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  • Writer's pictureYouth Energy Squad

Reducing the Urban Heat Island Effect

Cities are known for sprawling concrete, compact buildings, and traffic. All of these hold onto heat from the sun (think of hot pavement on a summer day) making cities and their suburbs hotter than their surrounding rural* areas, which is known as the urban* heat island effect. As a result of climate change, global temperatures are rising, which will only make the temperature difference between cities and rural areas more extreme. Over 80% of Americans currently live in urban areas, which is only expected to increase. This lesson explores ways that we can reduce the urban heat island effect, and make cities like Detroit safer, healthier, and more sustainable.

*Rural = Area that includes more natural landscapes or farmland

*Urban = Cities and suburbs, areas that have more manmade structures


Time: 1 hour

Goals: Age Group: Grades 9-12

  • Learn about the urban heat island effect

  • Make connections with the city of Detroit

  • Relate the topic to environmental justice

  • Understand mitigation and adaptation strategies



This lesson includes two short videos and a website with interactive climate data. There are reflection questions for each, which can be completed separately on paper or be used as a discussion guide.


First, watch the following brief video introducing the urban heat island effect:

Reflection Questions:

  • Have you ever experienced a heat wave (days over 95° Fahrenheit)? What things did your family do to cope with the hot weather?

  • Often, power outages happen during heat waves because homes are using more energy for air conditioning. Have you experienced a summer power outage? In what ways does it make the heat wave harder for people?

  • Does everyone in Detroit have access to air conditioning?

  • The video mentions some populations being more affected by heat waves, what are these groups? Is this fair?

  • The video focuses on New York, what similarities and differences to Detroit did you notice?


Next, explore what the urban heat island effect means for the city of Detroit. Go to the following link and in the interactive graphic, select Detroit. Explore other cities to see how they compare.

Reflection Questions:

  • How many more high heat days does Detroit experience compared to the surrounding areas?

  • How does this relate to air pollution in Detroit? Think of Detroit neighborhoods that have more industry, factories, and car traffic.

  • What does it mean for residents living in more polluted Detroit neighborhoods? Do these residents have access to the resources they need?

  • What health issues are caused by air pollution? How do you think that affects Detroiters in relation to coronavirus, a virus that impacts lungs?

Photo source: Climate Central, “Hot and Getting Hotter: Heat Islands Cooking U.S. Cities”


Lastly, watch the following video on how Chicago is addressing the urban heat island effect. While watching the video, think about how these solutions could be used in Detroit or are already taking place.

Reflection Questions:

  • Why does green-space (trees, parks, gardens, etc.) help cool a city?

  • The video discusses how climate change will result in higher temperatures and greater amounts of rain. How are they changing alleys to improve temperatures and also help with increased rain?

  • How are they changing rooftops? How does this also save money for building owners?

  • This video mentions adaptation and mitigation. Based on the following definitions, list solutions in the video that are examples of adaptation and those that are examples of mitigation.

Adaptation: Making changes to lower the risks or potential harm related to climate change.

Mitigation: Making changes to lower the causes of climate change (for example, less people driving cars lowers emissions).

  • Are any of the solutions both mitigation and adaptation?

  • What solutions would you like to see in Detroit? In your neighborhood?

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