Everyone has to deal with summertime heat, but some people have it worse than others. An under-appreciated problem in our towns is that different districts can have drastically higher temperatures than their neighbors, a phenomenon called “heat islands.” According to V. Kelly Turner and NextCity, it’s time for a “National Cool Communities Standards” to correct this.
We can’t control the weather, and in the longer term, even with major climate action from world leaders, some warming is already baked into our climate system. But there is one aspect of extreme heat we can control. Cities are hotter because of how we build them, and they can be cooler if we build them differently.
It’s time for federal regulations to limit how much buildings, roads, parking lots, and other urban features are allowed to heat up the neighborhood.
I’m not an expert in federal policy, so I have no insight into this specific proposal. However, I’m generally in favor of anything that helps us get the temperature under control. Unlike the larger climate, these heat islands are local problems caused by local factors. Expansive parking lots, wide roads, and lack of trees are all examples of things that damper natural cooling mechanisms. Ideally, this wouldn’t be complicated or controversial to correct.
This is especially an issue for people who bike or walk for transportation. Walking through hotter neighborhoods can be more challenging than walking through cooler ones. Even if this fact isn’t reported on often, I believe most people will cite heat as a reason why they don’t want to walk outside.
When I wrote about this phenomenon last year, I found out that my own city is in the top-ten list of places with the “heat island” problem. This didn’t surprise me. I know from my own bicycling that the temperature shifts between neighborhoods can be surprisingly drastic. Some local groups have done work to help, such as planting trees, but we still have much more work to do.