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Extreme Heat: How Urban Design Needs to Adapt to Rising Temperatures

A new report points to a critical environmental issue for cities

Rising temperatures from climate change pose numerous challenges to cities, including coastal flooding, rising sea levels, and droughts. But a new report by the Design for Risk and Reconstruction Committee (DfRR) of the American Institute of Architects New York addresses an often overlooked, but seemingly obvious issue head-on: the danger of higher and higher temperatures.

Extreme Heat suggests that cities, and the way we build and design them, needs to adapt and evolve to deal with the coming temperature changes associated with climate shifts. While urban density can be a boon for some environmental issues, since density reduces transport costs, it can multiply the effects of extreme heat, as the 1995 Chicago Heat Wave demonstrated. Cities need to adopt multifaceted solutions to provide heat relief and make sure that poorer, underserved communities don’t bear the brunt of negative effects. That, in turn, means architects and urban planners need to be just as aware and active. As the report states:

Expanded awareness of acute heat stroke and heat- exacerbated chronic disorders is no longer the exclusive province of medical personnel, but a matter for design, engineering, and planning professionals to consider in their creation of healthy, sustainable communities.

Drawn from the result of a summit held in New York City last fall, the Extreme Heat examines how the heat island effect and other issues may impact the abilities of cities and their citizens to adapt to rising temperatures, and resulting health issues.

A number of existing solutions can help combat these steadily rising temperatures, including greening and urban reforestation, transit-oriented development policies that encourage densification without adding cars, and covering heat-absorbing infrastructure with photovoltaics to generate renewable power while reducing heat concentration. The report recommends designers, as well as those writing building codes, promote heat mitigation technology, and even invest in waste heat recovery systems that can turn excess heat into an asset. While there isn't one solution to the issue, climate challenges suggests urban heat management needs to become part of the great conservation conversation.

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