In sweeping images of cityscapes, it is nearly impossible to distinguish individual human beings. We clearly see the products of human actions and decisions – buildings, roadways, streetlights, parks and open space – but it is difficult if not impossible to discern people on the ground, going about their daily lives. The three papers in this series ask us to zoom in and think seriously about the human experience in cities. Putting the needs of people at the center and in full focus is fundamental for advancing urban sustainability.
Urban design professionals (i.e., landscape architects, urban planners, architects, civil engineers, etc.) suffer from two interconnected design problems related to reducing urban heat islands (UHI): incomplete human scale knowledge and lack of metrics to measure design outcomes. Even though urban design is only one part of a continuous cycle of land management (see figure 1), designers are key authors of our urban climate. Designs, once constructed, lock landscapes into certain urban climate trajectories, some hotter than others. Increasingly cities’ incentivize or require designers to include cool infrastructure strategies at the site and urban design scale (human scale). The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) categorizes these cooling strategies as cool roofs, green roofs, trees and vegetation, cool pavements, and smart growth. These strategies are designed to reduce urban heat, some probably do, but others may actually enhance urban heat in cities because our knowledge of human scale heating processes is incomplete (Erell et al., 2013).