AMS Science for the City #3 – Climate proof cities

Climate change impacts urban life all over the world and we need to start preparing our cities for it. Also in Amsterdam, where on hot summer days the urban mercury rises 6-9 C higher than in its rural surroundings, citizens face uncomfortable living conditions due to extreme weather conditions. What do we need to do to improve the climate of the cities we live in? According to Sanda Lenzholzer, Associate Professor Landscape Architecture at Wageningen University & Research and AMS Principal Investigator, the answer lies within the field of urban design and with citizens. During the 3rd session of AMS Science for the City in Pakhuis de Zwijger we discussed with Sanda and her colleagues in the field – Marjolein Pijpers – van Esch (TU Delft) and Lisette Klok (HvA) – how we can create Climate Proof Cities.

“The urban climate is like an archipelago of micro-climates”, says Sanda Lenzholzer, “and that is why it is so extremely interesting to work with!”. We experience the urban climate mostly through heat and wind. In cities today, we use many materials like stone, pavement, concrete and tarmac, which absorb heat and eradiate this back into the city during the night. Resulting in temperatures that can be about ten degrees higher than its rural surroundings. “Walking past buildings in the evening after a summer day, you can feel the warmth that is being emitted”, says Sanda Lenzholzer.

Where in cities like Stuttgart urban climate has been on the agenda of the municipality and urban planners for years, the issue is relatively new in the Netherlands. At this moment, we are still in the gap between awareness and concrete action. For this reason, the three women on stage are setting the agenda to stress the importance and impact of urban climate.

The topic of urban climate will become more pressing the coming decades due to climate change. Moreover, cities are growing, which means – when decisions on urban design aren’t drastically changed – more heat can be absorbed and temperatures will rise even higher. Considering the growing percentage of people that will live in cities by the end of the decade, the number of people dealing with urban heat also grows.

Lisette Klok, researcher at the Amsterdam University for Applied Sciences, joined us for the evening to explain her research on risks of Heat Stress. These risks can be divided into five categories: health, infrastructure, water, open space and liveability. She concluded that shading is an obvious, but very effective way to improve thermal comfort.

Marjolein Pijpers – van Esch inspired us with a set of urban design measurements to improve the urban climate. Think of greening the environment such as removing pavements, greening facades, planting trees, or placing wind screens in uncomfortable spots.

A live interactive session led by Sanda and Marjolein allowed the audience to implement and reflect on measures for heat reduction – such as applying more green, less pavements, green buildings, etc – by using photoshop and some imagination applied to specific situations in the city. Discussing a photo with cars parked on each side, it became clear that we should not only link the issue of urban climate to situations in the city as it is today, but we should also keep in mind what public space might look like in the future (think of innovations in terms of mobility innovations and self-driving car). The session helped to inspire citizens, planners, urban designers and policy makers on possible measures to create climate proof cities.

For more inspiration and location specific information on the Urban Climate in Amsterdam citizens can consult the Urban ClimAd App.


About AMS Science for the City
Together with Pakhuis de Zwijger we organise a series on metropolitan development and innovation. How can topics such as big data, prototyping, 3D-printing and scientific innovation help to solve the complex challenges that the metropole Amsterdam faces? Our national and international urban professionals and academic partners (TU Delft, Wageningen University, MIT) introduce the newest research and practical solutions within urban themes as water, energy, waste, food, data and mobility.