Have you ever noticed that as you walk through a city, the temperature changes from block to block? Urban planning has an immense impact on local microclimates which in turn affect the comfort and space quality within a city. An understanding of the characteristics of the urban microclimates allows the city planners, designers, architects and developers to make informed strategic design decisions, with respect to the effects resulting from microclimatic variables. The lifestyles of thousands of people living in cities could be improved by understanding the elements that have an effect on microclimate. The microclimate of urban areas is caused by different parameters such as urban forms, urban geometry, urban density, vegetation, water levels, and the properties of surfaces. Why should we give importance to microclimate in urban planning? Microclimates are important because they can have a significant impact on the citizen’s well-being. Their mental and physical health can be enhanced to a great extent.
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Urban wind comfort
High rise buildings can introduce high-wind speed at the pedestrian level which can lead to uncomfortable and dangerous conditions. Not only has it led to the death of pedestrians but it has also led to dangerous situations. Today urban authorities only grant building permit for a new high rise building if a wind comfort study has indicated that the negative consequences for the pedestrian remain limited. The high wind speed conditions are due to the fact that high rise buildings deviate wind at higher elevations towards pedestrian levels. The height and architecture of buildings can influence the microclimate environment. Controlling it, is essential to ensure the well-being of pedestrians.
The height and architecture of buildings can influence the microclimate environment.
Urban thermal comfort
Architects can unconsciously create very uncomfortable microclimate temperatures. Although thermal comfort is closely related to wind comfort, it is also governed by solar irradiation. Tall buildings and narrow streets can lead to very high temperatures in cities. It is important to assess how buildings will affect temperatures. Although in cold cities the heat might not be as harmful, in warm cities, it could lead to very uncomfortable situations. It can lead to thermal stress which can have negative consequences on human health. The urban heat island effect can be avoided through efficient urban planning.
Urban energy demand
During the next years, urban planners and stakeholders will have to face major issues in terms of energy, traffic and resource flow. The main concern will be to find adequate ways of planning sustainable energy generation, distribution and storage. Minimising energy demand of buildings in urban areas has a great energy-saving potential.
The energy demand of a buildings does not only depend on the characteristics of one building but also on its interactions with the surrounding buildings. In urban areas, buildings experience increased temperatures due to the heat island effect, lower wind speeds, reduced energy losses during the night due to sky view factors, altered solar heat gains due to shadowing and reflections, and a modified radiation balance due to the interaction with neighboring buildings. All these effects have a significant impact on the energy demand of buildings. This can lead to lower energy costs for inhabitants, and potentially less polluted environments.
Urban pollutant dispersion
Air pollution is a major problem in cities. It can have an adverse impact on climate, the environment, and human health. Most pollutants come from the transportation sector, domestic heating and cooling, etc. After being released, pollutants are dispersed. The dispersion process is affected by the characteristics of the urban environment. Chemically active pollutants might react with other substances and form reaction products. Depending on the architecture and materials used, pollution will be more or less harmful for inhabitants. Thus, in order to ensure the health of inhabitants, urban planners must take this into .
The effect of street trees on microclimates
As we have seen, several factors will affect the microclimates in a city. As we face the threat of global climate change and increases in frequency of hot extremes heat waves, we must find ways to deal with it. A potentially powerful way for passive cooling in the urban context is vegetation, particularly shade trees. Different studies have explored the use of vegetation for this purpose. It was found that the cooling effect of the trees in summer can reach up to 3-4 degrees of cooling. Nevertheless, trees’ cooling effect depends on the urban street geometry. For any tree coverage level, the cooling effect is not constant: the deeper the open space, the smaller the tree cooling effect. It is clear that trees can have a significant effect on the microclimate of a space, and significantly reduce the urban heat island effect if they are well incorporated.
The cooling effect of the trees in summer can reach up to 3-4 degrees of cooling.
Taking responsibility for the weather
Architects, builders, city planners, they play a major role in the creation of microclimates. Simple things like better insulation, building management, and others, can reduce the leakage of a building’s heat while passive heating and cooling techniques can reduce the amount of energy used. Stakeholders need to take responsibility in the creation of microclimates.
Cities have begun exploring ways in which microclimates can be manipulated. Hong Kong, for example, created the urban climatic map in order to integrate climatic factors and town planning considerations. It resolves around the long-term planning requirements for a better built environment in Hong Kong. It is based on thermal load, dynamic potential, and wind information considerations. It will help create more liveable districts.