Cool Streets, Cool Communities

Strategies for building resilience and connectivity

Extreme heat, an often overlooked effect of climate change, is an advancing danger that can make our beloved cities uninhabitable. When paired with the Urban Heat Island effect, the combination can be lethal. The Urban Heat Island effect is a phenomenon where cities endure unnaturally warm temperatures year-round. This can result from a number of factors, including excessive vehicle emissions and smog, over-density and poor design of buildings, a higher ratio of pavement to green space, and the production of waste heat from mechanical systems like air conditioning.

Cool Streets New York

Aware of this looming future, Perkins Eastman has been studying innovative ways to combat climate change and the Urban Heat Island effect through achievable and sustainable solutions. We have observed how the coronavirus has pushed public agencies to recognize the importance of accessible outdoor space, and are taking note of the overwhelming support for street closures, outdoor seating, bike infrastructure, and increased demand for public parks and plazas. With this new attention, we believe metropolitan cities are ripe for what we call “cool communities”. We designed a toolkit of options in 2018 with suggestions for cooling New York City’s public realm. This spectrum of initiatives, which are free and accessible to users, sought to reduce the Urban Heat Island effect in “high risk” communities: lower income neighborhoods with minimal access to air conditioning, public parks, and other publicly accessible spaces that can provide escape from the heat. These communities are high risk not simply because they lack cool spaces, but because their higher rates of chronic illness make them particularly susceptible to heat stress and heat-related death.

Perkins Eastman’s kit of parts for passive cooling strategies in urban environments

Passive Design, Sustainable Cooling

Passive cooling design strategies, including shade structures, vegetation, and other initiatives that don’t draw energy from the grid, were a major focus of our Cool Streets study. These interventions are often more economical, easier to implement, and more sustainable than active cooling strategies such as air conditioning and fans. We explored building massing, materials, and orientation; landscaping and hardscaping: paving technology, shade, and evaporation; as well as psychological approaches to keeping cool. For instance, merely shading a surface can reduce the air temperature of the material by 20°F to 45°F. Evapotranspiration — a process where water evaporates off plant leaves, absorbing heat and cooling the surrounding air — can reduce air temperatures by 2°F to 9°F. Beyond physical temperatures, our research indicates that psychological perception of temperature — how cool we feel — also has an impact on our physical state. Through “cooling” images or art installations — cool shades of blues and greens, and calming graphics and textures, the sensation of coolness, even on a hot day, can be achieved. All of these initiatives can help improve comfort and minimize the health impacts associated with extreme heat.

Cool Abu Dhabi

This summer, we took our Cool Streets ideas abroad, entering the “Cool Abu Dhabi” competition to design a sustainable plaza within the city. We were inspired to make Abu Dhabi a leading city in the future of urban design and climate change. If, in 50 years, almost half the world will live in extreme heat conditions, Abu Dhabi provides a key opportunity for innovation.

Sense of Place: “Al Maqeedh”

Creating a sense of place when designing these public spaces was paramount to our approach, which required engaging local communities. Tamer Youssef, AIA, Studio Design Director in our Dubai office, meticulously researched the history of Abu Dhabi with his team and titled our design proposal “Al Maqeedh”.

Shade and cooling strategies inspired by Abu Dhabi’s natural features and culture

Cool and Healthy

In a future where extreme heat makes outdoor spaces uninhabitable, the need for cooling initiatives like Perkins Eastman’s Cool Streets and Cool Abu Dhabi are essential.

Perkins Eastman is a global architecture and design firm guided by the belief that design can have a positive and lasting impact on people’s lives.