Urban Heat Resilience Planning

According to “PAS Report 600: Planning for Urban Heat Resilience,” released in April 2022 by the American Planning Association (APA), urban regions need to develop a framework to build resilience against rising temperatures due to climate change. Although the APA report focuses heavily on the United States, the findings can be appreciated within the context of North America. With more than half of all Indigenous people in Canada living in towns and cities with a population of 30,000 and more, the threat of increasing heat is not simply an urban issue, it is an Indigenous issue.

The APA report defines urban heat resilience as the ability of urban systems “to maintain or rapidly return to desired functions and improve quality life in the face of chronic and acute health risks and to quickly transform systems that limit current or future capacity to adapt to extreme heat.” The report lays out an urban heat resilience framework, based on scientific information, with “seven practical considerations” to facilitate planning for, monitoring, and measuring extreme heat events. The framework also calls for developing a “fact base of information on heat risks” and a robust collection of heat mitigation and heat management strategies.

Key components to urban heat resilience planning are heat mitigation strategies and heat management strategies. In the urban context, heat mitigation strategies focus on buildings and infrastructure and reducing the heat that they produce. Heat mitigation strategies often fall under the category of “urban greening” such as tree planting, urban forestry, and green storm water structures (e.g., bioswales, permeable pavements, etc). Urban heat management strategies enable cities to both prepare for and respond to immediate, recurrent, and long-term heat risks also associated with the built environment (e.g., renewable and reliable energy systems, indoor cooling). Heat management and heat mitigation strategies require the assistance of diverse experts, including planners, engineers, architects, urban designers, and public health professionals, among others.

Building urban heat resilience, and protecting the health of Indigenous peoples due to adverse climate effects require planning ahead, and taking leaps forward to “proactively” coordinate all parties to manage increasing heat. The Government of Canada has developed a list of tools and resources to help public health professionals develop approaches to reduce, the effect of urban heat islands. The First Nations Health Authority has put into place “heat response supports” to mitigate the adverse health effects of extreme heat on BC First Nations and to promote climate health. The Canadian Institute of Planners’ Policy on Climate Change Planning has recommended that planners “[b]e inclusive and respectful of Indigenous peoples, striving to promote understanding, validation, and respect of Indigenous knowledge and cultural practices to ensure decisions and interventions are culturally relevant and appropriate.”

The disastrous impacts of the record-breaking extreme heat of the summer of 2021, in the Western United States and Canada, shed light on the need for collective efforts to ensure that heat risks are managed more effectively. Planning for urban heat resilience requires a collective and culturally informed approach.


By Leela Viswanathan


(Image Credit: Berkay Gumustekin, Unsplash)