Continued climate change is increasing the frequency, severity, and duration of populations’ high temperature exposures. Indoor cooling is a key adaptation, especially in urban areas, where heat extremes are intensified—the urban heat island effect (UHI)—making residential air conditioning (AC) availability critical to protecting human health. In the United States, the differences in residential AC prevalence from one metropolitan area to another is well understood, but its intra-urban variation is poorly characterized, obscuring neighborhood-scale variability in populations’ heat vulnerability and adaptive capacity. We address this gap by constructing empirically derived probabilities of residential AC for 45,995 census tracts across 115 metropolitan areas. Within cities, AC is unequally distributed, with census tracts in the urban “core” exhibiting systematically lower prevalence than their suburban counterparts. Moreover, this disparity correlates strongly with multiple indicators of social vulnerability and summer daytime surface UHI intensity, highlighting the challenges that vulnerable urban populations face in adapting to climate-change driven heat stress amplification.
This content will become publicly available on November 1, 2024
Although extreme heat can impact the health of anyone, certain groups are disproportionately affected. In urban settings, cooling centers are intended to reduce heat exposure by providing air-conditioned spaces to the public. We examined the characteristics of populations living near cooling centers and how well they serve areas with high social vulnerability.
We identified 1402 cooling centers in 81 US cities from publicly available sources and analyzed markers of urban heat and social vulnerability in relation to their locations. Within each city, we developed cooling center access areas, defined as the geographic area within a 0.5-mile walk from a center, and compared sociodemographic characteristics of populations living within versus outside the access areas. We analyzed results by city and geographic region to evaluate climate-relevant regional differences.
Access to cooling centers differed among cities, ranging from 0.01% (Atlanta, Georgia) to 63.2% (Washington, DC) of the population living within an access area. On average, cooling centers were in areas that had higher levels of social vulnerability, as measured by the number of people living in urban heat islands, annual household income below poverty, racial and ethnic minority status, low educational attainment, and high unemployment rate. However, access areas were less inclusive of adult populations aged ≥65 years than among populations aged <65 years.
Given the large percentage of individuals without access to cooling centers and the anticipated increase in frequency and severity of extreme heat events, the current distribution of centers in the urban areas that we examined may be insufficient to protect individuals from the adverse health effects of extreme heat, particularly in the absence of additional measures to reduce risk.
- Award ID(s):
- NSF-PAR ID:
- Publisher / Repository:
- Public Health Reports
- Date Published:
- Journal Name:
- Public Health Reports
- Page Range / eLocation ID:
- 955 to 962
- Medium: X
- Sponsoring Org:
- National Science Foundation
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