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Urban Heat Resilience

A person cooling off in front of a fan.

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Extreme heat is one of the deadliest climate risks in the United States. Urban heat refers to extreme heat within urban areas where buildings, roads, and paved surfaces absorb and re-emit the sun’s heat more than natural landscapes, leading to the formation of high-temperature pockets referred to as urban heat islands (UHIs). UHI can cause temperatures to be as much as 7.2°F (4°C) higher during the day and 4.5°F (2.5°C) higher at night than in outlying areas. Climate change is exacerbating the formation of urban heat islands and the occurrence of extreme heat events that have significant impacts on public health, the environment, the economy, and the infrastructure of communities.

Urban heat resilient systems can function or rapidly return to desired functions in the face of heat-related risks. Planners, healthcare providers, local governments, and other decision-makers have a critical role in addressing the impacts of urban heat through planning and implementing strategies and solutions to respond to extreme heat in urban areas and build their communities' resilience to urban heat. Among other principles, effective urban heat resilience planning requires clear goals and metrics, well-defined strategies, inclusive participation, and being prepared to manage uncertainty.

From this page, you can search for resources that provide background and guidance on planning for urban heat resilience, as well as examples of plans, regulations, and programs that illustrate how various levels of governments, community groups, and organizations are leveraging data, tools, and resources to respond to this growing concern. And you can filter these search results by various geographic and demographic characteristics.


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Urban Heat and Equity

The impacts of urban heat are not equitably distributed across communities. Some neighborhoods tend to be hotter than others due to a variety of factors, including the lack of vegetation and open spaces and the high percentage of impervious surfaces. Studies also show that areas formerly targeted for disinvestment through redlining have higher surface temperatures than non-redlined neighborhoods. The inequity is also significantly felt during extreme heat events by households without access to air-conditioning or neighborhoods with limited access to public open spaces. Planners and other decision-makers need to consider these factors and integrate equity when planning for urban heat. Planners have an obligation to ensure that efforts to mitigate or adapt to urban heat effects are equitably distributed across communities and reach those with higher vulnerability to the impacts of extreme heat. There is a need to include the voices of these communities in the earlier stages of the planning process and to respect the history and different needs of these groups.

Planning for Urban Heat

Several communities are implementing mitigation and adaptation strategies to address the impacts of extreme heat. To mitigate urban heat, planners and other decision-makers can promote “cooling” solutions that have the potential to reduce or moderate temperatures in urban areas. These include promoting green and blue infrastructure, using light-colored materials for roofs and pavements, installing green roofs, and expanding and preserving the urban tree canopy. Planners can leverage planning and regulatory tools such as community engagement, zoning regulations, building codes, plans, and policies to ensure the adoption of these solutions. In addition, planners can partner with public health agencies and local governments to support the implementation of strategies to manage the impacts of extreme heat events. Local governments can establish resilience hubs (e.g., cooling facilities), improve heat warning systems, and assist low-income households with energy bills, among other strategies to build their communities’ resilience to extreme heat events.

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