flooding for the City of Cambridge as early as 2030.

Revised maps & tables:

For more information about the Climate Change Vulnerability Assessment (CCVA) and the Preparedness & Resilience (CCPR) Plan or to be placed on an email list to receive periodic project updates, contact: