Planning Heat Resilient Urban Design

Washington, DC

Featured image for the project, Planning Heat Resilient Urban Design


The Challenge

As the capital of the United States, the District of Columbia grapples with human-induced and natural threats ranging from counter-terrorism to hurricanes. The U.S. Global Change Research Program reports that average temperatures are already increasing in the District, along with the frequency of extreme heat, storms, and heavy rain events. Thanks to the urban heat island effect, the District experiences summertime temperatures that are nearly 5° higher on average than surrounding areas. Through collaborations with scientists, the District studied the potential health benefits of reducing the urban heat island and found that strategies like installing cool roofs and pavements, green roofs and shade trees could substantially reduce heat-related mortality. As the first step in developing a citywide climate adaptation plan, the District recently developed downscaled climate change projections for the city. The projections show a significant increase in the number of dangerously hot days and longer and more frequent heatwaves in the coming decades – underscoring the need to address heat and potential impacts to public health.

The District has a robust heat emergency plan that is activated whenever actual temperatures of the heat index reaches 95°F. However, while this solution helps respond to extreme heat events, it does not address how the District could leverage its built environment to help mitigate extreme heat risks over the long-term. Therefore, DC’s Climate Programs Analyst for the District’s Department of the Environment, Kate Johnson, would like additional ideas for what the District can do to substantially address extreme heat the city will continue to face over time. These ideas will help the District move towards sustainable solutions to combat heat extremes, and to incorporate those solutions into their climate adaptation planning


DC team analyses preliminary 911 data and makes initial assumptions of areas most susceptible to heat

The DC team met on March 13th to discuss the preliminary results. The data that they received from the DC Fire and Emergency Management Services (FEMS) Department reveals that there is a high incidence if 911 calls in Wards 2, 5, 7 & 8. Many downtown calls had no home address, presumably indicating that they were either tourists or homeless residents. Since only one year of data is provided, this analysis is exploratory. For any conclusions to be made about the threshold for heat emergencies, the team says they will need data going back several years. So far, policy implications include:

• Identifying areas for investments such as tree planting for residential units and developments
• Identifying the most at risk populations, based on location; and,
• Sensitivity for targeted outreach

In their next steps, the team will await as to whether they can obtain data going back to the Summer of 2010. The team also hopes to obtain stroke data to include in their analysis. Juan Declet-Barreto will be providing a map with street level data to identify any shelters that may be near 911 call hot spots. Alexis Goggans will ascertain whether a presentation at the Vulnerable Populations Healthcare Coalition meeting in April is possible. Regardless of whether they get further data, Juan already has census block group level vulnerability analysis ready for sharing in any upcoming public meetings.

DC Obtains 9-1-1 Data to Advance UHI Project

DC gathers data, protects human subjects

All updates for this project

Project Team

The City Leader


Alexis Goggans currently serves as a Program Analyst in the Department of Energy and the Environment’s (DOEE) Urban Sustainability Administration. As a program analyst, Ms. Goggans coordinates public, private and non-profit stakeholders to advance green building and climate change programs and policies in the District.

Prior to DOEE, Alexis was a Neighborhood Planner with the DC Office of Planning (OP), where she served as the East of River Planner/Ward 4 Planner and managed the Sustainable Congress Heights EcoDistrict Initiative. Before working at OP, Alexis was the Civic Engagement Manager for Justice & Sustainability Associates where she worked on the 11th Street Bridge Replacement Project and the H-Benning Streetcar Line. She also worked as the National River Cleanup manager with American Rivers.

The Scientific Liaisons


Dr. Olga “Olya” Wilhelmi is a geographer with the National Center for Atmospheric Research whose research interests focus on interactions among weather, climate and society across scales, with the main emphasis on understanding societal risk, vulnerability and adaptive capacity to extreme weather events and climate change. She is a project scientist in the Research Application Laboratory and is the head of NCAR’s Geographic Information Science Program.


Dr. Juan Declet-Barreto is a Fellow in the Climate and Clean Air program at the Natural Resources Defense Council in Washington, DC. Juan has a Masters in Geography and a PhD in Environmental Social Sciences from Arizona State University. He has extensive expertise in the social, ecological, and human health dimensions of climate change impacts, and has developed a research program centered on an interdisciplinary approach to researching human vulnerability to climate change.