Check out the EPA’s guide to reducing urban heat islands.
“Urban heat islands” occur when local governments replace natural land cover with dense concentrations of pavement, buildings, and other surfaces that absorb and retain heat. This effect increases energy costs (e.g., for air conditioning), air pollution levels, and heat-related illness and mortality. As part of the effort to improve the climate and reduce the impacts of severe weather the EPA released a guide to help cities and counties reduce these heat islands.
Local government leaders worry that intense summer heat could lead to uncomfortable conditions for residents, as well as reduced tourist attraction in summer months. Implementing more green measures such as planting trees, developing green roofs, and increasing vegetation can help reduce urban heat island effects by shading building surfaces, deflecting radiation from the sun, and releasing moisture into the atmosphere.
- Build green infrastructure improvements into regular street upgrades and capital improvement projects to ensure continued investment in heat-reducing practices throughout your community.
- Plant trees and other vegetation—Space in urban areas might be limited, but you can easily integrate small green infrastructure practices into grassy or barren areas, vacant lots, and street rights-of-way.
- City officials in Louisville, Kentucky, recently awarded a $115,700 contract for a tree canopy assessment to help the city use trees to address urban heat, stormwater management, and other concerns. “Knowing where we lack canopy, down to the street and address level, will help our efforts exponentially,” remarked Mayor Greg Fischer.
- Make traditional water quality practices serve double duty by adding trees in or around roadside planters and other green infiltration-based practices to boost roadside cooling and shading.
- Transform your community one project at a time by planting native, drought-tolerant shade trees and smaller plants such as shrubs, grasses, and groundcover wherever possible.
- Build green roofs—Green roofs are an ideal heat island reduction strategy, providing both direct and ambient cooling effects. In addition, green roofs improve air quality by reducing the heat island effect and absorbing pollutants. Many communities offer tax credits for installing green roofs. Check your local government’s website for opportunities. Examples of current programs include RiverSmart Rooftops Green Roof Rebate Program by the District of Columbia and Philadelphia’s Green Roof Tax Credit Program