To curb climate change, cities need the right design
05 December 2017 | Adaptation
Over 300 mayors recently promised to uphold the goals of the Paris Climate Agreement. This pledge offers the latest proof that cities are leading America's fight against climate change.
This spring, Salt Lake City promised to cut its carbon footprint in half by 2030. New York, Los Angeles, and Chicago have set similarly ambitious targets.
Meanwhile, Fort Lauderdale Mayor Jack Seiler recently authorized the installation of 100 tidal valves to protect coastal neighborhoods from rising tides. In Norfolk, Va., officials are drawing up plans to raise roads and improve storm-water drainage systems to reduce flooding.
These efforts are laudable. But most of these actions demonstrate that policymakers see mitigation and adaptation as mutually exclusive. That's a mistake. In some cases, even successful efforts to mitigate climate change can lead to more local warming. And climate change could render even the most forward-thinking efforts at adaptation obsolete.
The only way to ensure that cities remain livable is for mayors and urban leaders -- together with urban designers -- to simultaneously cut emissions and help residents adapt to a warming planet.
Consider the push to boost the number of energy-efficient buildings, whether through new construction or the renovation of existing structures. Such efforts are only successful if planners also work to keep cityscapes cool, as efficiency doesn't always translate to reduced energy use. After all, buildings -- even energy-efficient ones -- don't exist in isolation.
In Hong Kong, for example, a series of tall, wall-like buildings have blocked the free flow of air throughout the city. By cutting off a natural source of cool air, these buildings have increased local temperatures and thus lifted demand for air-conditioning, even in the city's newest, most energy-efficient buildings.
Or look at the drive to increase population density in urban centers. Such moves reduce individual residents' carbon footprints. After all, people in densely populated areas can easily forego automobiles and tend to like public green space.