Why summer is so unfair for people in the city, as explained by science.


Many cities around the U.S. are kind of awful to walk around right now.

A man trying to cool himself with a water bottle.

Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images.

Stepping outside feels like stepping into one of those Quizno’s sandwich toasters.

A man lying down outside a subway entrance.

Photo by Andrew Burton/Getty Images.

And if you’ve ever thought, “Man, this has got to be the hottest place for miles,” well … you might be right.

A man spraying himself with water.

Photo by Chris Hondros/Getty Images.

(Though there might be something we can do about it.)

Cities are hotter than their surrounding countrysides. Sometimes more than 20 degrees hotter.

A thermometer - it's 120 degrees out.

Photo by Chris Hondros/Getty Images.

That’s according to the Environmental Protection Agency.

This is because of something called the “heat island effect.”

A long-distance view of Los Angeles.

Photo from Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images.

Our cities are basically giant jumbles of asphalt and concrete — both of which love to hold onto heat from the sun.

A hot, dry-looking parking lot.

Photo by Andre Manoel/Flickr.

The countryside, on the other hand, is full of stuff like dirt and trees, which tend to stay cooler.

A nice forest that looks a lot cooler than that parking lot.

Photo from David McNew/Getty Images.

Cities are full of heat we produce ourselves – including, paradoxically, from air conditioners.

A man with an air conditioner.

Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images.

Air conditioning works by essentially taking all the heat from inside the building and shoving it out the window.

You know, where all the rest of us are.

Not to mention all that car exhaust.

Traffic. It looks very hot.

Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images.

This excess heat in cities can be dangerous — and it’s likely to get worse.

A woman sick from the heat.

Photo from Asif Hassan/AFP/Getty Images.

Heat exhaustion and heat stroke are a serious problem, especially for sick people, infants, and anyone who can’t find a way to cool off.

Unfortunately, climate change is predicted to increase the number and severity of heat waves.

OK, so yes, that seems bad, but there’s good news. We know how to defeat the heat island effect.

A group of people cooling off at a pool.

Photo from Alex Wong/Getty Images.

One trick? More green space.

A man relaxing in a park.

Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images.

Trees and plants provide shade and don’t retain heat the same way concrete does. They can also help reduce air pollution.

Plants aren’t just good on the street – they’re effective on our roofs as well.

A green roof.

Photo by Ryan Somma/Flickr.

Even just painting the roof of a building white can help.

Beyond city design, individuals can also help keep cities cool by creating green spaces, like community gardens.

People working in a community garden.

An urban garden in Fort Myers, Florida. Photo from Stars Complex Urban Garden/Flickr.

Or even just by trying to drive less and use less electricity in the summer.

People using the subway.

Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images.

There are a ton of clever tips for keeping cool instead of reaching for that air conditioner in the summer.

People playing in a spray of water.

Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images.

So the next time someone says, “This city is way too hot,” you look ’em dead in the eye and tell them they’re right.

A woman relaxing on a beach.

Photo by Johannes Simon/Getty Images.

Then take them down to city hall or your local garden store and show them how we can help keep our cities cool and safe.

Two people relaxing in a park.

Photo by Oli Scarff/Getty Images.


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