Uncovering JAPA

Planners Can Integrate Climate Migrants

As migration patterns in North America shift due to climate change, planners can proactively prepare communities for the arrival of migrants, facing the challenge of reconciling social inclusion and economic development across geographic scales as climate and other dynamics unpredictably shape sending and receiving zones.

In “Integration as Adaptation: Advancing Research and Practice for Inclusive Climate Receiving Communities” (Journal of American Planning Association, Vol. 90, No. 1), Hannah M. Teicher and Patrick Marchman propose strategies for planning researchers and practitioners to prepare for equitable climate migration in the global North.

The authors delve deeper to discuss the financial interdependencies between receiving and sending zones. Responding to whether the concept of climate refuge undermines climate action, they build on previous research to emphasize that receiving communities can offer an important form of adaptation.

Accounts from municipal staff question media portrayals of 'welcoming cities.' Popular narratives about climate havens or refugees are complicated by communities' ability to accommodate rapid population growth due to numerous challenges. Failing wastewater systems or aging housing stock are underlying issues in supposed climate havens.

Strains on Planning Departments

Socioeconomic and cultural differences strain planning departments' capacity to accommodate newcomers and existing residents. The authors pose key questions about migration's impact on land use and infrastructure preferences, including the role of corporations. They advocate for developing metrics and analyzing data to assist planners in adapting infrastructure to population changes.

Teicher and Marchman argue that empirical research on climate migration suffers from inadequate data, cautioning against reliance on modeling. They note that mobility is influenced by various factors beyond temperature, including loss of livability and its impact on migration patterns. Moreover, out-migration can strain the tax base, services, and infrastructure, exacerbating entrenched issues like segregation and inequality, which may intensify tensions between newcomers and existing residents.

Current migration patterns reveal significant nuances. Receiving communities encounter unique challenges stemming from generational disparities in environmental amenity migration. For instance, warmer climates attract retirees, while rural areas with recreational amenities allure younger remote workers. Coupled with other relocation dynamics such as pandemic-driven remote work and mounting housing market pressures, the authors amalgamate insights to strategize for deconcentration and a changing urban hierarchy.

Integration as Key Adaptation

Synthesizing their interdisciplinary research, the authors emphasize that climate migration alone does not constitute adaptation. Rather, Teicher and Marchman assert that effective integration is paramount in transforming climate migration into an adaptation strategy. They aim to bridge the gap between theory and practice by offering the following recommendations:

  • Promote mutual integration between migrants and existing residents, fostering diverse encounters and recognizing shared economic advantages. Planners can spearhead welcoming initiatives, assess needs, and tailor municipal services accordingly.
  • Embrace migrant influx as a means to mitigate racial and economic disparities among current residents. Newcomers' arrival can reshape historical local challenges such as environmental justice and climate change.
  • Implement cross-scale planning to tackle rising inequities between sending and receiving regions. Strategies should encompass exurban and rural destinations, extending theories and investment practices.

The Journal of the American Planning Association is the quarterly journal of record for the planning profession. For full access to the JAPA archive, APA members may purchase a discounted digital subscription for $36/year.

Top image: iStock / Getty Images Plus - william87

Grant Holub-Moorman is a master's in city and regional planning student at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

March 29, 2024

By Grant Holub-Moorman