From Sweden to Sierra Leone, cities are turning the climate crisis into an opportunity for a happier and healthier life, reports Martin Wright
“Hot city! Summer in the city…! “
A recent headline, citing the hymn to hedonism from the 1960s, summed up the hopes of many people that the world would come out of lockdown and turn into parties, hugs, and more.
As captivating as it sounds, the song has crossed my mind for a very different reason. I’ve been reading predictions about how summers in the city could be much hotter, and not in a good way, as the weather is spiraling out of control (UK tested it last week while baking in a heat wave) .
However, what caught my attention weren’t the familiar warnings of what life could be like in a 50 degree city (almost impossible, basically). Rather, I was surprised by the wide variety of responses that cities around the world are beginning to implement to cool the streets. Answers that not only lower the urban thermostat, but make life sweeter for your people in the here and now.
Sometimes a few cans of white paint can make a difference.. That is the lesson of Ahmedabad, in the Indian state of Gujarat. A clean white roof reflects 80 percent of the sun’s heat, compared to just 20 percent for a (typical) gray one.
So, as part of its heat action plan, conceived with the US-based Natural Resources Defense Council, the city helped residents of low-income neighborhoods clean and coat their roofs with paint. reflective, and the results speak for themselves.
“Since we painted the house,” said one, “we don’t feel so hot anymore. We feel relaxed, the house feels fresh. Our electricity bills are also going down ”.
This simple solution is combined with more sophisticated ones, such as personalized WhatsApp warnings that are triggered when a heat wave is brewing.
Painting buildings white is one way to reduce heat. Image: Clark Van Der Beken
Where Ahmedabad opted for a whitewash, Medellín is bringing green. Once known as the cocaine capital of Colombia, its future reputation could be based on a series of imaginative responses to the climate crisis. These include the planting of ‘green corridors’ along roads and waterways, providing shaded paths for pedestrians and cyclists. This has already reduced temperatures on busy roads by 3 degrees Celsius. And it has also had a healing impact on communities, as people who had suffered years of violence came together to receive training as urban gardeners.
Stimulated by the Cool Coalition of the United Nations Environment Program, other cities are cooling down. Sierra Leone’s ambitious effort to increase vegetation by 50%. Milan is targeting 3 million new trees as part of its 2030 goal of reducing temperatures by 2 degrees C. And Melbourne is putting urban reforestation at the center of its plans to reduce the growing demand for energy-intensive air conditioners. energy in Australia.
Meanwhile, Athens, the European city most threatened by the climate crisis, is greening its hills, famous for its forests in classical times; restore wastelands as natural parks; and install fountains to refresh the air in the famous squares of the city. As a result, temperatures in Omonia Square, below the Acropolis, have already dropped 4 degrees Celsius.
Athens is greening its hills in response to climate change. Image: Constantinos Kollias
In colder and cloudier Britain, the climate crisis means both flooding and heat. The key here is to absorb the water as it falls, thus absorbing the force of any floods and slowing down its pace, making the landscapes of our city less like a smooth sheet of concrete and more like a sponge.
In London’s Hammersmith, regeneration specialist Groundwork has worked with the city council to “spongify” the environment of three developments. Indicate green roofs for apartment blocks, ‘renatured’ surfaces instead of concrete, and new grow beds. Some 20 residents have been employed as green equipment apprentices, while upgrading energy-saving (and money-saving) kits in homes has helped win their support.
Winning local hearts and minds is also key to a plan in the Swedish city of Gothenburg. Nicknamed the rainiest city in the country, it has struggled for years with too much water in the wrong places. Now he’s turning a problem into something fun, with a couple of “playgrounds in the rain,” including one at a local school. This makes a downpour a feature, funneling it through the schoolyard, sending it splashing in pools, before slowly seeping into a swamp of puddles and steps. It slows down the flow to manageable rates, and most importantly, kids love it.
Initiatives like these will not cure cities of climate change on their own, of course. But they certainly help. And in the meantime, they make summer in the city a sweeter season. Just not that hot. Not in a bad way, anyway.
Martin Wright is president of Positive News.
Main Image: Bosco Verticale (Vertical Forest) is a lush residential development in Milan. Credit: Zac Wolff