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How Urban Design Can Crush Heat Waves

Huzefa Mandasaurwala

3 minutes

An Interview with a PhD-Candidate

Cities are becoming hotter places to live in; an unwanted consequence of continuous expansion and urbanization. Heat waves are intensifying, posing major risks to citizens’ health and quality of life. Researcher Mandy Peggen, from Radboudumc and the Radboud Center for Decision Science, is one of the many scientists working hard on addressing this issue.

As part of her PhD, Mandy’s involved in a large-scale project: the BENIGN project, which stands for BluE and greeN Infrastructure desIGned to beat the urbaN heat. Its aim is to investigate how blue and green infrastructure can be employed in urban areas to create healthy living conditions, and by doing so, hopefully contributing to the mitigation of the negative effects heat can have on residents.

To best achieve this ambitious goal, researchers from distinct disciplines joined in, pulling together knowledge about health, thermophysiology, ecology, urban design, planning, behavioural science, and geospatial analysis. This multidisciplinary consortium spans across fundamental research (Radboud University, Radboudumc, Wageningen University, VU Amsterdam), but also applied science (Deltares, Cobra Advisors), practice expertise (Urban Environment Monitor), and civil society partners (municipalities, Floron, health agencies, citizens).

Mandy’s work focuses on the impact of the environmental heat stress on health. She and her colleagues try to understand how the blue-green infrastructure, the water and the vegetation, impacts indoor and outdoor climate conditions, and how these in turn influence both physical and mental health outcomes, such as heat stress. Additionally, they will examine the direct health impacts of heat stress on the more vulnerable urban populations.

To this end, researchers will conduct parallel observational and citizen science studies during heat wave events. The observational component will monitor physiological responses, environmental exposures, perceptions, and behavior changes in heat-vulnerable people in a Dutch city over full heat waves. In the citizen science study, a much larger cohort of participants across the Netherlands will complete questionnaires before, during, and after heat waves. These will probe individual characteristics, health factors, living environments, activity patterns, perceived strain, health symptoms, and mitigation actions taken.

A key outcome of the BENIGN project and the large team at work, will be a decision support system for municipalities, which will serve as a science-backed-guide in creating healthier, thermally-resilient urban environments. With its broad approach spanning science, practice, and communities, we are hopeful that BENIGN could pave the way for liveable cities in our warming world!

Follow us for more exciting updates on this pioneering project!

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