Planning for Urban Heat Resilience

Planning Advisory Service Report 600 (PAS Report 600) of the American Planning Association, Planning for Urban Heat Resilience, was published in April 2022 to shed light on the growing and inequitable threat of heat and provide a plan for cities worldwide to increase urban heat resilience. It recommends that planners use existing regulatory tools and plans to manage and prepare for heat. The report also provides planners with background knowledge, frameworks, and a catalog of approaches to dealing with heat. It calls on the importance of collaborating with colleagues across agencies and sectors to advance urban heat resilience.

In the summer of 2021, record heat waves swept across the western United States and Canada; and this year, 110-degree and higher temperatures are being seen in Texas and Oklahoma. As average temperatures rise, so do extreme heat events and chronic heat. Heat is the number one weather-related killer in the United States. A greater number of extreme heat events is projected to lead to more deaths, as is chronic heat in already hot climates. Heat affects the entire economy as well as quality of life, and it especially does so in marginalized communities.

This problem is exacerbated by both climate change and the urban heat island (UHI) effect. Community planning impacts both greenhouse gas emissions and the UHI effect. Thus, planners are essential in achieving greater and more equitable heat resilience. While urban heat must be managed across many systems and sectors, Planning for Urban Heat Resilience focuses on urban planning. The report explains the complexity of heat and discusses how planners can manage it.

Increases in temperatures are affecting communities that are already hot. However, they also affect traditionally cooler communities that are not as prepared for heat. Additionally, districts with a history of redlining, low-income communities, and minority communities are all consistently hotter than average. Past planning decisions exacerbate this. People in these communities are often more vulnerable to heat-related illness and death as well. Planners must take into account these inequities and are well-suited to do so.

There are equitable heat management strategies planners can use to increase heat resilience. The report recommends setting clear urban planning goals and metrics. Information should be gathered, and various strategies should be considered. Coordination and managing uncertainty is vital, as is ensuring inclusive participation in the process. Finally, effective implementation, monitoring, and evaluation of efforts are critical.

The report also summarizes the science of extreme heat and provides data and tools for measuring heat, providing a foundation for planners. Heat management strategies are provided to prepare for and respond to risks. While cooling centers have been established in certain places, the report recommends alternatives. These include reducing personal heat exposure, ensuring access to reliable indoor cooling, supporting public health measures, and planning for emergencies. Planners should coordinate with others to ensure quality housing, indoor cooling, reliable energy, and dependable transportation. 

The report stresses the need for coordination across disciplines and sectors to ensure resilience. This includes hazard mitigation, public health, emergency management, the energy sector, and different levels of government. Co-benefits should be maximized, tradeoffs minimized, and maladaptive strategies avoided. A community-wide approach to heat resilience should be taken across all plans.

Publication Date: April 2022

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