Resilient Design Resource Kits

Confronting Rising Temperatures


According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), annual global temperature rises have occurred consecutively over more than 40 years. The result of these changing conditions intensifies environmental threats, such as sea-level rise, drought, and life-threatening heatwaves. Urban heat islands, where asphalt and concrete absorb and trap heat, produce concentrated higher temperatures in cities, leading to greater energy usage. 

Higher temperatures and associated energy use in turn increase pollution and can lead to cascading risks to environmental and human health and well-being. Longer continuous stretches of higher temperatures are also occurring (IPCC) which additionally aggravate health risks, more so than the risks associated with isolated extremely hot days. Heat-related illnesses, including heat stroke, asthma, and higher incidences of mosquito-borne diseases such as dengue fever and malaria, are estimated to claim an additional quarter million lives between 2030-2050 (WHO).


Landscape architects, environmental designers, and policymakers play a leading role in greening our cities and communities in order to make them cooler. Architects and engineers can work with planners to design green roofs, walls, and streets, and other green infrastructure as zones to inhabit during extreme heat events and hotter-than-average summers. 

Trees are nature’s amazing cooling devices: they release water moisture, provide shade, and create microclimates. Landscape architects can identify tree and plant species best suited to generate a cooling effect while minimizing harmful volatile organic compounds (VOCs), and working with planners and arborists, they can create urban forest plans, or designs for expanding contiguously-linked green space. While a patchwork of trees, gardens, and green roofs cannot decrease temperatures, a system of them, combined with appropriate architectural solutions, weatherization, light-colored building materials, passive heating and cooling, and integrated forms of mass transit can be effective in reducing heat bubbles. 

Conservation areas also produce healthy landscapes and ecosystems, which act as natural and efficient carbon sinks by storing carbon in plants and soils. Land conservation ensures carbon sequestration, aids the absorption of greenhouse gases (GHG); and prevents GHGs that result from development, including deforestation, construction, and the driving associated with sprawl.

WII’s giving commitments support the preservation of natural conservation areas, renewable energy infrastructure, and environmental education, all of which aid in the much larger fight to help keep global heating at bay.


Resilient design and research efforts that focus on rising temperatures might produce outcomes such as:

  • Master plans that integrate vegetation planted to cool down cities also helps manage stormwater, provide habitat for wildlife, while giving urban streets character.
  • Designs for green roofs and other forms of responsible architectural forms that integrate with nature can provide many benefits – in addition to cooling the air, they can insulate buildings, reduce building energy consumption, absorb stormwater, provide wildlife habitat, and create social space.
  • Green infrastructure projects and holistic assessments that link such projects with GI’s value to create local jobs installing and maintaining such systems.


Academic Papers

Extreme Heat: Hot Cities—Adapting to a Hotter World, Symposium Report, Center for Architecture in New York, NY

Tree Species Selection, Design, Management to Improve Air Quality, University of Delaware

Unifying Visualization of Hydrologic, Thermal and Plant Growth Performance in Green Roofs, University of Toronto

Quantifying Pollution Removal by Green Roofs in Chicago, Science Direct

Public Knowledge Production (Manuals and “Explainers”)

Estimated Biogenic VOC Emission Rates for Trees and Shrubs, U.S.D.A.

Cool Pavement Guide, Landscape Architects Network

How Cities Can Beat the Heat, Nature

Four Ways Land Conservation Mitigates the Impact of Climate Change, the Conservation Foundation

Policy Guides

Heat Island Resource, EPA, Environmental Protection Agency

Example Products and Outcomes

Greenroof Innovation Testing Laboratory (GritLab), University of Toronto

Research on Green Roof and Evapotranspiration, GritLab, University of Toronto

Urban Forest = Cleaner Cooler Air, ASLA

Melbourne Tree Map, City of Melbourne

NYC Street Tree Map, New York City