Atlanta City Council members Liliana Bakhtiari and Matt Westmoreland released the city’s first street-by-street heat vulnerability assessment, the most comprehensive report of its kind ever commissioned by a major U.S. city.
According to a press release from the city, the study was made possible by climate models built at Georgia Tech’s Urban Climate Lab. For the first time while utilizing the lab’s next-gen techniques, residents, planners, and legislators can analyze the fluctuations in heat exposure across Atlanta in a reliable, significant way.
“While we experience the impacts of climate change on a daily basis, the conversation about what to do about it remains mired in disagreement,” Bakhtiari said in the release. “Meanwhile, our city cannot afford to wait. We face an uncontrolled climate future due to the consequential decisions made long before us, but we need to come together and develop a strategic plan unique to Atlanta and deal with our indisputable reality. My hope is that this assessment jumpstarts those resiliency efforts.”
The report measures exposure, sensitivity, and the adaptive capacity within each Atlanta neighborhood to tolerate heat stress. By comparing which neighborhoods experience the highest temperatures against those with the lowest adaptive capacity, the assessment accurately identifies communities most at-risk to heat stroke, mortality, and other heat related conditions. The report also finds that residents living in Atlanta’s highest risk neighborhoods are nearly 20 percent more likely to suffer from heat related illness than the city’s lower risk neighborhoods.
“Atlanta continues to grow, attracting thousands of new residents and billions of dollars in economic activity annually,” Westmoreland said. “In order to sustain that level of investment into the future, we must reconcile the reality of our increasingly warming climate with an action plan that protects our residents against the catastrophic impacts of climate change. This assessment can serve as a decisive tool in those considerations.”
The report models the efficiency of low-impact interventions such as the optimization of cool roof technologies and increasing neighborhood-based tree canopy cover, both of which yield significant cooling effects and a measurable reduction to heat risk.
“The most immediate takeaway from our research pertains to the city’s capacity to substantially lower heat and flood risk through simple strategies, such as increased tree canopy cover over streets and the use of reflective roofing,” said Dr. Brian Stone, Director, Urban Climate Lab, Georgia Tech. “We find these strategies, if implemented city-wide, could reduce the risk of heat-related hospital visits and deaths by 70-80 percent.”