Should cities prepare for climate change?
By Jeremy Quattlebaum, staff writer
While Chicago may be known as the Windy City, its city planners and climate scientists are preparing to cope with a trend toward higher temperatures and more rain and snow.
“Cities adapt or they go away,” Aaron N. Durnbaugh, deputy commissioner of Chicago’s Department of Environment, said to the New York Times regarding the city’s initiatives to adapt to the changing climate.
White oaks, the state tree of Illinois, are no longer being planted by the city. Sweet gums and swamp oaks from the South are taking their place in city planters and public areas.
Some alleyways are being repaved with a sponge-like pavement that absorbs and stores rainwater instead of allowing the water to run off into storm drains, flooding the sewers and sometimes creating sewage floods in low-lying areas. And thermal imaging is being used to determine the city’s hottest spots, which are then targeted as areas where green roofs – building roofs covered with vegetation – are installed to absorb water and heat and cool the area around it.
“Cities are hard spaces that trap water and heat,” said Janet L. Attarian, the city Department of Transportation’s director of streetscapes. Many concrete alleyways and parking lots were built decades ago without any drainage, meaning that rainwater collects or runs off into the sewer.
Using data collected over decades of research, climatologists began making long-term forecasts that shocked many in the city government. The predictions showed that by 2070, the city of Chicago could have weather closer to that of Birmingham, Ala., which would affect what kind of vegetation grows and how much precipitation the city gets. Heat-related deaths could reach 1,200 a year.
Chicago is not alone in preparing for climate change. Bolstered by stimulus funding from the federal government, cities across the country are installing green roofs, updating drainage infrastructure, and installing bike lanes and new public transportation lines to adapt to climate change and reduce carbon emissions.
In our nation’s capital, where swamps were filled in and, over the decades, covered with concrete, there has been a long struggle with controlling storm water. Because climate projections forecast that Washington will be getting more rain, it is adding more water-retaining surfaces, including green roofs.
Abroad, Basel, Switzerland, mandated that all new flat-roofed buildings install green roofs to reduce the effects of summer temperatures. This mandate has had some positive, unforeseen consequences. Endangered beetles and spiders have found new homes in the city’s ever-increasing number of green roofs.
While the environmental benefits of more porous surfaces and green roofs seem apparent, the economic costs are often a barrier. Green roofs add to construction costs, and as building budgets get tighter, the expensive environmental features are often the first to go. When cities mandate the installation of green roofs, critics say it ultimately hurts the construction industry because fewer companies can afford to build in the cities.
What do you think?
Should cities prepare for changing weather? Do you think that it is a wise investment? How do you think your city or town is prepared for a drastic change in weather patterns? Join the discussion and let us know what you think!
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