The CSLA’s Response to Canada’s National Adaptation Strategy: Building Resilient Communities and a Strong Economy

On June 27, 2023 the Government of Canada launched the National Adaptation Strategy (NAS) Building Resilient Communities and a Strong Economy in partnership with provincial, territorial and Indigenous partners across Canada. The CSLA acknowledges that Landscape Architects in Canada will play a significant role in contributing to climate adaptation across all five systems identified in the NAS, including: disaster resilience, health and well-being, nature and biodiversity, infrastructure, and economy and workers. 

The Strategy is the product of two years of engagement with provinces and territories, Indigenous partners, key experts, stakeholders and partners across Canada, including two respected CSLA members:

  • Grant Fahlgren: Advisory Table on Resilient Natural and Built Infrastructure
  • Colleen Mercer Clarke: Advisory Table on Thriving Natural Environments

We are grateful to these members for their participation in the National Adaptation Strategy and hope that their collaboration demonstrates the leadership and skills landscape architects bring to these complex and important issues.
As one of the relevant professional associations identified, the CSLA will continue to support our members in the implementation of climate adaptation, in the development of tools necessary to communicate the importance of these actions with their clients, and in advocating for the inclusion of landscape architects in adaptation projects at all scales. 

“By 2027, 70% of the members of relevant professional associations (e.g., civil engineers, planners, landscape architects, accountants, and others) have the capacity to apply climate change adaptation tools and information and communicate the business case for adaptation measures to their clients or target audiences” (Government of Canada, National Adaptation Strategy, p. 29
“Landscape architects are uniquely qualified to address the challenges associated with climate change in Canada. Our profession specializes in bridging the gap between the built and natural environments, and the design and implementation of nature based solutions.”  Jane Walsh, City of Toronto (Chair of the CSLA Committee on Climate Adaptation) 
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The CSLA would like to take this opportunity to emphasize the following key messages:

1. The Time for Transformation is Now

The CSLA agrees with the Resilient Natural Built Infrastructure Advisory Report’s goal of climate resilient infrastructure systems by 2050. The time to transform is now. 

Our society and its government must investigate and apply creative and immediate solutions that will allow us to understand our natural systems and transform our relationships to them. Landscape architects are trained to craft these creative solutions and throughout its history, the profession’s stewardship lens has created multidisciplinary, holistic solutions which bridge the environmental and social benefits of our environment and natural systems on not only human health and well-being, but climate adaptation solutions as well. 

2. Collaboration with Adaptation Experts and Integrating Indigenous Knowledge will Help Us Ensure our Solutions are Holistic and Equitable

The CSLA agrees with the Resilient Natural Built Infrastructure Advisory Report’s astute conclusion that climate adaptation is a “whole-of-society effort”.

By the very nature of their work, landscape architects work in collaboration with other professions, such as planners, architects and engineers, and with communities. They are often in the position of finding creative solutions to suit a community’s needs, or to ensure our outdoor public realm responds to the ever-changing needs of society by building in long-term resilience plans. Landscape architects are, in essence, the architects of nature, and, as the pandemic has shown us, humanity’s relationship to nature is a key function of a healthy society. 

Landscape architects work with First Nation, Inuit, and Métis communities across the country. Incorporation and consideration of Indigenous peoples, their values, their voices, and their knowledge in the planning, design and management of the Canadian landscape is an important goal for our membership, and essential to moving forward towards achieving reconciliation. Self-government and land claim agreements (including the implementation of UNDRIP) between Canada and Indigenous governments facilitate a partnership approach to decision-making. It is incumbent on Canada to conclude these agreements to meet obligations as partner on urgent infrastructure improvements. The government must provide financial support to Indigenous communities and governments in habitat management and restoration, land and ocean management, and carbon stewardship through existing environmental programs. Many of these conservation initiatives have incorporated landscape architectural expertise and facilitation. 

The Thriving Natural Environment Advisory Table Report’s medium-term objective number 7 is of great importance and relevance to the CSLA and landscape architects.

“By 2030, professional associations and organizations in Canada integrate comprehensive considerations of climate change, ecosystem stewardship, nature-based solutions, Indigenous laws, rights and title, and values of environmental and intergenerational justice in their ethics, standards, regulations, and operations.” Excerpt from the Thriving Natural Environment Advisory Table Report


Landscape architects integrate all the above-mentioned considerations in their work and the CSLA believes that this cross-disciplinary based form of collaboration is key to resolving the major global issues we are facing. The CSLA formed the Committee on Climate Adaptation in 2014 and has embedded climate adaptation and Nature-based Solutions into practice and advocates for policy changes at all levels of government. 

Recognizing how fast environments are changing in today’s world, landscape architects often seek the newest science at a scale relevant to their work through constructive partnerships with scientists working in governments, academia, and international organizations.  In doing so, we ensure that our profession operates on the best of current knowledge, and that we are capable and informed on changing priorities, policies, and best practices.

The CSLA and the profession is also informed by its ongoing partnerships with other organizations, such as the Canada Committee for the International Union for the Conversation of Nature. The concepts of Reconciliation, Climate Justice and Equity and Diversity as a whole underpin the values and role of the CSLA, and we continue to advocate for these important objectives in the practice of the profession.

3. The Importance of Accelerating the Use of Nature-based Solutions

Nature-based solutions (NbS), not a new concept for landscape architects, are now seen as an integral tool in the battle to reduce atmospheric green-house gas emissions, and to ensure sustainability in environments and communities. 

The CSLA understands that ecological health is essential to human well-being and continues to seek partnerships and pathways by which landscape architecture can contribute to sustainability. One of those pathways is through endorsement of the principles for application of NbS. The CSLA believes that NbS offer innovative opportunities to meaningfully address multiple sustainability crises (e.g., climate change, food and water security, land degradation, loss of biodiversity, human well-being, and natural disasters). 
Learn more about landscape architects and Nature-based Solutions.

Working with nature can reduce a community’s costs for the provision of needed ecosystem services, slow environmental degradation and enhance well-being for residents. Nature-based projects often address multiple challenges but also create multiple benefits at the same time. For example, urban canopy improvements reduce inner city heat, provide shelter to individuals and structures, and improve aesthetics and livability. Innovative stormwater management systems can reduce runoff and potential flooding, improve water quality, provide recreational space, and create additional ‘nature in the city’ amenities. 

As early as 1900, Canadian landscape architects were advancing town planning and securing, protecting and planning urban natural environments such as Mount Royal Park in Montréal, Assiniboine Park in Winnipeg, Wascana and Victoria Park in Regina and Bowring Park in St. John’s. More recent investments in the Rouge Park in Toronto, the Agguttinni Territorial Park in Clyde River and the Grand Parc de l’Ouest in Montreal are exciting new nature-based projects advancing long term ecosystem health and enjoyment in urban cities. Today, every region or community within the country has a host of specific climate adaption and mitigation priorities tied to extreme weather risk management planning. 

Landscape architects are already working with communities as specialists on evidence, science-based design solutions reviewing threats to infrastructure, and this leadership must continue. Risk vulnerability scenarios are complex to assess and form achievable neighbourhood safety objectives. In northern communities, for example, the inclusion of Indigenous peoples in environmental research, monitoring and guardianship for both scientific research and traditional knowledge can provide great value. Funding shortfalls for completing essential risk studies and mitigation solutions involving landscape architects must be actioned and prioritized in older communities and in growth centres. Federal Dollars at Work for Resilient Communities

According to a recently published report by the World Economic Forum, nature-based and sustainable practices could create more than 395 million jobs globally by 2030 and more than $10 trillion in annual business value over the next decade. According to a 2020 report by the Insurance Bureau of Canada and the Federation of Canadian Municipalities, every $1 invested in climate adaptation has a potential return of $6 in future avoided losses. CSLA 2022 Pre-Budget Brief to the Standing Committee on Finance (August 2021) 4 The talent and skill of landscape architects can be seen in the public realm on prominent projects in every major city, province and territory in the country. A few well-known initiatives include: Bring Back the Don / Naturalization of the Don River and the Port Lands community redevelopment on the Toronto waterfront; The Forks river and floodway renewal in Winnipeg, the Lachine Canal in Montreal, Calgary’s Downtown Flood Barrier project and Nova Scotia’s Flood Mapping studies.

Most recent award-winning projects recognizing the work of landscape architects include City of Vancouver’s innovative Rain City Strategy, a Green Rainwater Infrastructure and Management Initiative and Dale Hodges Park /Stormwater Facility and Public Artwork in Calgary. These multimillion-dollar investments were realized with infusions of federal funding and involve the creative leadership of landscape architects and urban designers who are committed to “big picture landscape thinking” around urban renewal, urban ecological restoration and climate change adaptation and mitigation.

Clearly, these types of interventions are required at an accelerated pace if we are to achieve our adaptation objectives.

4. Investment in Public Spaces and Green Infrastructure

A robust investment framework is indeed required to guide public funds towards climate resilient infrastructure.

The rapid growth that many parts of the country have experienced over the last two decades and the effects of COVID-19 have changed how we live and think about public spaces in our communities and the direction of investment for infrastructure and services. Serious gaps are being uncovered as community needs come to the forefront. Public scrutiny of the rationale of investments and assessment of benefits to our daily lives has never been so imperative. Government should prioritize funding that rejuvenates and expands the public spaces that create healthy and livable communities including parks, green spaces, greenways, recreational fields, plazas, waterfronts, renewed streets, community centres and more. 

Landscape architects provide a critical expertise in creating a multi-disciplinary perspective for relevant city building, infrastructure planning, climate change solutions and funding. Many of our communities have intensified resulting in underserviced parkland to support increasing populations or with inadequate provision of purposeful well-designed amenities for diverse users and cultures. We need new support for underfunded green infrastructure and restoration priorities where gaps exist or deterioration of the public realm prevails (e.g. brownfields, utility corridors, harbours, inner city spaces, transportation corridors). 
Canada’s natural ecosystems must be recognized and funded as essential assets. Investment prioritization of climate solutions and green infrastructure warrants the protection and restoration of natural assets across the country as a fundamental anchor for success. Park and natural heritage infrastructure are required for Canada to achieve Canada’s Target 1 Challenge – adding to protected and conserved areas in each province and territory. These natural ecosystems are well-positioned, if responsibly managed, to contribute to climate resilience in Canada. 

5. Importance of Research and Development to Advance Adaptation Strategies

To advance green building technology, nature-based solutions and innovative design experimentation, targeted funding to SSHRC, NSERC and CIHR must occur to promote research in site planning initiatives (e.g. green roofs, green parking areas, natural drainage basins). 

Additionally, cost-sharing, subsidies and rebate incentives are recognized programs that facilitate funding and encourage use of technologies and nature based solutions. A focus on creative neighbourhood integration of design and technical services can fuel productive pilot projects in inner city locations, rural or re-developing environs and remote communities. Funders and infrastructure owners need to consider comprehensive life cycle costing of public facilities as an ongoing issue for new forms of maintenance, technology, and skills for care as we transition. 

6. Importance of Governance Models which can Support these Objectives

To be in harmony with a changing climate, all levels of government and our professions must make important changes. Collaboration, creative and sustainable solutions must be developed and implemented. 

It is imperative as new goals and performance metrics are established through this National Adaption Strategy to highlight how governance could be supported to create stronger collaborations for research at a variety of scales throughout the country, and how new models of collaboration can move research  into applied scenarios at the local landscape level. All communities need to develop their own natural asset and infrastructure risk plans with integrated professional assistance and community dialogue. However, these plans need to be prioritized through consultation and long-term benefit analysis. Strong governance models should ensure that the stewardship and enhancement of our natural assets are protected, and that infrastructure is climate sensitive and incorporates new technologies, where possible.

Some municipalities and government departments across the country may need to strengthen their capacity to achieve the new and often challenging projects of the climate adaption agenda. Addressing climate adaption requires creative cross-cutting thinking and resolutions through watershed -based planning (conservation authorities), Indigenous expertise and, consortiums of researchers, contractors and professional experts. In addition, planning processes such as traditional forms of Environmental Assessments, for example, should be modified to establish climate change priorities within the analysis and design stages of potential study. Landscape architects are well positioned in academia, private practice and all levels of government across the country to assist in these essential adaption and implementation projects.

Governments, NGOs and professional associations should be preparing new forms of technical standards to advance their educational programs and skills training. Funding for these initiatives will be an important step towards embedding proactive design and technical approaches into planning, managing, and maintaining infrastructure systems across their community life cycle. CSLA has prepared, for instance, the recent document entitled Canadian Landscape Standard that informs all landscape architecture professionals in the country on a comprehensive technical standard for practice in the construction field. 

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