This story was originally published by Grinding and appears here as part of the Climate Table collaboration.

In the summer of 1995, Chicago experienced one of the deadliest heat waves in American history. When temperatures soared that July, reaching 100 F for five days in a row, 739 Chicagoans perished, many of them elderly in cramped apartments.

Two months later, the city began its 16-year project to tear down the infamous towers of the Cabrini-Green housing project. For 50 years, the red brick exterior skyscrapers of Cabrini-Green, buildings synonymous with the birth of urban renewal and public housing in America, towered over Chicago’s north side. There was a time when skyscrapers housed 15,000 people, but decades of neglect He converted once sprawling lawns and playgrounds into dirt fields and empty patches of pavement as the once pristine brick facade collapsed overhead.

Chicago’s Cabrini-Green housing project demolished on April 1, 2011. Photo by artistmac / Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)

They may seem like disjointed events. But most of the affected people shared two traits: they were black and they were poor. TO report by the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change published earlier this month, analyzed the relationship between housing, building structures and burning streets and found that deaths from heat waves, such as Chicago’s, they are not a coincidence.

“The (IPCC) news that came out … shows us that the challenges of meeting our daily needs in the midst of climate change cannot be divided into neat silos,” said Rick Cole, congressional executive director for New Urbanism. Grinding. “It is impossible to solve our affordable housing crisis, our climate emergency and people’s desire to improve the quality of life against racism and divestment in separate silos.”

The IPCC report found that the factor that contributes most to the amplification of heat and warming in cities is “urban geometry”, the relationship between city design, building construction and density. The main problem generated by the so-called “heat island effect” are tall buildings. They create urban canyons, preventing winds from cooling things down and blocking heat. Urban centers can range up to 22 F warmer than nearby rural areas. Fueled by climate change, extreme heat kill more people in the US than any other weather event. The report points to cities around the world, especially Tehran, Iran, and Calcutta, India, that are warmer than their surroundings.

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Purging in the heat is a housing crisis that has left quarter of adult Americans, disproportionately black and Latino, homeless or struggling to pay rent, and local governments struggling to find solutions. Many housing experts labeled the disappearance of the Cabrini-Green towers as the death of affordable high-rise housing across the country. However, since then, cities and states across the country, in Ohio, New Yorkand back in Chicago, developers are building higher affordable housing, moving up, not outward, in an effort to create dense, walkable neighborhoods where infrastructure costs are lower, and jobs, stores and homes are closer together. The trick is to find a solution that offers everyone a safe and quality home without overheating the planet.

In tight places like New York City, home to more than 6,000 skyscrapers, many of the effects of urban canyons and urban heat are unavoidable, said John Mandyck, executive director of the Urban Green Council in New York City. “New York City and other major cities, like San Francisco, don’t have the flexibility to build,” he said. “It’s about mitigating the climate impact of density and housing millions of people.”

Mandyck believes there is a way to maintain tall buildings and even build a few more in cities that need them while fighting the climate and housing crisis. Cities could create gardens in the sky, which have successfully offered natural cooling and improved air quality in cities like Chicago, as well as planting trees and shrubs to shade sidewalks and streets. Reflective roof systems in New York City they have brought in more than 5.3 million square feet of ceiling spaces covered with a white reflective coating, preventing an estimated 2,500 tons of CO2 emissions each year.

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Cities should also focus on reducing carbon emissions from buildings, Mandyck said. In New York City where the supertall towers have assumed the horizon in recent years, buildings account for 70 percent of carbon emissions, but a Law 2019 It is set to reduce those emissions by 40 percent in 2030 and 80 percent by 2050.

The trick is to find a solution that offers everyone a safe and quality home without overheating the planet. #Climate Change #Climate Crisis #IPCC #Skyscrapers #CrisisHousingCrisis #ExtremeHeat

Although Cole believes mitigation practices like these are important, he says hyperdense skyscrapers will continue to pose problems. “Outside of Manhattan or the Miami coast, from a climate change standpoint, the real value is moving away from the artificial zoning boundaries that have required high-rise housing development,” he said. “Even if skyscrapers were the answer to our manufactured home crisis, it is not even one percent of the solution to our environmental problems because it adds challenges even as it mitigates some.”

More than 25 years after the fall of the first Cabrini tower, American cities are far better equipped to address housing problems and the climate crisis, but action requires political willpower and individual sacrifices, experts say.

“We’re off balance right now on issues related to climate change and urban development, and we’ve been for a while,” Mandyck said. “But we have all the tools to restore balance, reduce carbon emissions, cool our cities, and house and protect the people who have a lot at stake due to climate change.”

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