Which innovative solutions do cities rely on to fight heatwaves?

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Extended periods of hot weather seem to be becoming a new reality for people all around the world. June temperature records have been broken all across the world as a result of the intense heat brought on by human-caused climate change.

New temperature records have been set across Europe, from Poland to Spain, as a result of an unusually early and intense heat wave that has renewed worries about the future livability of European cities. At the same, the United States has also been experiencing extreme heat, once again proving that the reaction to climate change needs to be global, immediate, and vigorous.

As scientists warn heat waves will hit earlier than usual due to climate change, European cities must continue to look for solutions to prevent heat-related illnesses during periods of hot weather. Which steps have European cities already taken to fight the heatwave, and what kind of countermeasures can we expect to see as heatwaves get longer and more frequent across the old continent?

In general, cities can be especially vulnerable to heat waves because of the increased heat absorption of their infrastructure. Hiring a “Chief Heat Officer ” is one of the measures that cities might take to combat rising temperatures. The role of Chief Heat Officers varies per city, but generally involves working with different departments and groups, as well as raising awareness among the general public about the threats of heat waves.

The Greek capital Athens was the first city in Europe to establish a position last year that entailed coming up with innovative ways to cool the city and shield residents from unbearable heat.

Another way to make cities more immune to heat waves is fairly simple – making them greener. Urban green spaces can help mitigate the negative health effects of heat waves, according to numerous studies.

Climate change simply asks for new solutions to sustain and enhance the quality of life in our cities, and public green spaces are linked to a wide range of social and health advantages. To understand why green spaces provide so many positive social effects, one only needs to consider the heat, crowds, pollution, traffic jams, noise, and general safety.

Numerous European mayors have recognized the importance of urban greenery and are putting a lot of effort into boosting the quality of life for their residents by adding more greenery. As heat waves become more frequent and harder to handle, European cities will need to prioritize green spaces as a powerful tool against heat waves.

In recent years, the French capital Paris has tested several highly-innovative solutions which were meant to protect Parisians from high temperatures. In 2018, Euronews reported that Paris was testing out a bench designed to help people beat the heat. During the 2018 European drought and heat wave, a 10-seat bench was installed outside the Gare de Lyon, one of the six large mainline railway stations in Paris, which worked by pumping cooled water from the River Seine.

The Austrian capital Vienna has previously also taken steps to combat heat and fight urban heat. According to the Innovation in Politics Institute, the project to cool down the streets of the Austrian capital was started in August 2019 by Birgit Hebein, the Executive City Councillor in charge of climate protection. In a number of streets, cars were banned for a period of four weeks and water mist sprayers and seating were provided.

Barcelona, one of the most popular tourist destinations in Europe, has also found a way to make sure that visitors and locals can stay cool during hot summer days. Last year, Guardian reported that the city was offering a mobile app that made it possible for people to find the shadiest route between two places to avoid extreme heat.

Public health, infrastructure, and energy consumption are just a few of the things that heat waves can have a big impact on. Numerous effects of climate change appear to be inescapable, and they will disproportionately affect the most vulnerable communities. It remains extremely important for European cities to keep coming up with novel ways to combat heat waves, in order to protect the well-being of their residents.

(photo credit: Alaeddin Hallak / Unsplash)