MIT & Cambridge Look to Mitigate the Urban Heat Island Effect

Elly Rostoum | MIT Climate Change Blog
January 16, 2015

The Cambridge’s Climate Protection Action Committee (CPAC), an advisory group that advises the city of Cambridge on issues concerning climate change, has developed a series of climate goals and objectives for 2020. One of these goals is to minimize the urban heat island effect (UHI), a potential impact that has broad-reaching implications for the MIT Cambridge campus.
UHI describes the phenomenon of a region, a city or an area within a city being significantly warmer than its surroundings. It is the result of several factors, most notably a lack of tree cover, and extensive paved surfaces and dark roofs. There are several negative impacts of UHI. Higher temperatures result in additional air conditioning load on buildings, increasing energy use and creating additional waste heat that adds to the UHI effect. Higher temperatures also present a range of public health risks from heat stress and temperature-related degradation of air quality (e.g., greater ozone formation at higher temperatures), which are particularly relevant for the elderly, the young, and people with compromised health.  Warmer temperatures induced by climate change are expected to exacerbate the UHI effect and increase the impacts of UHI.
CPAC’s membership includes many key organizations and individuals working on sustainably in Cambridge, including Sarah Brylinsky, with MIT’s Sustainability Office. The committee has recommended addressing the UHI effect by fulfilling two key objectives: increasing the overall amount of vegetative cover, and reducing the use of materials that absorb heat.
To develop UHI reduction programs and policies, the City of Cambridge is seeking innovative, realistic, actionable, and location-based strategies and solutions. In collaboration with the MIT Climate CoLab, a project of the MIT Center for Collective Intelligence, the City has launched a contest seeking innovative policy, program, incentive, and/or regulatory ideas that are specific and measurable to reduce the urban heat island effect in our community. This contest welcomes proposals local to the city of Cambridge, Massachusetts, and prefers projects that are neighborhood-based and focus on specific locations within Cambridge.
Winning projects will be incorporated into planning efforts to prepare for and mitigate the effects of climate change, and thus should be realistic, well thought out, and relevant to Cambridge. You can submit your proposal here by February 6, 2015.