Urban Heat Islands and sustainable urbanity: an application agenda for tropical mega-cities

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    The urban heat island effect exemplifies the myriad of pressing environmental problems facing the rapidly growing tropical mega-cities. While the climatic consequences of urbanization are apparent in all cities, tropical mega-cities are doubly disadvantaged on account of the already oppressive heat being made worse by the deteriorating urban climate and the lack of financial resources and political will to re-direct urban growth towards a qualitatively more favourable outcome. The magnitude of the problem often leads to a paralysis of inaction. This is further confounded by the relative paucity of research knowledge on the UHI phenomenon in tropical cities. Based on my work in advocating a shade-oriented approach to mitigate the negative consequences of UHIs in tropical cities, this paper examines the research progress during the 1965-2010 period in tropical cities with respect to three key design approaches: urban shading, urban ventilation and urban greening. It then presents three emerging policy prescriptions that not only tackle the untended climatic consequences of urbanization but also address sustainability in a tangible and resource-efficient manner to enhance the quality-of-life of urban dwellers. First, the net effect of urban climate changes super-imposed on regional changes in tropical cities is the increasing need for building cooling energy. This is especially the case in tropical South and Southeast Asia where, combined with rapid economic growth, urban climate change is leading to an increase in air conditioning energy demand. Planning strategies that address urban climate change can not only enhance the urban energy efficiency but also reduce national and even regional carbon footprint, which lead to immediate and tangible economic benefits to urban dwellers. Second, a policy focus on “urban climate change potential” enables urban planners and policy makers to consider the “whole life value” of urban developmental actions. The city is local enough of an arena for local political action to have meaningful environmental impacts yet large enough to make a difference to the global problem. This is especially the case in tropical mega-cities which is already home to much of humanity. Third, amelioration of urban heat island effect has the twin positive effect on urban form and urban transportation. Often the transportation ills that militate against change are also contributory to the UHI effect. Examples of local action in tropical megacities are highlighted. It is argued that having known the causes of urban climate change and modelled the likely impacts of urban morphological changes on these causes, the tropical urban climate change community now needs to take the next step of presenting urban climate change amelioration as a vision for a sustainable future growth. Doing so not only captures the public imagination, but also provides a high-visibility and direct impact tool for action to enhance the quality-of-life of tropical cities.
    Original languageEnglish
    Title of host publicationCity weathers
    Subtitle of host publicationMeteorology and urban design 1950-2010
    EditorsMichael Hebbert, Vladimir Jankovic, Brian Webb
    Place of PublicationManchester
    PublisherManchester Architecture Research Centre
    Number of pages6
    ISBN (Print)9781907120985
    Publication statusPublished - 2011


    • urban climate
    • urban heat island
    • urban planning


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