How to design healthy spaces in cities that experiment with hot and dry climates?

Updated: May 2

BMJ Medical Journal released a paper called ‘City design for health and resilience in hot and dry climates’. The work analyzesthe challenges of designing healthy places in cities that have hot and dry climates, and the possible solutions to those challenges.

“The health of people living in cities is affected by urban design elements including density, distribution of land use, building design, transport infrastructure, green spaces, opportunities for social interaction, and accessibility to work, education, healthy food, and culture. Several of these elements pose particular challenges when designing healthy cities in hot and dry regions such as the Middle East, where weather may constrain active transport, outdoor recreational physical activity, and outdoor socializing”.

Here we list some of the most important findings cited in the paper:

Challenges to the design of urban environments and the promotion of public health:

  • “Extreme water shortages, long dry summers, and high potential evaporation are barriers to green spaces, which are a common feature of heat mitigation strategies in healthy cities.”

  • “High temperatures and intense solar radiation can cause thermal discomfort and heat stress. High temperatures are also associated with increased morbidity and mortality”.

  • “These challenges are amplified by climate change, which has already resulted in rising temperatures and increased intensity, duration, and frequency of heatwaves as well as reduced precipitation in regions including the Middle East ”.

  • “Urban form affects physical activity and well designed compact cities such as Amsterdam and Portland, Oregon, promote outdoor physical activities and social interactions in ways that reduce people’s exposure to infection risk indoors—for example, by expanding sidewalks and prioritizing cycling paths”.

Possible solutions:

  • Natural solutions and water sensitive cities: by incorporating natural or modified ecosystems to urban design, environments can benefit from natural cooling and improve human health. Examples such as integrating water cycle management to urban planning processes to optimize the resource availability can mutually benefit ecosystems and human well being.

  • Urban greening: “In dry cities, public green space must be designed judiciously to target benefits to places most likely to be enjoyed by as many city residents as possible. Smaller areas of green space compared with temperate climate cities reduce irrigation requirements. Because plants adapted to the desert minimize water loss by evapotranspiration”.

  • Prioritize cooling areas in hot cities: Factors such as humidity, radiant exchange and air movement increase the thermal sensation of heat. Urban design must concentrate on the creation of shading areas with artificial elements such as “fabric canopies, pergolas, or arcades since it can provide solar protection in spaces and recreational corridors where vegetation cannot be planted. Shading reduces land surface temperature by intercepting solar radiation and significantly improves human thermal comfort”.

  • Healthy Buildings: “Climate sensitive design of buildings seeks to maximize the advantages of local conditions and mitigate their drawbacks, while minimizing the use of non-renewable resources, especially energy, to improve sustainability. In hot climates, this means limiting unwanted solar heating and integrating passive cooling to release excess heat to the environment, in addition to providing well controlled daylight and plenty of fresh air.”

At MKThink we are also looking at how places can adapt to our evolving needs over time and how those spaces are designed considering factors such as sustainability, wellbeing and safety. We think too often environments are designed to be equally unsatisfying (average) for everyone, versus leaning into the variation inherent in people's preferences and designing for those unique variations. To learn more, drop us a note.

To read more:

#dryclimates #healthyplaces #healthyenvironments

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