The City of Albuquerque released results from last summer’s Urban Heat Watch Campaign this week, where the city collected the temperatures from 67,662 temperature hotspots around the city. The campaign intended to mitigate urban hot spots and reduce heat disparities in lower-income communities that have been traditionally neglected by previous tree-planting efforts. Areas with a denser canopy, often in more affluent neighborhoods in the bosque, were nearly 15 degrees cooler than those with sparse cover, usually found Downtown or around interstates.
The Paper. spoke with the city’s sustainability officer, Kelsey Rader, about the Urban Heat Watch Campaign and how the findings will influence any actions by the city to increase tree cover through an equitable lens. “It first confirmed a lot of suspicions and initial findings that other heat-mapping efforts have found that disproportionately we are seeing heat impacting low-income communities in a way that is much higher heat levels in the summertime compared to some our moderate- or higher-income neighborhoods,” Rader said.
For cities in the Southwest, shade is not only vital to reducing the heat-island effect, where asphalt absorbs the day’s heat and continues to emanate it throughout the night, but to also reduce the burden of electricity on lower income households. For communities that have seen little investment in tree cover or structures that provide shade, their morning temperatures are often in the upper 70s, compared to the low 60s for neighborhoods with a robust tree canopy. In the afternoon the difference is often between a triple-digit day and one in the low 90s. “This mapping effort is really important in solidifying the need to target low-income communities in tree-planting efforts,” Rader said. She added that, “There’s a lack of tree canopy, a concentration of asphalt; so what that will often translate to is a higher concentration of heat.”
The project was a partnership between the City of Albuquerque and the members of the National Integrated Heat Health Information System. “Strategically increasing shade and tree canopy can go a long way in protecting residents from dangerous summer temperatures, and everyone can play a role in making those changes,” Rader noted.
More information about what neighborhoods are affected disproportionately by the summer’s heat can be found on the city’s website. For those who do live in a neighborhood that has a less-than-robust canopy, the city and other nonprofits may be able to help. “My recommendation for people is to know that they have the ability to get rebates, called ‘treebates’ from the water authority. That there are multiple nonprofits and government organizations that support tree planting,” Rader said.