Build Better Podcast

Exploring Solutions for Extreme Heat in Boston and Beyond

by Emily Langner

Tyler Shannon

On episode 26 of the Build Better podcast, Anastasia welcomed Tyler Shannon, architect and data scientist, and Kate Bubriski, director of sustainability and building performance at Arrowstreet. Arrowstreet is an architecture and design firm based in Boston. Shannon and Bubriski joined Anastasia to talk about the Living with Heat report that was published in November of 2019.

The project was led by the New England Climate Resilience Committee which is part of the Urban Land Institute (ULI) Boston chapter. The purpose of the report is to help real estate developers, designers, and policymakers in the Metro Boston region to acknowledge the consequences of extreme heat and to seek solutions to make buildings, neighborhoods, parks, and outdoor spaces more adaptable to environmental conditions and comfortable for occupants. Arrowstreet, along with over 70 other firms and organizations, participated in the report, contributing design and policy solutions to tackle the risks and vulnerabilities of rising extreme heat predicted by 2070. 

Shannon says the urban heat island effect present in cities like Boston is an “increase in heat due to the higher concentration of buildings, pavement, and other heat absorbing materials and surfaces” and “can result in surface temperatures that are 50-90 degrees above the air temperature.” The buildings and infrastructure trap the heat, and there is little opportunity to release that heat in these concentrated environments.

Kate Bubriski

The result of this, Shannon explains, is “drastic impacts on our health and safety, especially for the young, elderly, low income, and socially isolated populations, so it becomes crucial for us in addressing increased temperatures that we not only think about buildings and their relationships to the climate but also how they play a role in building social and economic resilience in our communities.”

By advancing the conversation around extreme heat and the challenges that it brings to cities, solutions can be explored on ways to mitigate the heat, keep residents safe, and address the issue right now. Some solutions include implementing shading and awning features into building design, the use of green/cool roofs, and incorporating cooling corridors that would encourage cool breezes from the harbor to infiltrate into residential neighborhoods, resulting in cooling temperatures.

Bubriski says many of the solutions require looking at how development projects affect not just an individual property, but their impact on a neighborhood or district. Shifting the focus to how a building is impacting outward, she says, can positively impact the health and safety of the whole community.

Shannon says, “We need to continue with a sense of urgency because we can’t passively be optimistic about these issues. We need collective action from everyone in the architecture, real estate, and planning communities.” He adds that, if we continue to prioritize this issue and focus on mitigation strategies, “Boston will be sustainable; it will be healthy; it will be equitable for its residents. With careful planning and implementation, we can get there.”

Visit https://boston.uli.org/living-with-heat-report/ to view the report.

Listen to episode 26 now!

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