Achieving Urban Resilience: Washington DC

How cities manage the sunlight and rain that falls on them has a huge impact on inhabitants’ health and quality of life. But city leaders and planners generally do not manage or even think about their city’s rain and sun in a systematic way and, as a result, mismanage or undermanage these two great natural gifts. This mismanagement costs cities billions of dollars in unnecessary health, energy-, and stormwater-related costs, degrades city comfort, livability and resilience, and contributes to climate change. These costs take the heaviest toll in low income areas, which are characterized by less greenery and greater unwanted summer absorption of sunlight, resulting in increased temperatures, worsened air pollution, and increased health costs.

This report provides an in-depth analysis of the costs and benefits of cool and green roofs, solar PV, cool and porous pavements, bioretention and expanded tree cover and combinations of these solutions at scale across Washington, DC. The city could reap net benefits of at least 5 billion dollars over 40 years by widely adopting cool roofs, green roofs, solar PV, bioretention, rainwater harvesting, reflective pavements, permeable pavements, and urban trees. Benefits valued include energy cost savings, improved air quality and public health, reduced stormwater runoff, climate change mitigation, and increased resilience and employment.

Washington DC is already a national and international leader in sustainability. City-wide, integrated adoption of the technologies detailed in this report would greatly strengthen DCs sustainability leadership and would provide strong protection against continued climate change.  The data on cost effectiveness of these strategies is now compelling. Delays in city-wide adoption would impose real costs.

Report Summary
Full Report
Summary Deck


In my public work I gained a deep appreciation for the tremendous opportunities offered by and difficult challenges we face in making our buildings and communities greener and healthier. Achieving Urban Resilience is a critical, even transformative new analysis that provides a compelling case that DC should accelerate its greening by adopting the city wide technology and design practices documented here. What this report convincingly demonstrates is that there are cost effective technologies and strategies for managing sun and water that will deliver billions of dollars in financial benefits to the city and its residents. Delaying this transition would impose large financial and social costs particularly on places of lower economic opportunity, the elderly and children. We have the roadmap – now we must follow it.

Dan Tangherlini, former Washington DC City Administrator and Administrator of GSA

This report Achieving Urban Resilience is important for many reasons. It is the first rigorous analysis of the full cost and benefits of managing our city’s sun and rain, and it shows how to make the city much more resilient, cleaner and more livable. As a District resident working for a company that develops and finances affordable, green and sustainable low-income residences in DC, I am aware of the gross physical inequities in many low-income neighborhoods. Achieving Urban Resilience demonstrates how the city can redress this inequity by making low-income neighborhoods more reflective and porous and green. The benefits would be dramatic: improved health, more jobs, and greater comfort.

David Bowers, Washington DC Minster and Vice President, Enterprise Community Partners

In his seminal work 14 years ago Kats provided the first and most influential analysis on the cost and benefits of green buildings. That work has had a transformative impact in the US and globally in greatly expanding recognition of the financial rational for building green and in accelerating adoption of green design. In Achieving Urban Resilience Kats provides an enormously important step for US cities to understand and quantify the large range of health, livability and climate change benefits from adopting a range of cost effective strategies now available to manage sun and rainfall. The work is so important because it is the first to rigorously document, quantify and explain these benefits and benefit pathways. As such it provides a powerful and compelling analysis and framework for the District and other cities to take a huge step to achieve climate resilience while securing very broad health benefits.

Rick Fedrizzi, former President and Founding Chairman, US Green Building Council

As a two-term Mayor of Austin, I had the opportunity to lead our city’s rapid transition toward a much more sustainable future, including a dramatic expansion of renewable energy and green buildings. Kats’s work documenting costs and benefits of green buildings was a fundamental component in our understanding the cost and benefits, and a powerful driver for green design adoption and policy initiatives. Achieving Urban Resilience provides an entirely convincing case that city-wide adoption of cooling and greening roof and surface technologies is cost effective and essential to ensure that our cities remain livable in a warming world. The case has been made–and proven. We must now act.

Will Wynn, two-term Mayor of Austin

The report Achieving Urban Resilience provides the first comprehensive documentation of the full benefits associated with roof and surface technologies such as green roofs, porous surfaces, and rain gardens as well as cool roofs and solar PV. What this report demonstrates is that these strategies have large health, resilience, livability and financial benefits that have to date been very poorly understand and largely ignored. These strategies should be adopted city-wide by all cities including those that border or drain into the Chesapeake. Doing so would provide enormous net benefits for the cities and for the Chesapeake Bay. This report demonstrates that these strategies are extremely cost effective and should be rapidly adopted throughout the entire Chesapeake Bay region as a matter of prudence, good policy and common sense.

Will Baker, President, Chesapeake Bay Foundation

Enterprise has been a national leader in developing quality, affordable housing and strong communities for several decades. The low income areas in which we work are often hotter, less green and less healthy than wealthier neighborhoods. The report Achieving Urban Resilience documents – for the first time – the benefits of addressing how such physical disparities can be addressed by adopting a broad range of technologies, including green roofs, cool roofs, solar PV, porous and highly reflective (cooler) pavement and roads. This report rigorously and compellingly demonstrates how such technological investments can have enormous social, health and comfort benefits city wide, but especially in more vulnerable, low income areas. Providing a cost effective way to correct the chronic physical disadvantages that impact our low income communities must be an urgent priority for our nation’s cities, and this report demonstrates that such an approach is not only feasible, but that it would more than pay for itself. This report is a major contribution.

Terri Ludwig, President, Enterprise Community Partners

This report maps out a set of strategies that are transformative and cost effective.  The District should adopt this approach to make the city healthier and more competitive.

Sean Cahill, SVP, PGP Development LLC and former President of the DC Building Industry Association