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How can we future-proof our cities against extreme heat?

17th August 2023

Globally, heat waves and ravaging forest fires are a wakeup call that the world is heating up faster than any attempts we are making to counteract it.

July 2023 was the hottest month ever on record and the UN secretary general, António Guterres, recently announced: “the era of global warming has ended and the era of global boiling has arrived”.

The catastrophic extreme heat experienced across Southern Europe in recent weeks exemplifies Mr Guterres’ harsh words in action.  Poised to rise steeply in frequency and severity over the coming decades, extreme heat is already bringing unprecedented health risks and infrastructure deterioration.

It is now imperative for urban planners, policy makers and specialists across the built environment to undertake urgent heat mitigation strategies in order to future proof our cities and protect humanity. The Urban Land Institute has published a report on this important topic and an Asia Pacific version.

The most universally applicable resilience design strategies to combat extreme heat are the creation of shade, material selection, and the preservation of vegetated open space. And innovative urban design is urgently required to help alleviate urban heat island effects, which are caused by the heat-absorbing properties of dense concentrations of buildings on urban surfaces. 

Design and biodiversity

Building design principles can prevent the absorption of heat by incorporating light-coloured surfaces and materials and providing direct cooling with increased shade from built and natural shade canopies.

Biodiversity in cities also cannot be overlooked, with trees providing essential environmental services by minimising the urban heat island effect, reducing air pollution, and managing stormwater.

The cost of mitigating extreme heat on our environments cannot not be balked at – the cost of doing nothing is unthinkable and significant investment will be required to ensure that life can continue in our cities for years to come as the climate crisis only intensifies. However, it is important to consider that many extreme heat mitigation policies can often support other regulatory goals such as city greening, air quality improvement, and energy conservation.

In this age of “global boiling” extreme heat will inevitably become an increasingly common issue in cities globally and its effects need greater consideration from a planning and management perspective in global real estate markets.How can we future proof our cities against extreme heat?

Simon Chinn is Vice President, research & advisory services at ULI Europe

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