Responding to Nashville’s frequent high humidity and prolonged stretches of 90-plus degree weather, a local nonprofit has initiated a Metro-supported study into heat mitigation strategies.
The Urban Land Institute will lead the three-month project, which received guidance from sustainability experts during a panel on Friday.
Panelists shared well-documented strategies like green roofs, reflective pavements, shade-covered pedestrian and biking infrastructure, as well as setting minimum sustainability standards for developers.
Most of the recommendations were policies or programs that Nashville could implement immediately, according to the Tennessee Department of Health’s Dr. John Vick.
“With all the development that’s happening in Nashville, it’s so critical for us now to be thinking about how we’re building our city,” Vick said. “Are we building it in a way that’s setting us up for success and not for disaster in the future? Because in the end, fundamentally, this is really all about health and livability and the viability of our city.”
Extreme heat can disrupt people’s ability to regulate internal temperature. When someone experiences heat stress, their body temperature rises faster than it can cool itself down — potentially causing damage to the brain and other vital organs. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates about 600 heat-related deaths in the U.S. each year.
Cities pose the greatest risk for heat stress. Urban areas with dense structures and limited greenery experience the phenomenon of “heat islands,” or areas of higher temperatures relative to surrounding land.
Within cities, there are “intra-urban” heat islands. These heat pockets are more common in low-income neighborhoods, where individuals might also be more likely to have asthma or higher air pollution levels, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.
Panelists argued that heat-mitigation strategies are both easy to implement and offer added benefits, such as reduced public health risks, climate adaptation and attractive green spaces.
The panelists also stressed that developers should be involved in this process.
“Given the real estate demand in Nashville and the strong local economy, we think that you have a very strong hand and urgent need to ask more from developers,” said Adam Freed, a principal at Bloomberg Associates.
Prior to last week’s event, the panel members virtually toured and interviewed stakeholders in Chestnut Hill, Wedgewood-Houston and the Fairgrounds redevelopment site — featured neighborhoods in the study.
The Urban Land Institute expects to publish the findings in September. But Vick suggested that the city has an opportunity to implement action now.
“We really can’t wait to implement these recommendations,” Vick said. “Climate change and extreme heat are happening now. Extreme weather events are happening now. And we may never see change at this scale in our city’s built environment again in our lifetimes.”