Preparing for Urban Heat

America’s cities are warming at an extraordinary rate.  Unique landscapes and built environments create neighborhoods known as “heat islands” that are significantly hotter than surrounding areas. 

While heat islands are already prevalent in many urban areas, climate change will make these hot areas even hotter.  Rising heat endangers public health in addition to increasing energy use and pollution levels in cities.  The elderly, young, and poor are especially vulnerable.

Many local governments have developed emergency plans for health departments and other agencies to respond to heat waves.  But often they have not yet considered how they might adapt their physical environments (buildings, roads, parking lots, etc.) to keep residents cooler in the first place.  Fortunately, many policy tools already exist that can alter that physical environment (building and zoning codes, for example). 

The Georgetown Climate Center works with state and local governments to develop “heat-smart” communities that are well prepared to cope with rising temperatures — to both help them identify the adaptation choices available and navigate through the legal obstacles they may face in trying to implement different options.