As the climate warms, dangerous heat waves are becoming more common. And in many cities, low-income communities of color are the most vulnerable.
“They often have the highest temperatures in the city due to urban planning practices of the past,” says Theo Lim, an assistant professor of urban affairs and planning at Virginia Tech.
Two years ago, he led a summer program for middle school students in Roanoke, Virginia, that focused on urban heat.
Students went out in their schoolyard armed with thermal sensors. By taking direct measurements, they found that areas with grass and trees were cooler than paved areas.
Lim says the experience helped them understand how city design affects urban heat.
“They were much more likely to recognize heat as a systemic issue … that needs to be addressed through collective action, through processes like urban planning,” he says.
Now his team is expanding the summer program to make it available to more middle school students. They’re also working with groups that offer summer camps and other youth programming, and planning a family summit to engage the wider community.
So he hopes the effort encourages communities to advocate for solutions — like trees and parks — that will help increase people’s comfort and safety.
Reporting credit: Sarah Kennedy / ChavoBart Digital Media