Adaptation in urban areas

Climate change means that we will need to adapt the way we live in the future. Adapting to climate change is an ongoing process and here we look at examples of how some cities and towns have already started to adapt to prepare for the future we face with climate change. These adaptations not only provide direct benefits to the local population, but also indirect benefits to those connected to the region.  

Here are some changes that we could see in urban areas in the near future:  

Green carparks 

By creating more high-density multi-storey carparks the need for multiple smaller ones will be reduced. As a result, the space used for smaller carparks will be free to be transformed and used as communal green spaces in urban centres.  

In 2014 a 12-car parking lot was redeveloped in Bethnal Green, London, transforming an underused carpark into a multifunctional green space for the community.  

The plants put here were carefully selected to allow the space to function as a rain garden, helping water flow into the Thames during rainy periods.  


The redevelopment of derelict sites can provide more centrally located homes and commercial spaces, while also increasing climate resilience if buildings are adapted to be resistant to more extreme weather conditions.  

Garrison House in Millport on the island of Great Cumbre in the Firth of Clyde was abandoned and left derelict, following a major fire in 2001. By 2003, the community decided they needed to act, raising £5 million for the redevelopment of the building.  

Today, Garrison house is a central, multi-use community space, containing a GP practice, café, council services and a library, allowing people to access various services all in one place and reducing their need to travel.  

Floodplain parks 

By creating riverside parks, rivers can be reconnected to their floodplains, providing room for water storage during floods. This reduces the risk of flooding to property and local infrastructure, as well as providing an additional green space withing an urban community.  

In Exeter, Devon parts of the River Exe are surrounded by green spaces, including fields, parks and sports pitches. This provides a green space for the community, as well as creating an additional line of defence against flooding.  

Local growing 

Disused or vacant sites can be used to increase greenspace and produce food for surrounding streets and buildings. This benefits both the people within a community and the local ecosystem, as well as improving community cohesion.  

The Hawley Community Garden in Farnborough, Hampshire took what was once a strip of concrete on the former site of some derelict garages and transformed it into growing space. The community garden produces fruits and vegetables that are shared among its members, as well as providing a space for people to come together. 

Retrofitting buildings 

As the climate warms, and the likelihood of prolonged dry spells and heavy rain increases, many buildings will need to be retrofitted with various improvements, such as improved ventilation to cope with overheating and damp.  

In the United States, Harvard University has retrofitted the Centre for Green Buildings and Cities' Headquarters in Cambridge, Massachusetts, making additions such as solar vents, a rain garden, thermal energy storage and a green roof to the pre-1940's building. Harvard House Zero (as it is also called) is a great example of a climate ready building and how to retrofit for the future.  

Green infrastructure 

Incorporating green infrastructure into walls and roofs can reduce local temperatures, water runoff, air pollution and visual impact, as well as making buildings more climate friendly.  

Many adaptation actions, particularly the introduction of physical protection measures, can often be implemented relatively quickly and don’t always have to be very costly. By carefully designing adaptations for individual communities, benefits can reach far beyond avoiding climate impacts. These adaptations often make these urban areas more hospitable for the people within them and improve community living.   


Find out more

Adaptation Scotland provides advice, and link organisations, businesses and communities to tools, resources and projects that can help them adapt.