The Center for Microclimatic Design

Global Climate Change (GCC) and Urban Heat (UHI) intensification are making American cities hotter places to live. Urban designers need solid evidence on how to reverse this trend, and they need proven strategies for redesigning cities so that they will be more thermally-comfortable.

Microclimate is a major part of urban living and is experienced by people as their personal weather. Microclimates affect the air temperature, humidity, wind, as well as solar and terrestrial radiation at the local level. All of these elements are invisible to the human eye, but they strongly influence people’s every-day decision such as whether or not to walk to work, to play sports in a park, or even to garden in the backyard. Microclimatic design can make places more thermally comfortable thus encouraging outdoor activity.

Walking might not immediately seem that important, but the Surgeon General (2015) is very clear that walking “has enormous long term health benefits” and that we need to work “together to increase access to safe and convenient places to walk…” He is calling on Americans to make their cities more walkable through evidence-based design.

When people are asked why they don’t walk more, they say that the single biggest barrier to walking is the weather (e.g. Lee et al 2013; Tucker and Gilliland 2007). The common perception is that there’s nothing that can be done to change the weather, and when considering large scale weather systems this is currently true. However, at the local scale, people’s personal weather can be greatly modified by the landscape. A simple example can be seen in the photo above. People really wanted to hear Germaine Greer speak about her recent book, but it was a hot day in Adelaide, Australia. So they chose to sit in the shade of a palm, giving up the opportunity to be closer to the speaker for the chance to be more thermally comfortable.

As the global climate changes and cities become larger and more crowded it is becoming increasingly important to design them so that they ameliorate climate extremes. The Center for Microclimatic Design at Texas A&M University will involve collaboration between landscape architects, urban planners, micrometeorologists, and urban climatologists both within the university and with my colleagues at the University of Tokyo, Wageningen University, University of California, San Diego, and beyond. The outcomes will be positive impacts on the health and well-being of millions of people, now and in the future.

Dr. Robert D. Brown, Professor Landscape Architecture and Urban Planning Texas A&M University

Texas A&M University can improve the quality of life of millions of people by creating The Center for Microclimatic Design.