(Houston, TX) - A groundbreaking event was held on Wednesday, July 26, 2023 as the nation's first-ever Urban Heat Island Model City was unveiled at the City of Houston Green Building Resource Center. Spearheaded by Ed Pettitt, Graduate Research Assistant at the Bullard Center for Environmental and Climate Justice at Texas Southern University, and funded by Rotary District 5890 Rotary Clubs and the Houston Host Organization Committee of the 2022 Rotary International Convention. This innovative project aims to address the pressing issue of urban heat islands in the city. Mr. Pettitt, graduate research assistant in the Bullard Center and a PhD student in TSU’s Urban Planning and Environmental Policy graduate program was joined for the ribbon cutting by City of Houston Councilmember-at-Large Sallie Comstock Alcorn, the Mayor's Office of Resiliency and Sustainability Director Priya Zachariah, and Green Building Resource Center Director Steve Stelzer.
Heat islands, urban areas experiencing higher temperatures than surrounding regions due to factors like limited tree cover, have become a pressing concern for cities worldwide. These heat islands intensify energy demand, worsen pollution, and pose health risks. Climate change exacerbates the issue, with increasing temperatures and longer, hotter heat waves. Heat exposure is not distributed equally, impacting vulnerable communities disproportionately. Understanding and addressing this issue is crucial for building resilient and equitable urban environments.
The Urban Heat Island Model City was constructed by TX/RX Labs using cutting-edge technology. Comprising a total of 68 3D-printed buildings with 19 different designs, along with accessory structures and trees, the model provides a comprehensive overview of the urban landscape. The buildings were designed in Fusion360 and Solidworks, with some Creative Commons designs from Thingiverse integrated into the model. The printing process, mainly using PLA+ on Prusa Mk2 printers, took a staggering 500 hours to complete. The city hall design, inspired by Houston's own city hall, utilized measurements from Google Earth and photo references from Google Street View to ensure accuracy. The heat map projection images were created using Procreate, resulting in a comprehensive and visually striking representation of the city's heat patterns.
The Urban Heat Island Model City holds particular significance in the wake of record-breaking temperatures and extreme weather events across the globe. Scientists have already issued warnings that 2023 could be the hottest year on record. Over 170 million Americans are under heat alerts this week, with between 250 and 275 million people facing heat indexes of at least 90°F (32°C) as a widespread heatwave sweeps across various regions of the United States.
In Houston, the situation is particularly concerning, as the region recorded its third death related to heat exposure earlier this month. The Houston Fire Department has been inundated with heat-related illness calls, with a significant increase in June and July compared to the previous year. Such incidents put immense strain on healthcare resources and endanger the lives of residents.
Moreover, the scorching heat is not just a health concern but also has severe economic ramifications. The intense heatwave experienced in Texas throughout the summer is projected to reduce the state's gross state product by approximately $9.5 billion if the current weather pattern persists through August. Such financial losses can exacerbate existing inequalities and affect vulnerable communities disproportionately.
Houston, ranked as the fourth-worst urban heat island by Climate Central, is actively addressing the problem to become a model for other cities. Studies suggest that to mitigate the heat island effect, Houston needs to plant 2.4 million trees, as only 18 percent of the city currently enjoys shade. Addressing this issue will not only enhance environmental conditions but also promote equity and social justice within the city.
The Urban Heat Island Model City and Toolkit will serve as a valuable resource for the City of Houston in developing sustainable urban planning strategies and promoting climate resilience. This permanent display at the City of Houston Green Building Resource Center showcases the city's commitment to combatting climate change and fostering a greener, more equitable future for its residents.
For more information on the Urban Heat Island Model City and associated educational toolkits and information, visit:https://linktr.ee/uhitoolkit.