This month, Denver, Las Vegas and Phoenix set record high temperatures. And across the country, Americans are preparing for a hot summer. However, despite intense and frequent heat waves on the horizon, cities are not prepared to tackle this challenge, according to a research team led by the University of California, Los Angeles.
Their new study is published in the journal Environmental Research Lettersanalysis of municipal planning documents of 50 big cities across the country. The researchers found that 78% of climate plans in these cities mentioned heat as a problem, but few offered a comprehensive strategy to address it. Fewer have addressed the disproportionate effect of heat on low-income populations and communities of color.
F said. Kelly Turner, lead author of the study and co-director of the UCLA Luskin Center for Innovation. “But without concrete steps to protect residents, cities are falling behind the problem.”
heat exacerbated Climate change, has become one of the country’s deadliest weather hazards, the researchers said, accounting for more deaths in a typical year than in hurricanes, floods or tornadoes. In California, according to a recent Los Angeles Times investigation, heat killed about 3,900 people between 2010 and 2019. UCLA research has shown that heat leads to more premature births, making student learning more difficult and increasing the risks Worker injuries on the job.
Despite these harmful and widespread effects, heat management has historically fallen behind other dangers associated with climate change.
To assess thermal planning, researchers from the University of California, Arizona State University and the University of Southern California examined 175 municipal plans from the 50 most populous cities in the United States, relying on open source database they created. they hired content analysis To understand the types of solutions and city interventions proposed in response to heat and why.
The team found, in general, that the solutions to higher temperatures were out of proportion to the severity or complexity of the problem. How municipal plans frame the issue of urban heat, they said, has strongly influenced how cities deal with it, and in most cases limited the scope of their approach.
For example, many plans have looked at heat through the lens of “risk,” focusing on extreme events such as triple-digit heat waves. When defining the problem as a hurricane- or flood-like crisis, solutions often fit into disaster response-style approaches—such as text alert systems and air-conditioned public cooling centers.
Other plans have defined the issue in terms of the “urban heat island effect,” a phenomenon in which cities – due to their heat-absorbing infrastructure, such as asphalt – become and remain hotter than their surrounding countryside. Framing the issue as a land use problem, these plans often focused on physical methods of cooling cities. Adding more trees was the most common intervention, while cool roofs and sun-reflecting plants were mentioned as well.
However, the study found that these two approaches to heat management rarely overlap. The researchers stressed that while each approach has its benefits, such narrow frameworks do not fully address the issue.
“If cities do not paint a complete picture of heat – how chronic it is, and its disparate effects on the Earth – we will not be able to fully protect the population, and we may end up exacerbating existing social and environmental injustices,” said co-author Emma French, a PhD student in urban planning at the University of California, Luskin School of Public Affairs.
Even some seemingly obvious solutions, such as providing outdoor shade for residents, have received little attention in planning documents, noted Ariane Middle, associate professor at Arizona State University, co-author. “Shade is the most effective way to protect pedestrians from exposure to the sun, but few cities have mentioned shade in their plans.”
Moreover, heat has only been identified as an equity issue one third of the time, despite a growing body of evidence that urban communities of color are disproportionately affected by rising temperatures as a result of long-standing social, structural, and health inequalities. The researchers stressed that cities that do not address this disparity can expect to see increased negative impacts in the future.
Among the cities with more powerful preparations for the heat, membership in environmental networks such as the National Association of Cities and the Network of Urban Sustainability Managers has been more popular. These groups bring together sustainability practitioners from across the country, and broader governance structures can provide opportunities to share best practices.
Co-author David Hondola, an associate professor at Arizona State University and director of the Office of Thermal Response and Mitigation in Phoenix, said.
V Kelly Turner et al, How do cities plan for heating? analysis of municipal plans of the United States, Environmental Research Letters (2022). DOI: 10.1088 / 1748-9326 / ac73a9
University of California, Los Angeles
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