Why de-paving cities could help make things way less hot

That's a lot of pavement. (Tom Szczerbowski, 2013 Tom Szczerbowski (Getty Images))

If you’ve walked through a heavily populated city with a bustling downtown in the middle of summer, then you know just how hot it can be.

It feels like every step you take, you can feel the heat radiating from the sidewalks, parking lots and concrete buildings that surround you.

Summers can be excruciating all over the United States, so when you’re in a city that is mostly paved with very little green space, all of that concrete is absorbing the heat and making things feel hotter, muggier and just straight up more uncomfortable.

Is there anything that can be done about this?

Trying to tackle climate change when you’re just one person seems daunting, but at least learning about the possible solutions to issues like this can make you better suited to advocate and push for actual change.

It turns out, the answer to cooling down urban cities is achievable, and it starts with de-paving them.

“We’re kind of feeding into this loop of warmer days and warmer temperatures, and then with pavement, buildings and concrete, all of that heat is absorbed, and that exasperates the climate situation,” said environmental law expert from University of Detroit Mercy, Nick Schroeck. “There’s nowhere for that heat to go, in other words.”

Schroeck is talking about the heat island effect, where heat is trapped by paved roads and parking lots. In one EPA study, it was found that pavement in the hottest days of summer can reach anywhere between 120-150 degrees.

Grass, on the other hand, is about 40 degrees cooler.

Let’s look at the city of Detroit, for instance.

If you’ve never been, a quick drive around downtown and its surrounding neighborhoods show empty parking lot after empty parking lot during the day. Sure, some of them get filled during the evening for sporting events and concerts, but a lot of them are mostly unused during the hot hours of the day.

These flat slabs of pavement can really heat up the dense, downtown areas way more than you’d think.

Vivek Shandas, a professor from Portland State University, did a study in Detroit in 2020, and his results were concerning.

“We went out and collected 131,000 air temperatures over one day. That was morning, afternoon and evening. That allowed us to really describe in never before seen detail what the difference is from one neighborhood to another,” Shandas said.

The difference between some of the neighborhoods was 11.5 degrees.

So, that means if it’s a hot day of 95 degrees, it could easily be 106 degrees in a part of the city where there is no grass and it’s all pavement.

What can be done about trying to cool temps in dense areas of cities?

As mentioned: De-paving them.

But does it work?

It’s hard to tell, because there aren’t any huge initiatives to de-pave parts of cities right now, but a recent EPA study does say that removing 10% of pavement could reduce temperatures by 7 degrees.

It may not seem like a lot, but 7 degrees can go from a nice, hot day to being uncomfortably hot really quick.

In Portland, Oregon, there is a group called Depave Portland that has been working since 2009 to help fight climate change. The organization was able to reduce runoff by more than 15.8 million gallons since it started. It’s just taking time for other cities to catch on to the idea.

There are even groups in Detroit that are turning abandoned parking lots into green spaces. Not only does it help combat climate change, but now, the neighborhood has a green space it can use for parks, community gardens and other things.

So, will de-paving cities ever catch on?

With cars being such a huge mode of transportation in some cities, it’s hard to see de-paving catching on quickly. When people commute into a downtown area for work or need somewhere to park for a sporting event, parking lots and garages are a necessity. However, as more people advocate for this type of change, nothing is impossible.

About the Author:

Jack is a Digital Content Editor with a degree in creative writing and French from Western Michigan University. He specializes in writing about movies, food and the latest TV shows.