Understanding Urban Microclimates Key to Good Urban Planning

urban heat climateGlobal temperatures have officially reached the highest on record and Australia has felt the brunt of this with record breaking temperatures for the end of summer and early autumn.

Sydney and its suburbs were particularly affected with reports that February had a record 31 straight days above 26 degrees Celsius, shattering its previous record of 19 days in 2014. What is noticeably lacking on Australian weather news are the differences in urban temperatures according to suburb, due to distance from the coast, buildings, green space and ultimately urban planning – basically the urban microclimate.

As new urban developments are on many city council planners’ and developers’ desks or currently being built – the Sydney skyline is dotted with cranes – research into fully understanding our urban microclimates where buildings, street layouts and greenery affect temperature could not be more important. Our urban environments need to be adapted and new urban design must cater for this rising heat, lest we fry.

Going ahead with developments that do not take urban microclimates into account so the best urban design and building materials are used to cope with increasing temperatures could cause future problems for residents and councils. This is because costly adaptive changes to the urban layout and green space may be required later on down the track.

In addition, the CSIRO recently reported that for the first time we have reached a major milestone of 400 parts per million of CO2 recorded in the Southern Hemisphere. With increasing carbon levels climate change will continue to take a grip, so it looks like rising temperature trend will continue, for a while at least.

Of course with the commitment of 195 countries to the recent COP21 agreement, we all hope global temperatures will be brought under control and ultimately reduced, though this will not happen overnight. Doing the research to provide architects, developers and city planners with the tools and information on how to adjust design for urban microclimates, select the best materials and utilise green infrastructure is imperative.

Research led by the CRC for Low Carbon Living (CRCLCL) is taking place around Australia – particularly in Sydney, Adelaide and Melbourne – with a focus on the links between urban microclimates, outdoor thermal discomfort and public life. This is so we can also understand the Urban Heat Island effect, where a city is hotter than its surrounding rural areas due to buildings, cars, urban design high population and subsequent human activity.

Recent research from the University of South Australia used three different case studies to report on  the correlations between heat sensitive outdoor activities and urban greenery and revealed that necessary and optional activities start to decline once temperatures reached 28 to 32 degrees Celsius, while activities in public spaces with more urban greenery showed higher resilience to heat stress. To read more click here.

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