Keeping Cool With Green Infrastructure

We’re officially into summer here in Washington, DC with temperatures consistently hitting the 90s (and even the 100s!). Particularly in urban areas, the large number of hard surfaces like parking lots and rooftops can be 50-90°F hotter than the surrounding air, causing higher temperatures compared to more rural areas. This is often referred to as the urban heat island effect which can considerably amplify the impact of heat waves.

Exacerbated by droughts and more extreme weather events, like the recent storm that knocked out power for most of the region, this extreme heat isn’t just unpleasant. It can be also be a significant public health hazard, causing more deaths in the U.S. than floods, lightning, tornadoes, earthquakes, and hurricanes combined. Sensitive populations like the elderly, children, and people with limited access to transportation and air conditioning are particularly vulnerable.

Fortunately, even small decreases in temperature can have significant benefits to public health. In our latest white paper, we explore how green infrastructure practices can mitigate the urban heat island effect and provide a number of other public health benefits.

Growing Green: How Green Infrastructure Can Improve Livability and Public Health [PDF] provides a compendium of potential benefits that green infrastructure provides to improve community health and livability. From rain gardens to green roofs, green infrastructure practices decrease pollutant loadings into waters, which can reduce illness from recreational contact or polluted drinking water. Green infrastructure solutions can also improve air quality and mitigate the urban heat island effect to lower heat stress related fatalities.

By increasing the amount of green space, from parks to green roofs, these stormwater management practices can reduce potential crime by alleviating conditions that lead to aggressive and violent behavior and increasing implied and actual surveillance. Green infrastructure can also mitigate localized flooding.

These practices improve access to healthy and affordable food when combined with urban agriculture strategies and to green space for recreation.

  • Read the entire report here [PDF]