Hot take: Louisville releases plan to tackle urban heat - WDRB 41 Louisville News

Hot take: Louisville releases plan to tackle urban heat

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Louisville's skyline, April 2016 (WDRB) Louisville's skyline, April 2016 (WDRB)

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – Louisville can cool down the warmest parts of the city by encouraging white roofs, planting trees and giving building owners incentives to be more energy efficient.

And Metro government should adopt an ordinance that protects the current tree canopy and seeks to increase it.

Those are the top recommendations from a study released Monday on the metro area’s urban heat islands, or places laden with sun-absorbing rooftops, asphalt and concrete that are much warmer than surrounding suburban and rural areas.

In some cases, the urban core can be 10 degrees hotter than outlying areas, Mayor Greg Fischer said in announcing the findings of the study by Georgia Tech’s Urban Climate Lab. The lab previously found that Louisville’s heat islands have grown at a faster rate than those in any other U.S. city during the last 50 years.

Fischer said “local warming” is an ongoing challenge for Louisville that needs government, business and citizens to work together. He asked people to use the Twitter hashtag #cool502 to document their progress.

“When you talk about this, our most important allies are each and every one of you all, our citizens here day in and day out. Because this is where individual action needs to take place,” he said at a news conference outside Metro Hall.

The study breaks down how many trees, grasses and light-colored roofs each of the city’s hottest neighborhoods must add to cool down. It doesn’t say who should cover the costs.

In the California neighborhood, for example, 462 new “cool” roofs and 5,298 trees should be added. The western Louisville neighborhood and surrounding blocks had a median household income of $14,858 in 2014, compared with $47,692 in Jefferson County.

Activist Martina Kunnecke called the report “hoopla and window dressing” that seeks to remedy decades of sprawl and tree removal on the backs of residents.

“It’s very irritating for the community that’s got to live with the consequences of poor judgment,” said Kunnecke, president of Neighborhood Planning and Preservation, a Louisville nonprofit group focusing on urban planning and government transparency. “The taxpayer is paying for subpar planning.”

Metro Louisville is losing about 820 acres of trees each year and now has about 37 percent of land covered by trees, according to a 2015 review of the city’s tree canopy. The goal is to get 45 percent coverage.

Henry Heuser Jr., co-chair of Fischer’s former tree advisory commission, said the heat island report is “one more piece of this urgent message to this community.”

He said neighborhoods can tap into funds controlled by council members, along with private organizations, to help cover the costs of new trees. “It’s a very broad-based effort,” he said.

Fischer called on businesses to add more light-colored and other “cool” roofs that don’t absorb heat, in addition to roofs with plants and other grasses. He cited two examples of so-called “green” roofs at the American Life Building and Metro Development Center downtown.

Fischer said in an interview that city officials could entice people to add those types of roofs, “but we don’t anticipate that we’re going to need a lot of financial incentives for this.”

He stopped short of suggesting any new policies as a result of the study, but said those could emerge as the city updates its comprehensive land-use plan over the coming years.

Georgia Tech researchers estimate that 86 people died of heat-related causes in Louisville in 2012, with about two-thirds of those linked to the region’s heat islands. Their report says such deaths could fall by more than 20 percent per year if the study’s recommendations are put in place together.

Earlier research showed that during one day in July 2010, more than five square miles had surface temperatures above 100 degrees, including areas of downtown and Ford Motor Co.’s two plants.

The report released Monday concludes that downtown and western Louisville are warmest, including neighborhoods where annual temperatures from May to September are as much as five degrees higher than other areas.

Metro Council member Angela Leet, R-7th District, said it’s important that people understand the scope of the urban heat island problem. She said she plans to review the study during a 60-day comment period.

“I’m not certain that we need to legislate anything or write any ordinances or resolutions,” she said. “But I do believe we need to be thoughtful.”

Leet and Bill Hollander, the council Democrats’ caucus chairman, attended Fischer’s press conference. Hollander said the tree ordinance that grew out of the tree advisory commission should be adopted.

“I think there will be pretty wide support for it,” he said. “I think we just need to move forward.”

Copyright 2016 WDRB News. All rights reserved.

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