Accelerated by global warming, heat island effects are increasing as a result of the elimination of trees for city development. According to the Environmental Protection agency (EPA), when people are exposed to extreme heat, they can suffer from potentially deadly illnesses, such as heat exhaustion and heat stroke. Hot temperatures can also contribute to deaths from heart attacks, strokes, and other forms of cardiovascular disease. This is becoming apparent in vulnerable, underserved communities with low tree canopies and a lot of paved parking lots, roads, sidewalks, and roofs.
There is scientific proof that trees are the best strategy for controlling the urban heat index, so focused time on protecting the trees you’ve got is a good investment. In addition, the EPA has determined that most U.S. communities have opportunities to increase the use of trees and vegetation.
Jenny Gulick, Urban Canopy Works (UCW) principal and consulting urban forester says a heat study is the place for cities to begin. Louisville, KY conducted a heat study and found out they ranked the 4th worst city in the country, driving them to Urban Canopy Works for an urban canopy assessment. City staff knew they had a bad heat problem and that trees are part of the solution. Jenny says, “Rachel Comte and I did the assessment and submitted a recommendation report, based on the data. Recommendations included caring for the tree canopy in Louisville and planting more trees. As a result, the city and non-profit organizations are now working together to plant trees, targeting the most vulnerable communities first because they now have the data to know where they are.”
UCW continues to work with the City of Boston that is simultaneously coordinating a heat study with their urban forest master plan, so one will inform the other. Jenny says, “This is a good approach, and they’re setting the standard.”
The heat of the summer is the best time to conduct a heat study and Urban Canopy Works can take the results and incorporate them into an urban forestry program. Heat studies are often conducted by the local sustainability office, but smaller cities who don’t have them can still take intuitive action, and UCW can help.
What are the hot spots in your city? Planting trees is a long-term solution in these areas, along with protecting your existing shade trees. Healthy trees are the best solution for beating city heat and protecting citizens.