AMS Heat in the city – looking for climate proof solutions

According to the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) a heat wave is “a marked warming of the air, or the invasion of very warm air, over a large area; it usually lasts from a few days to a few weeks”. In the past weeks, Amsterdam and the rest of the Netherlands have been going through unusual weather conditions: extreme, long lasting heat. As a result the National Heat Plan has come into effect.

It is hot in the city, and we can already see and feel some of the consequences of the current heat wave: water quality is declining, the grass is slowly dying, bridges are encountering dysfunctions, elderly people and young children are getting more vulnerable, and sleep and productivity are impacted.

The effects of the temperature rise are as much infrastructural, environmental as physical and health-related. This raises the question of climate proof environment in urban areas subjected to unusual heat. Many urban planners, landscape architects and local authorities are currently working on climate adaptation – adapting cities to climate change.

What kind of heat proof solutions are there and how can they be implemented in an urban environment?

Cooling Water Bodies
Recent research shows that water does not always have a cooling capacity, and, in some situations, has even proven to be a source of heat. However, there are also indications that it is possible to design water bodies that can cool the environment.

The REALCOOL research project, set up in collaboration with AMS Institute, Wageningen University and Amsterdam University for Applied Sciences is aiming at finding solutions to urban heat islands through properly designed water environment. Urban heat islands are buildup areas with temperatures that are higher than the rural areas surrounding it. In this project, researchers are investigating which configurations of shading, evaporation and ventilation objects around the water bodies will improve human thermal sensation in cities and are also testing new water bodies.

Currently the research team has started producing the animated scenes of the design prototypes for cooler urban water environments. After nearly two years of joint work between designers, meteorologists, water and landscape visualization experts – amongst others, the team is wrapping up the research and building up its output for the design community. It will be released after summer.

A smartphone application to the rescue – CLIMADAPTOOL
In line with research on climate adaptation, a smartphone application called Climadaptool was launched in 2016.

According to Sanda Lenzholzer, Associate Professor Landscape Architecture at Wageningen University & Research, AMS Principal Investigator and the project leader, solutions to climate change in urban areas lie at the crossroad between urban design and citizens involvement.

The municipality of Amsterdam, researchers and designers created this tool to allow city dwellers to see what the actual local urban climate is like in their direct living environment and what they can do to improve it. The application shows urban climate maps in high resolution, indicating urban climate problems and potentials for improvement. Additionally, the Climadaptool provides a map with specific locations of urban climate mitigation initiatives.

Green and greener – developing more urban green spaces
An explorative study conducted by Sanda Lenzholzer, AMS Institute Principal Investigator, and Wiebke Klemm from Wageningen University, highlights the need to create design guidelines for climate-responsive Urban Green Infrastructure (UGI) that stem from scientific knowledge and are useful to design practice. By UGI we mean green urban spaces such as urban parks, forests, gardens, and street trees which provide benefits through ecosystems services, one of them being microclimate.

UGI is increasingly recognized for its ability to reduce heat levels in cities and improve citizens’ health, well-being, and thermal comfort. The positive effects of UGI on thermal conditions are described on various urban scales and for different urban vegetation structure types. Besides enhancing physical thermal conditions, UGI has been proven to improve people’s thermal perception. Read the full report here>>.