Speaker Series # 8 – Urban Heat: Cities Taking Action

Jun 2022

About the Session

The Speakers

About the session

Cities are heating up at twice the rate of global average warming due to the urban heat island effect and rapid urbanization. With more cities facing record high temperatures and heatwaves increasing in number, it is important that we set an agenda to take collective action now making sure to keep the most vulnerable populations central to any solution.



The eight Cities on the Frontline session of 2022, “Urban Heat: Cities Taking Action”, focused on the increasingly important role of heat in cities and how cities are affected by its multiple effects giving our audience an understanding how this phenomenon presents itself in different geographies around the world as well as the actions that can be taken to mitigate its effects.

Kurt Shickman, Director of the Extreme Heat Initiatives at the Arsht-Rockefeller Resilience Center, framed the session by giving an overview of the role of heat in cities around the world and sharing some of the work Arsht-Rockefeller Resilience Center is leading in this respect. Heat, Kurt explained, has an insidious impact on all aspects of our lives in urban and rural areas and although it is not widely known, heat has been classified as the number one killer of climate impact, making it extremely important for cities around the world to take action. Some of the major ways that heat impacts cities is by exacerbating existing physical and mental health conditions, negatively affecting local economies and labor productivity, impacting the economies of our future by lowering school productivity and threatening infrastructure such as roads, electronic grids, food supply chains, among others. Kurt concluded that heat is an unnatural disaster that highlights the inequalities at a social level, leaving a dire forecast in particular for the most vulnerable populations that are more exposed to these weather conditions. Based on this urgent need that has been identified, the Arsht-Rockefeller Resilience Center has set a goal to reach one billion people with resilient solutions by 2030 and is working around four key challenges to do so. These include the lack of coordination between agencies and groups to face a multidisciplinary threat requiring a broad response, the lack of public awareness of the dangers of urban heat and the lack of resources to scale urgently needed heat resilience actions. To face these challenges, they are working on several fronts including the Extreme Heat Resilience Alliance (EHRA) bringing together over 50 organizations and individuals to advise and find ways to implement solutions, the development of a Heat Action Platform, that provides key information on how to asses and plan effectively and efficiently for urban heat as well as others like the establishment of Chief Heat Officers and the development of global Economic Impact analysis.

Following Kurt’s presentation, Amy Davison, Head of Climate Change at the Resilience Department of the City of Cape Town and Eleni (Lenio) Myrivili, Senior Resilience Advisor and Chief Heat Officer for the City of Athens and Senior Consultant and Fellow at the Arsht-Rockefeller Resilience Center (Atlantic Council), shared the history and current conditions of two major cities that are currently facing the impacts of urban heat at a large scale, Cape Town and Athens. They also shared the key actions that their cities are taking in order to mitigate its effects.

Amy Davison, started off her intervention by giving an overview of the current conditions in relation to heat of city of Cape Town. Cape Town, Amy says, is a large municipality with more than 4 million people, one that faces many challenges due to the urban heat island effect and special inequalities that result in dense neighborhoods with few green spaces and trees. Some of the challenges the city faces include, health impacts and increased demands of public health facilities, issues caused by a significant number of homes that are not designed for heat, lack access to artificial cooling and last but not least a highly increased risk of wildfires. In order to begin planning a response, Amy notes, the city has worked on Heat Island Mapping to identify the heat island risks as well as a Historical Temperature Data Analysis that identifies the increasing number of heatwaves over the years. Based on this information the city has begun to work on many fronts to mitigate the effects of urban heat. Some of the solutions Amy shared include the implementation of spray parks, the mapping of the locations of existing trees and initiatives to plant mature water-wise trees, the development of nature preservation community groups, the reduction wildfire risk by creating firebreaks and removing invasive species, among others.

Eleni (Lenio) Myrivili, on the other hand shared the current conditions of the city of Athens, reflecting some similar lines of action and responses to the work Cape Town has done and adding a couple more. Lenio started off by mentioning Athens is an extremely densely built and populated city. It has raked as the European city facing the single greatest impact of heatwaves. Central Athens, Lenio emphasized, already is 10° C hotter than it’s outlying suburban areas due to the urban heat island effect and has faced many deadly heat waves in the last few years. Some of the current conditions that significantly contribute to the increase in temperatures is the vast use of cement and concreate and the high percentage of impermeable surfaces that absorb and store heat, as well as the lack of green spaces. Based on this information and on the City’s Resilience Strategy that identified Heat as one of the major concerns for the general public, the city has been taking and leading important actions to address this chronic stress. In a similar manner than Cape Town, Athens started its work mapping urban heat within the city and identifying vulnerabilities. Based on this work, Athens set out an action plan including the three stages: Awareness, Preparedness and Redesign. Within Awareness, the city has worked on categorizing heatwaves to better plan and respond to emergencies together with the Arsht-Rockefeller Resilience Center. Within Preparedness, the city has used the gathered information to help policy makers take the right kind of actions for instance with the development of the EXTREMA GLOBAL app to communicate personalized risk. Finally, as part of the Redesign stage, the city has been working most importantly in the implementation of large green corridors that displace cars, take over public space and allow for cooling and air circulation.

Overall speakers agree that the threat of Urban Heat is growing and will continue to grow in the next few decades and collective action must be taken now in order to protect our population, especially the most vulnerable groups that are more susceptible to the effects of urban heat due to a lack of abilities and options to adapt to or escape heat.

Kurt Shickman
Director of the Extreme Heat Initiatives at the Arsht-Rockefeller Resilience Center

The reality is heat is an unnatural disaster and it has a disproportionate impact on the world’s poor and on the communities that have the least abilities and fewer options to adapt or to escape heat

Kurt Shickman‘s Presentation

Amy Davison
Head of Climate Change at the Resilience Department of the City of Cape Town

What is really important to recognize is that as global temperature increase, it’s not just the average temperature that increases but also the number and intensity of heatwaves over time, therefore more people will be exposed to extreme heat events.

Amy Davison‘s Presentation

Eleni Myrivili
Senior Resilience Advisor and Chief Heat Officer for the City of Athens and Senior Consultant and Fellow at the Arsht-Rockefeller Resilience Center (Atlantic Council)

“There are cities that are really waking up and doing great work in heat and through networks like the Resilient Cities Network, we are really learning a lot from each other […] then, with the support of the Arsht-Rockefeller Resilience Center, things can actually get going”

Eleni Myrivili‘s Presentation

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