Climate-resilient cities

I find it of paramount importance that students learn how to communicate their research. Summarizing their ideas and findings for a broad audience challenges them to keep the ‘why’ in mind for their research, and reminds them they are part of a bigger effort to solve the remaining mysteries of our world. In this mini-series, all master students of this academic year present their work in around 300 words. Number four: Kobe Tilley.

Around one quarter of the Flemish urban area consists of private gardens. Clearly, they are a potential significant spatial factor regarding urban climate resilience. However, there is no such thing as ‘the urban garden’, every garden looks different.

When we look at the most challenging consequences of climate change for urban areas, we see an increasing Urban Heat Island (UHI) as one of the most complex ones. The UHI arises when urban structures such as asphalt and concrete absorb heat during the day and release it again during the night. Consequently, temperatures will be warmer – and remain so for longer during the night, with significant effects on the health and well-being of city-dwellers.

Flanders, a sprawled region

With this in mind, we return to the urban gardens. As they are occupying one fourth of the urban area, they might be a means to adapt cities to this UHI. As they are often islands of green in a sea of grey, they absorb less heat during the day, and thus release less of this heat at night. But what role do different types of urban gardens and their spatial configuration play in adapting to the UHI? What is the effect of gardens’ sizes on the UHI? And what is the difference between many small gardens versus a few big garden complexes? Finally: when we know these results, how can we act as urban planners to create a more climate resilient city? These are the questions I will be looking into with the help of temperature data, collected by a network of over 4000 miniature weather stations placed in Flemish gardens from the ‘CurieuzeNeuzen in de Tuin’-project. By linking these temperatures to measures of garden configurations and data about the garden design, I want to find answers on how to use gardens and urban planning for creating a climate resilient, urban environment. Since our planet will keep warming for a while and weather extremes will hit hardest in cities, climate-conscious urban planning will become increasingly important.

Figure 1 – Zoom on an area in Flanders with urban, suburban and rural structures close to each other. Even in this small selection, we can distinguish differences in garden configurations. Denser within the urban area, rather more sprawled in the rural parts. The suburban area is the ‘in between’, which is dense but also more sprawled. To represent all landscape types, the miniature weather stations (CNidT-locations) are found all over Flanders, in urban areas, on the countryside, and in between. (Sources: RURA Vlaanderen, Tuinenkaart KU Leuven, CNidT-locations; map: Kobe Tilley, 2021).
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1 Response to Climate-resilient cities

  1. I will be looking forward to your results.

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