Designing cities for 21st century weather
To explore this idea, University of Delaware researcher Jing Zhao, assistant professor in the College of Earth, Oceans and Environment and faculty-in-residence at the Data Science Institute, and colleague Melissa Bukowski, associate professor in the Hope College of Environment and Natural Resources at the University of Wyoming, looked at how changes in Urban land and population on future exposure of populations to extreme weather events under climatic conditions at the end of the twenty-first century.
The researchers looked at urban areas across the continental United States, including large and small cities, with different development densities and in different climate zones. They used a data-driven model developed by Gao to predict how urban areas across the country will grow by 2100, based on development trends observed over the past 40 years. The research team looked at how these changes in urban land affect extreme weather events such as heat waves, cold waves, heavy rains, and severe thunderstorms. They then analyzed how many people would be exposed to these extreme conditions under different climate and urban development conditions at the end of the century.
The research team’s simulations showed that at the end of the 21st century, how a city is laid out or spatially organized, often called urban land pattern, has the potential to reduce residents’ exposure to extreme weather events in the future, even for heat waves under very high temperatures. . Urban expansion rates. Moreover, how the urban landscape is designed—that is, how buildings are grouped or dispersed and how they fit into the surrounding environment—seems to matter more than just the size of the city. This is true even as climate change increases population vulnerability.
These findings apply to all cities, from large metropolitan areas such as New York City to small cities in rural contexts, such as Newark and Delaware.
“No matter the size of the city, well-planned urban land patterns can reduce residents’ exposure to extreme weather events,” Gao said. “In other words, cities large and small can reduce risks from extreme weather events by better arranging the development of their land.”
These results differ from current common perceptions. For example, Gao said existing literature in this area has focused almost exclusively on reducing the scale of urban land development.
In turn, the new findings of this research encourage researchers and practitioners from a wide range of related fields to reconsider how cities are designed and built so that they are in harmony with their regional natural surroundings and more resilient to potential long-term climate risks. Being.
Gao likened the effects of climate change and urban land patterns on the risk of extreme weather to the effects of a person’s diet and activity level on their risk of health problems. Properly designed urban land patterns are like physical exercise that counteracts poor nutritional choices, contributing to a reduced risk of disease, while helping a person become fitter overall, she said.
“Carefully designed urban land patterns cannot completely eliminate residents’ increased exposure to extreme weather events caused by climate change, but they can lead to a measurable reduction in increased risk,” Gao said.
The start-up cost is small, Gao said. There is no need for any expensive procedures, such as leveling and rebuilding a large area at one time.
“Instead, when building new parts or renovating existing parts of the city, we must adjust our mindset to consider how new development and regeneration will change the way the city as a whole lies in its natural surroundings, and how the city and its surrounding areas can change the city and its surroundings,” Gao said. “It will be a broadly integrated human ecosystem over the long term.” “The key is to start adjusting the way we think about development now.”
Next steps in action
Researchers are working to identify specific characteristics about the city’s spatial arrangement that could make it more – or less – resilient to future climate extremes. Identifying these patterns can help guide more sustainable development in the face of increasing instances of extreme weather. Through their efforts, the research team hopes to provide actionable suggestions on how to design and build urban areas that reduce their residents’ exposure to extreme weather extremes over the long term.
More importantly, the researchers emphasized that these characteristics are likely to vary from region to region, now and with climate change. For example, what will work in arid Phoenix, Arizona, may be different from what will work in humid New Orleans, Louisiana. Likewise, what works today in a city may differ from what might work in the future, as climate conditions evolve.
“Ultimately, we want our work to directly benefit urban design and planning efforts, providing insights and tools for decision makers to impact long-term social and environmental well-being at scale,” Bukowski said. But first, we need to identify development patterns that can improve cities’ resilience to climate change in the long term. We will continue to cooperate in the future.”
Gao and Bukowski recently reported their findings in A Nature Communications paper. The team’s modeling efforts and resulting datasets are publicly available online for those interested in further investigations related to human ecology.
Jing Gao is an Assistant Professor of Geospatial Data Science in the College of Earth, Ocean, and Environment and a resident faculty member in the Data Science Institute at the University of Delaware. Gao is the author of the Fifth National Climate Assessment (NCA5) and recently received a National Science Foundation Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) Program Award for research into large-scale long-term urban climate resilience. Her work developing a new framework for data-driven urban land change modeling using machine learning methods was selected as a Top 50 Article of 2020 in Earth, Environmental, and Planetary Sciences by Nature Communications.
Melissa Bukowski is an Associate Professor in the Hope School of Environment and Natural Resources, a Dericho Professor in the College of Computing, and the Director of the CoLAborative Intersectoral Modeling of the Earth System (CLIMES) at the University of Wyoming, pursuing more than a decade of work as a research scientist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR). . CLIMES is a new NSF EPSCoR Track-1 center through the Wyoming Anticipating Climate Transitions (WyACT) project to build research and educational capacity to comprehensively understand environmental futures through computational-based interdisciplinary team science. Bukowski is a recognized expert in regional climate modeling and the impacts of climate change across North America.