Heat Series: Immediate Actions Cities Can Take to Reduce Heat
The shift in weather patterns, temperatures, and precipitation has grabbed the attention of scientists, politicians, and society. With more than 80% of the United States population living in cities, studies reveal that these negative weather changes are heightened in these areas due to the infrastructure and population density.
From vehicles to the industrial processes to a large amount of concrete and metal, urban areas absorb more heat and often receive record rainfall as well. Cities also provide a higher proportion of jobs, drawing more and more people from rural areas into a more urban setting.
The consequences of the higher temperatures and increased rainfall include strokes and deaths, infrastructure failures, power outages, and negative economic impacts. With this type of severity looming, US cities and urban planners must find ways to reduce heat.
Immediate Actions Cities Can Take to Reduce Heat
The first step is always awareness—recognizing the threat of heat, increased rainfall, and changing weather temperatures. Even if cities have limited budgets and lack a fully formulated solution, there are still a number of immediate actions that cities and their people can take to reduce heat.
Signs of Heat Stress
To help protect the population from heat stress and possible death, individuals and communities should be trained to recognize the signs of heat stress. The most common symptoms include dark-colored urine, dizziness, fatigue, fainting, muscle cramps, nausea, and headaches. If heat stress is occurring, the person should be moved into a cool space to rest and directed to drink cool fluids, specifically water and electrolyte-infused sports drinks.
Many people are uninformed about the reality of higher temperatures and increased rainfall. Communities need to inform their neighborhoods about these weather patterns and what known solutions can help to reduce heat and its subsequent effects. This type of communication requires coordination between federal, state, and local governments.
One of the ways that cities can help reduce heat and manage flooding is to add nature back into the urban landscape. New York City has introduced a million tree program to reduce the city’s temperature while soaking up stormwater—cooling the air by evaporating water. While this option doesn’t work as well in desert cities, developing urban gardens on rooftops can offer certain benefits still.
Light-Colored, Cooling Roofs
One of the best ways that cities and businesses can reduce heat absorption is by choosing light-colored roofs. Whether white or light-colored, a roof can reflect the sunlight, lowering the overall city temperature as well as the temperature of the individual building. Just a degree or two drop could be beneficial to city occupants. In Louisville, Kentucky, and San Antonio, Texas, the local governments spearheaded this solution by offering rebates for cool roofs to low-income communities.
Cool Pavement Options
One way that Los Angeles has helped cut down on the temperature of its city is through the use of titanium dioxide-infused goo. This special goo is applied to the asphalt and concrete of some of the city’s hottest neighborhoods to combat the heat. This cool seal coating can reduce surface temperature by around 10 degrees Fahrenheit. With streets making up a good percentage of most cities throughout the US, cool sealing is an ideal solution.
Another way that LA is working to combat heat is through its use of permeable pavement and dry wells. The use of porous pavement and bioswales allow water to be caught in dry wells for reuse. These dry wells are beneficial for cities that deal with extreme heat and flooding because water collection can be distributed efficiently to areas where it’s needed most. While these initiatives and projects are still new, they offer a lot of potential.
While reflective pavement and cool roofs can reduce heat substantially, the shade of a leafy tree can provide a drop in temperature of approximately 40-50 degrees Fahrenheit. While trees are an obvious choice for cooling cities, helping with water runoff, and increasing carbon capture, they can cause issues with shallow roots tearing up the pavement. It’s crucial for urban planners to find ways to incorporate greenery into the city landscape without damaging embedded infrastructure.
To reduce the extreme heat and flooding, cities can take immediate action by providing education to communities, offering green infrastructure, and encouraging builders to use light-colored roofs. On neighborhood levels, families and communities can look to plant more trees and incorporate a green mindset to their living.
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