Chicago’s Heat Island

The Urban Heat Island effect isn’t unique to Chicago, but we’re certainly has a devastating effect in the summer, despite our lake shore. Hot, humid air traps smog, and so the air in the summer time registers as being far more polluted, while dark, paved surfaces absorb heat. Waste heat is also generated from increased energy consumption during the hottest months of the year, as AC demand skyrockets. According to a 2014 EPA publication, these “heat islands can affect communities by increasing summertime peak energy demand, air conditioning costs, air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions, heat-related illness and mortality, and water quality” (Reducing Urban Heat Islands 2014). All of these effects have significant implications for a public’s health.

One interesting solution is the establishment and increase of roof-top gardens. They have been proven to reduce UHI effects by cleaning the air, absorbing sunlight without raising air temperature, and even purifying rain water. At the same time, they help reduce a building’s energy costs by reflecting sunlight, lowering the need for AC energy and further improving the atmosphere. A general increase in vegetative cover will have a similar effect. Many communities also use lighter pavement and reflective roofs to keep their city cool. According to the Sustainable Energy Planning handbook, many of these sustainable solutions save a city money in the long-run by improving the quality of life it offers its residents (11). All of these solutions would help Chicago with our notorious summer heat!

“Reducing Urban Heat Islands: Compendium of Strategies. Heat Island Effect. US EPA.” EPA. Environmental Protection Agency, Web. 16 Apr. 2014.

“Sustainable Energy Planning.” UN Habitat (2004): n. pag. Local Governments for Sustainability, 2004. Web.


2 thoughts on “Chicago’s Heat Island

  1. I liked the solution you proposed towards heat island effects. Since it doesn’t only effect Chicago, but many other cities, roof-top gardens does sound effective based on the information you provided. Have you looked into the process whether there needs ot be approval for there to be roof-top gardens? I would think that for the roof tops of apartment complexes allows for the residents there have access to set up the gardens. However, for company buildings or condominiums could have a different protacol. If that’s the case, then what would need to be carried out to permit the set up of roof-top gardens? I liked how you mentioned the benefits about roof-top garden. Also, did you look into where they have been implemented and how people/communities got involved and whether those gardens are still being maintaned?


  2. Thanks! I have looked into these quite a bit–I write for UIC Radio and I did a piece about Chicago’s elevated gardens last week. They are very interesting!

    Depending on what kind of place you live in (ie, the building’s age, whether or not the roof is slanted, the structural integrity of the house), gardens may not be possible. If all checks out, you’d need landlord approval and lots of supplies. There’s also the liability of a building owner letting people walk around on the roof. The main detriment to roof-top gardens is their expense, especially if their weight ends up damaging the roof. If it’s relatively new, however, a garden can protect a roof from storm damage and wear, actually making it last longer!

    As far as a commercialized property, it’s up to the building owners. Since many larger buildings have big, flat roofs and more stringent public safety requirements, I think they should all be working towards installing green roofs!


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