Reducing the ‘Heat Island Effect’

Intensification of our cities is occurring at a rapid rate and if we don’t prioritize ‘green infrastructure’ then we will end up with even more concrete in our cities that increases the ‘Urban Heat Island Effect’.

What is ‘Heat Island Effect’?

An urban heat island (UHI) is an urban area or metropolitan area that is significantly warmer than its surrounding rural areas due to human activities.


Adding more and more hard finishes such as glass and concrete to our cities and towns has a direct impact on the temperature of the surrounding environment.

The growth of the human population requires an increase in the volume of buildings and urban areas, increasing hard surfaces, which in turn increases heat and melts your icecream.

Landscape Architecture has an important role to ensure the development of urban and rural areas are well designed and managed to reduce the impacts of urban heat.

Landscape Architects play a significant role in designing these areas and gone are the days when the landscape budget is simply ‘whatever is left in the can at the end of a project’.

No longer can we ignore the landscape and project managers, developers, builders and authorities that continue to adopt cost cutting decisions at the last minute on the landscape, should think of future generations instead of maximizing profit.

How do we reduce the heat island effect?

It really shouldn’t be that difficult.

Reducing the heat island effect should be one of the first priorities in any project. This is particularity relevant in infrastructure projects such as road, rail, bridges and large built form projects.

Green Infrastructure should be a priority at the outset. Not a last minute decision to add a few plants on the fringes of the project.

If we are serious about climate change and global warming we need to do better. Much, much better. Landscape Architect’s have the natural ability to see projects from a different angle. Our profession is passionate about things such as impacts on biodiversity, amenity, environment, flora and fauna, visual impacts and increases of temperature due to human decisions.

It is quite amazing to see that large infrastructure projects still do not consider the landscape as the key to a success of a project.

Engaging a Landscape Architect from the beginning of the project at the planning stage, should be a priority for any project. Landscapes shouldn’t merely be a ‘shrub up’ regardless of the project size or scale.

From 2 lanes to 4 lanes to 8 lanes

Let’s consider for example a 4 lane highway that has been upgraded to 8 lanes.

The success is typically about the:

“celebration of the ease of no congestion that the new, wider 8 lane highway has created, or the speed at which it is now possible to get to the airport to catch an urgent flight.”

Let’s take a minute to think back in time before the road was previously upgraded from 2 lanes to 4 lanes. The same thoughts maybe 10 years ago would have been:

“celebration of the ease of no congestion that the new, wider 4 lane highway has created, or the speed at which it is now possible to get to the airport to catch an urgent flight.”

All we have done is kick the ‘can’ down the road.

Infrastructure Builds Countries

It’s true. Infrastructure builds countries and provides jobs for families and this in turn provides income for many. However, at what cost to the environment?

There are plenty of opportunities to build infrastructure that enhances and protects our environment. Something that is not often seen. Green Infrastructure needs to be a priority. Not an after-thought.

We need to pressure government to not just widen roads for the sake of making things faster. Let’s think about our children’s future carefully and take it seriously. Because that is what matters.

Responsibilities for Future Generations

As business owners, developers, consultants and Local and State authorities, we all have a responsibility to ensure our projects are truly well designed and sustainable and not just ‘lip service’.

We should always be considering storm water harvesting, heat, materials, a reduction in concrete, less built form and more vegetation, more shade, recycling, flora and fauna, biodiversity and social needs all within reasonable economic desires.

Development chasing a fast buck at the cheapest possible price for the maximum profit are irresponsible toward our country, cities, towns and urban communities.

Sprawling suburbs of large homes built with zero lot configurations, no rear yards and minimal park-lands are destroying our environments. We must do better and we can.

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