Cross-National Comparison of City-Level Responses to Extreme Climate Events

Presenter: Andrew Small

Research Category:
College: College of Social Sciences and Humanities
Major(s): Asian Studies
Graduation Date: 2023
Additional Authors: Toshiaki Yoshida, Bryan Grady

How do cities prepare and respond to shocks like flooding and hurricanes? Using data from Boston, Massachusetts, and all 2000+ municipalities in Japan we track two types of investment: physical infrastructure (ports, seawalls, berms, etc) and social infrastructure (building trust, citizen science, civic engagement, community development, etc). We have found strong patterns of overinvestment in physical infrastructure, especially in communities with high social vulnerability and weak social ties. Our research brings with it policy recommendations for residents, NGOs, and decision-makers alike. 

In both countries, the process of physically adapting for climate disasters is generally realized through long-term capital investments by government actors and private firms. In Boston, select short-term projects are already underway, such as the floodproofing of MBTA stations using deployable aluminum flood barriers. However, major projects intended to adapt the cityÕs infrastructure remain in the study phase due to their high costs. Therefore, many of the crucial adaptations to mitigate damages from climate change will be built over a decades-long time period.

Social infrastructure, such as civic engagement, emergency preparedness, and networks of mutual aid, is generally more economical to develop than hard construction projects. Additionally, these are developments that can be supported within much shorter time frames than physical adaptations. As any recent climate disaster has demonstrated, policymakers do not have time to plan and budget for long-term physical infrastructure alone. While these physical adaptations are clearly necessary for climate resilience, social infrastructure development remains a quick and cost-effective tool that is seemingly under-utilized in both countries.