Building climate resilience in at-risk communities

Terminal Tower in Cleveland, OH

Nicholas Rajkovich is part of a team focused on at-risk communities in Cleveland, one of 12 cities to share in the Kresge Foundation’s $8 million Climate Resilience and Urban Opportunity Initiative.


Published January 7, 2016

Nicholas Rajkovich

Nicholas Rajkovich

UB architect and urban planner Nicholas Rajkovich is a co-investigator on a research effort to build resilience in low-income urban communities across the U.S. that are vulnerable to such climate change-related events as flooding and high heat.

Rajkovich, an assistant professor of architecture who studies the intersection of energy efficiency, renewable energy and adaptation to climate change, is part of a team focused on at-risk communities in Cleveland, one of 12 cities to share in the Kresge Foundation’s $8 million Climate Resilience and Urban Opportunity Initiative.

The Cleveland team, awarded $660,000 over three years, is led by Cleveland Neighborhood Progress in partnership with Kent State University’s Cleveland Urban Design Collaborative, the city of Cleveland, Rajkovich and the Great Lakes Integrated Sciences and Assessments Program.

The Kresge initiative aims to bolster the capacity of community-based, nonprofit groups to influence local and regional climate-resilience planning, policy development and implementation in ways that better reflect the needs of underrepresented residents of U.S. cities. Expected outcomes include stronger energy-efficiency policies, disaster-preparedness plans and carbon-reduction strategies, as well as more robust social cohesion that can bond communities together during crises.

Each of the 12 awarded communities received planning grants in 2014 to develop baseline research and propose strategies for implementation. The Cleveland team developed a research framework based on the city’s historical climatology, mortality rates related to extreme weather and the urban heat island effect, and land cover. Rajkovich’s specific research contributions were developed in partnership with student research assistants Michael Tuzzo, Yasmein Okour and Subhashni Raj.  

According to their initial research, temperatures in Cleveland are rising faster than in other Great Lakes cities, and the city faces increased flooding risks and storms of greater frequency and intensity. Cleveland also has existing land-use patterns and social conditions that exacerbate the adverse effects of climate change, particularly in low-income neighborhoods and communities of color. These conditions include redundant infrastructure, lower tree cover, greater impervious surface and concentrated pockets of poverty.

Over the next three years, the Cleveland team will work closely with community development corporations in four target neighborhoods to engage citizens, assemble a dedicated team of neighborhood “climate ambassadors” and advance neighborhood-scale climate-adaptation strategies, including energy-efficiency programs and green infrastructure development of vacant land.

The team also will partner with a network of organizations involved in the city’s “Sustainable Cleveland 2019” initiative, which envisions a “thriving green city on a blue lake” by 2019, the 50th anniversary of the infamous Cuyahoga River fire.

Best practices generated in Cleveland, the only freshwater community funded by the Kresge Foundation initiative, will be translated to other cities across the Great Lakes Basin.

The 11 other communities to receive climate resilience implementation grants from the Kresge Foundation and their community partners are:

  • Brooklyn, New York (Fifth Avenue Committee).
  • East Boston, Massachusetts (Neighborhood of Affordable Housing).
  • Fresno, California (Tides Center/Leadership Counsel for Justice and Accountability).
  • Harlem, New York, (West Harlem Environmental Action).
  • Los Angeles (Los Angeles Alliance for a New Economy).
  • National City, California (Environmental Health Coalition).
  • New York, New York (Align).
  • Newark (Ironbound Community Corp.).
  • Oakland (Asian Pacific Environment Network).
  • Portland, Oregon (Native American Youth and Family Center).
  • San Antonio (Centro por la Justicia/Southwest Workers Union).