Addressing the Multifaceted Threats of Extreme Heat
Conversations about planning for climate change tend to center on the urgent risks of sea-level rise and increased flooding. But in "Planning for Extreme Heat: A National Survey of U.S. Planners" (Journal of the American Planning Association, Vol. 88, No. 3) authors Sara Meerow and Ladd Keith draw attention to the multifaceted threats and planning implications of extreme heat.
Their article delves into the literature on heat planning and shares findings from their own survey of planners across the U.S. on approaches and barriers to heat mitigation and management.
As Meerow and Keith discuss, extreme heat is responsible for more U.S. deaths than any other weather-related disaster. Beyond health effects, the detrimental impacts of high heat include lower economic productivity, damage to ecosystems in urban areas, and strain on critical infrastructure like energy and water treatment facilities.
Furthermore, heat disproportionately affects already vulnerable populations such as older, chronically ill, or lower-income residents. The effects of extreme heat are also spatially distributed in inequitable ways, following patterns created, in part, by planners through practices like redlining that enforced racial and economic segregation.
But Meerow and Keith argue that planners are also well-positioned to address extreme heat today because of the coordination role they play across disciplines and levels of government.
Their survey sought to understand the level of concern among planners and the current strategies and barriers to heat mitigation and management. The survey was distributed through a combination of stratified random and convenience sampling, the random sample included responses from planners in 69 U.S. cities.
The results revealed that most (73 percent) of planners were at least somewhat concerned about heat, with planners in the Northeast reporting significantly higher concern (71 percent very concerned).
The authors saw some slight regional variation, with respondents in the Northeast reportedly most concerned about impacts on energy use while those in the Southwest were most concerned about water use. The figure below shows the overall breakdown of reported impacts.
The survey also asked planners how they were responding to heat. Strategies were classified into two categories: mitigation efforts, which focus on reducing the built environment's effect on heat, and management efforts, which are designed to prepare for and respond to heat.
The following figure shows the array of strategies in both categories that planners reported implementing with urban forestry and emergency response at the top.
Overall, the survey shows that planners who are concerned about extreme heat in their jurisdictions are in good company. Temperatures in cities are projected to continue to climb as the effects of climate change worsen.
These findings should be a call to action for planners to begin to commit more attention and resources — particularly underutilized strategies like dedicating more staff time and leveraging zoning and other powerful regulations — to addressing heat in their cities.
The Journal of the American Planning Association is the quarterly journal of record for the planning profession. For full access to the JAPA archive, APA members may purchase a discounted digital subscription for $36/year.
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