Most major cities in the United States are ill-prepared for rising temperatures

hot city

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Denver, Las Vegas and Phoenix recorded record highs this month. And across the country, Americans are looking forward to a hot summer. Yet despite more frequent and intense heat waves on the horizon, cities are unprepared to meet the challenge, according to a UCLA-led research team.

Their new study, published in the journal Letters for environmental researchanalyzed municipal planning documents from 50 years big cities across the country. Researchers have found that 78% of these cities’ climate plans cite heat as a problem, but few offer a comprehensive strategy to address it. Even less attention has been paid to the disproportionate impact of heat on low-income residents and color communities.

“Only a few years ago, very few cities talked about preparing for rising temperatures, so it’s an important step that heat is becoming an increasing part of the conversation,” said W. Kelly Turner, lead author of the study and co-director of the Center. for UCLA’s Luskin Innovation. “But without concrete steps to protect residents, cities are lagging behind.”

Heat aggravated by climate change, has become one of the deadliest weather hazards in the nation, researchers said, representing more deaths in a typical year than hurricanes, floods or tornadoes. In California, a recent Los Angeles Times study killed about 3,900 people between 2010 and 2019. And UCLA research shows that heat leads to more premature births, making it harder for students to learn and increasing the risk of injuries to workers at work.

Despite these harmful and far-reaching effects, heat management has historically lagged behind other threats to climate change.

To evaluate heat planning, researchers from UCLA, Arizona State University and the University of Southern California reviewed 175 municipal plans from the 50 most populous cities in the United States, drawing on open source database they created. They held a content analysis to understand the types of solutions and interventions offered by cities in response to heat and why.

The team found that overall solutions to increase the temperature did not match the severity or complexity of the problem. How municipal plans outline the problem of urban heat, they said, has strongly influenced the way cities deal with it, and in most cases limit the scope of their approach.

For example, many plans looked at heat through a “dangerous” lens, focusing on extreme events such as three-digit heat waves. When we identify a problem as a crisis like a hurricane or a flood, the solutions often fit into the disaster response approach – a stylish approach – such as text warning systems and air-conditioned public cooling centers.

Other plans address the problem 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 the surrounding rural areas. Shaping the problem as a land use problem, these plans often focused on physical ways to cool cities. The addition of more trees was the most common intervention, while sun-reflecting cool roofs and vegetation were also mentioned.

However, the study found that these two approaches to heat management rarely overlap. And while each approach has its advantages, such a narrow framework does not reach the full problem, the researchers emphasize.

If cities do not paint a complete picture of heat – how chronic it is and its different effects on the earth – we will not be able to fully protect residents and we could eventually exacerbate existing social and environmental injustices, said co-author Emma French, Ph.D. urban planning at the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs.

Even some seemingly obvious solutions, such as providing outdoor shade for residents, were given a short time in the planning documents, said co-author Arian Midel, an assistant professor at Arizona State University. “Shadow is the most effective way to protect pedestrians from exposure to sunlight, but few cities mention shade in their plans.”

In addition, heat has been identified as a matter of fairness for only a third of the time, despite growing evidence that colorful urban communities are disproportionately affected by rising temperatures as a result of long-standing social, structural and health inequalities. Cities that do not cope with this discrepancy can expect to see increasingly unfavorable consequences in the future, the researchers said.

Among the cities with stronger preparation for heat, membership in environmental networks such as the National League of Cities and the Network of Directors of Urban Sustainability was more common. These groups bring together sustainability practitioners from across the country, and their broader governance structures can offer opportunities to share best practices.

“Sharing knowledge between peers through networks that connect large and small communities will be essential to implementing the most effective solutions as quickly as possible,” said co-author David Hondula, an associate professor at Arizona State University and director of the Office of Arizona. heat reaction and softening for Phoenix.

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More info:
V Kelly Turner et al. How do cities plan for heat? Analysis of municipal plans of the United States, Letters for environmental research (2022). DOI: 10.1088 / 1748-9326 / ac73a9

Quote: Most major cities in the United States are not sufficiently prepared for rising temperatures (2022, June 17), extracted on June 18, 2022 from temperatures.html

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