Fifty Shades of Gray Infrastructure: Land Use & the Failure to Create Resilient Cities

68 Pages Posted: 5 Aug 2017 Last revised: 23 Mar 2018

Date Written: August 4, 2017


Land use laws, such as comprehensive plans, site plan reviews, zoning, and building codes, greatly affect community resilience to climate change. One often-overlooked area of land use law that is essential to community resilience is the regulation of infrastructure on private property. These regulations set standards for the construction of infrastructure built by private developers. Such infrastructure is completed in conjunction with millions of commercial and residential projects and is necessary for critical services, including potable water and energy distribution. Throughout the fifty states, these land use laws regulating infrastructure constructed by private developers encourage or compel “gray infrastructure.” Marked by human-made, engineered solutions, including pipes, culverts, and detention basins, gray infrastructure reflects a desire to control, remove, and manipulate ecosystems. Left untouched, often these ecosystems provide critical services that strengthen a community’s resilience to disasters and slow changes. This article describes the current state of land use laws and their focus on human-engineered, gray infrastructure developed as part of private projects. It explores how that infrastructure is reducing community resilience to change. By creatively combining human-engineered solutions with ecosystem services already available and by incorporating adaptive governance into the regulation of infrastructure erected by private parties, the article describes how land use laws can enhance community resilience. The article concludes with several examples where land use laws are relied upon to help build cost-effective, adaptive infrastructure to create more resilient communities.

Keywords: Land Use, Climate Change, Ecosystems, Ecosystem Services, Adaptation, Adaptive Governance, Infrastructure

Suggested Citation

Rosenbloom, Jonathan D., Fifty Shades of Gray Infrastructure: Land Use & the Failure to Create Resilient Cities (August 4, 2017). 93 Washington Law Review 317 (2018). Available at SSRN: or

Jonathan D. Rosenbloom (Contact Author)

Drake University Law School ( email )

27th & Carpenter Sts.
Des Moines, IA 50311
United States

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