Report: Skyscrapers a Driving Factor of the Urban Heat Island Effect

As cities build upwards in an effort to create more housing and increase walkability, research shows that tall buildings intensify heat and contribute to increased carbon emissions.

2 minute read

August 19, 2021, 12:00 PM PDT

By Diana Ionescu @aworkoffiction

Skinny Skyscraper

Tomasz Wozniak / Shutterstock

"A report by the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released on Monday looked at the relationship between housing, building structures, and broiling city blocks and found that deaths from heatwaves — like the one in Chicago [in 1995] — are not a coincidence," reports Adam Mahoney. The "report found that the single biggest contributor to amplifying heat and warming in cities is 'urban geometry,' the relationship between city layouts, building construction, and density," and that "[t]he main problem driving the so-called 'heat-island effect' is tall buildings." Because of this, "[u]rban centers can range as much as 22 degrees warmer than nearby rural areas."

[C]ities and states across the country — in Ohio, New York City, and back in Chicago, developers are building taller affordable housing, going up, not out, in an effort to create density, walkable neighborhoods where infrastructure costs are lower and jobs, stores, and homes are closer together. The trick is finding a solution that offers everyone safe and quality housing without overheating the planet.

John Mandyck, CEO of the Urban Green Council in New York City, says "[c]ities could create gardens in the sky, which have successfully offered natural cooling and improved air quality in cities like Chicago, as well as planting trees and bushes to shade sidewalks and streets." Other solutions include reflective roofing systems, which in New York City alone prevent "an estimated 2,500 tons of CO2 emissions every year."

While building up may mitigate the housing crisis, "it’s not even one percent of the solution to our environmental problems because it adds challenges even as it mitigates some," says Rick Cole, executive director of the Congress for New Urbanism. "More than 25 years after that first Cabrini tower came down, U.S. cities are much more equipped to tackle housing problems and the climate crisis, but action requires political willpower and individual sacrifices."

Wednesday, August 11, 2021 in Grist

View of Mount Hood at golden hour with Happy Valley, Oregon homes in foreground.

Clackamas County Votes to Allow ADUs, Residential RVs

County officials hope the zoning changes will help boost the housing supply in the region.

June 18, 2024 - Mountain Times

Single-family homes in a suburban neighborhood in Florida.

New Florida Law Curbs HOA Power

The legislation seeks to cut down on ‘absurd’ citations for low-level violations.

June 16, 2024 - The Guardian

Aerial view of intersection in New York City with yellow cabs and zebra crosswalks.

Planners’ Complicity in Excessive Traffic Deaths

Professor Wes Marshall’s provocatively-titled new book, "Killed by a Traffic Engineer," has stimulated fierce debates. Are his criticisms justified? Let’s examine the degree that traffic engineers contribute to avoidable traffic deaths.

June 13, 2024 - Todd Litman

Two-story homes on residential street in Surrey, British Columbia, Canada.

British Columbia Cracks Down on Short-Term Rentals

Provincial leaders say the new rules could open up as many as 19,000 units for long-term rental.

June 20 - CTV

Small backyard cottage with gabled roof in San Diego, California.

San Diego Sees Continued Growth in ADU Permits

Recent changes to regulations have made it easier and more affordable for homeowners to build ‘granny flats,’ and San Diego’s housing stock is benefiting.

June 20 - Axios San Diego

Close-up of top of California state capitol dome with U.S. and California flags flying and blue sky in background.

California is Updating its Climate Adaptation Strategy

The 2024 draft plan outlines the state's key climate resilience priorities, includes specific and measurable actions, and serves as a framework for collective efforts across sectors and regions in California.

June 20 - California Natural Resources Agency

Urban Design for Planners 1: Software Tools

This six-course series explores essential urban design concepts using open source software and equips planners with the tools they need to participate fully in the urban design process.

Planning for Universal Design

Learn the tools for implementing Universal Design in planning regulations.