October 15 | 2019

Disproportionately higher exposure to urban heat in lower-income neighborhoods: a multi-city perspective.

T Chakraborty, A Hsu, D Manya and G Sheriff.

Environmental Research Letters, Volume 14, Number 10
Focus on Sustainable Cities: Urban Solutions Towards Desired Outcomes Published 30 September 2019 • © 2019 The Author(s). Published by IOP Publishing Ltd

DOI https://doi.org/10.1088/1748-9326/ab3b99


A growing literature documents the effects of heat stress on premature mortality and other adverse health outcomes. Urban heat islands (UHI) can exacerbate these adverse impacts in cities by amplifying heat exposure during the day and inhibiting the body’s ability to recover at night. Since the UHI intensity varies not only across, but also within cities, intra-city variation may lead to differential impact of urban heat stress on different demographic groups. To examine these differential impacts, we combine satellite observations with census data to evaluate the relationship between distributions of both UHI and income at the neighborhood scale for 25 cities around the world. We find that in most (72%) cases, poorer neighborhoods experience elevated heat exposure, an incidental consequence of the intra-city distribution of income in cities. This finding suggests that policymakers should consider designing city-specific UHI reduction strategies to mitigate its impacts on the most socioeconomically vulnerable populations who may be less equipped to adapt to environmental stressors. Since the strongest contributor of intra-urban UHI variability among the physical characteristics considered in this study is a neighborhood’s vegetation density, increasing green space in lower income neighborhoods is one strategy urban policymakers can adopt to ameliorate some of UHI’s inequitable burden on economically disadvantaged residents.