How to heat-proof a city?

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London Skyline

The summer of 2018 will be remembered by many Europeans as a time of soaring temperatures, ice creams, and picnics (total grocery volume size increased 2.2 per cent). However, the heatwave which descended on Europe in mid-July this year brought a bout of negative consequences for city dwellers in particular: sweating, uncomfortable commutes and health problems.

City conditions cultivate a phenomenon known as the “urban heat island” effect. Air conditioning units, traffic pollution and concrete surfaces contribute to city temperatures being up to 10 degrees higher than surrounding countryside areas.

In the midst of the heatwave, experts predicted that global temperatures will continue to rise, resulting in four years of extended heatwaves and sweltering city conditions. While the prospect may seem appealing during the winter months, the reality is sobering: recent figures suggest that mortalities due to high temperatures will increase by 257 per cent by 2050 for the UK alone. Action needs to be taken to make cities cooler – but how do you go about heat-proofing a city?

The first step may be to cut down on air conditioning. The go-to method for city workers to cool down after a hot commute is frequently to turn on the office aircon. However, air conditioning creates a deadly cycle, making it cooler inside while churning hot air outside. With air conditioning quickly becoming the greatest use of electricity in office buildings, the outside city temperatures are feeling the effect.

Green spaces and reflective surfaces are key to reducing city heat. Roof gardens, living walls, and city parks produce shade for city inhabitants, and aid urban cooling. As the water evaporates from the plants, it creates a natural source of aircon.

When it comes to city buildings, the lighter the colour the better. Covering rooves and roads with white reflective coatings reduces the amount of heat stored. Conventional road material, black asphalt, is particularly susceptible to heat absorption. Once covered in a reflective layer of paint, the surface temperature can drop by up to 15 degrees.

Cities like Stuttgart in Germany are building ventilation corridors to make conditions more comfortable for their inhabitants. By observing wind patterns and taking a strategic route through lakes and city parks, long roads channel cool air from the outskirts of a city. While the method isn’t yet completely trusted by experts, Beijing and Xian are currently considering their own ventilation corridors following their pollution red alert this year.

While the temperatures are settling back down around Europe, the hotter years ahead are looming. With heat-proofing measures in place, cities may be more comfortable environments for their inhabitants in the future.

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