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How can cities tackle Urban Heat Islands?

Did you feel uncomfortably hot this past summer? Were there nights when it was difficult to sleep without waking up frequently? Climate change and cities’ poor adaptability to heatwaves have a lot to say about this issue.
In Europe, heatwaves are an increasingly frequent issue being faced by cities not accustomed to such heat during the summer season. Apart from being a sticky inconvenience, heatwaves have the potential to cause human fatalities. During the summer of 2003, a heatwave hit Central and Western Europe, producing 70,000 excess deaths. In 2010, a heatwave in Eastern Europe caused a 55,000-death toll. With this summer said to be the hottest on record in Europe, it is likely the heat produced similar numbers. In France alone, an estimated 10,000 people passed away due to heatwaves.

One of the phenomena triggered by heatwaves is the Urban Heat Island (UHI) effect. It is described as “the increased temperature of the urban air compared to its rural surroundings”. It is a local and seasonal phenomenon occurring during summer months that affects the population at thermal risk, such as elderly people, children and pregnant women. UHIs are produced by several different factors, including the increased use of air-conditioner systems that overheat streets, dense traffic, and concrete and asphalt pavements that absorb radiation.

UHIs are becoming a big issue for urban planners. Luckily, there are several innovative solutions that promise to reduce UHIs in cities. A few of the more interesting and efficient ones will now be highlighted:

          1. Green roofs and façades: Vegetation is a powerful tool used to tackle UHIs. Not only do roofs with plants provide shade, but they also stimulate evapotranspiration, the process by which water evaporating from plants’ leaves reduces the adjacent air temperature. One example can be found in Singapore. Today, the city hosts more than 100 hectares of green roofs, and it plans to increase this to 200 hectares by the year 2030!


          2. Reflective roofs: Another effective solution is the use of coatings mainly with white pigments, which are applied to roads, roofs and facades to reflect solar energy away from cities. A new initiative has been set up in New York called NYC °CoolRoofs. The goal is to paint more than 500,000 m2 of white reflective coating roofs, which will save an estimated 2,282 tonnes of C02 per year from cooling emissions.


          3. Water-based systemsWater is another useful (and fun!) strategy to fight against UHIs. Chongqing, a Chinese city on the Yangtze River Delta, is known for its long and hot summers. To deal with UHIs, the city is experimenting by using water misters at local bus stops. These sprays cool the air as well as passengers waiting for the bus, a win-win option!

These are only some examples of innovative technologies being used to mitigate urban heat. However, many questions remain: How are we going to deploy these in a financially-sustainable way? What is the most suitable solution for each city? Are our municipalities even aware that these solutions exist?

Our job at LGI is to find answers to such questions. We are currently working on different projects to tackle the issue of UHIs and improve cities’ urban planning. Our strategy is to innovate and create new business models, helping to bring these innovations to the market.

If you want to know more about this topic, do not hesitate to contact us!

Soraya-blogSoraya Molinero
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The views and opinions expressed in this blogpost are solely those of the original author(s) and/or contributor(s). These views and opinions do not necessarily represent those of LGI or the totality of its staff.