Urban Heat: Challenges and Solutions

On July 12th and 13th, over 40 researchers and practitioners gathered together for the 4th Urban Climate Institute in Saint Paul, Minnesota. The goal was to work together to turn research into real solutions for our communities.

A group of researchers and practitioners gather around tables in the sun on a patio in downtown St. Paul

Urban heat is a real issue for millions of people who live in our cities. Excessive heat causes more fatalities than any other weather related cause.

graph showing data of 10 year average for U.S. related heat deaths

* Data from the National Weather Service

With a comprehensive network of 170 sensors capturing data from around the Twin Cities metro area and over 4 years of date, Dr. Tracy Twine and Dr. Peter Snyder are helping us to better understand how the urban environment intensifies heat events.

An Urban Heat Story PDF iconan_urban_heat_story.pdf

Data showing variance in Twin Cities urban heat island

Thanks to this data, we know some parts of the Twin Cities can spike temperatures up to 9°F higher than the surrounding area. We also know that the difference is most noticeable at night in the summer. It takes much longer for these hot spots to cool back down, prolonging and intensifying heat waves. From a public health stand point, this prolonged heat during the night is especially dangerous, not allowing for body to cool and recover leading to more illnesses and deaths.

Currently, the data from each sensor has to be collected manually, meaning we don't get the information until three months later. To be effective in helping the Twin Cities cope with excessive heat now and in a climate challenged future, the sensor network needs to be sustained and upgraded to provide real-time temperature and humidity data.

Even still, the knowledge we've gained about the impact of urban heat means we can start planning and designing deal with the increased heat.

The group visited Prospect North (now called Towerside) to get a real view of the on-the-ground conditions of a neighborhood primed for change.

Green Line light rail coming through Prospect North site

Prospect North already has access to some great resources – like the Green Line stations.

The challenge is to put the research and information we have into practice in a way that makes sense for people in the community.

people walking down a hot street in Prospect North

Participants in the Urban Climate Institute walk down the sight of a proposed "Green 4th"

Old grain elevators and industrial area in Prospect North

Some of the opportunities and challenges includes historic and current industrial sites.

Back at the Science Museum of Minnesota, participants worked together in groups to use their knowledge and experience to layout ideas for mitigating and coping with urban heat along with other urban climate challenges.

a map with post-it notes and ideas marked on it

They also worked to scale up the ideas and understand the challenges when it comes from moving from a neighborhood to the entire region.

A group gathers around a regional mape to mark down ideas

By bringing together researchers, public health officials, designers, policy makers, community members, and practitioners, we can identify vulnerable populations in our community and understand how all the pieces can fit together for real solutions.

Learn More

Article about urban heat island study

Urban Climate Institute Website

Islands In the Sun Project

MPR story on the Urban Climate Institute