People in urban environment

Data-driven design in urban planning yields a better quality of life

​Due to dense city planning and tall houses, the wind speed is lower in cities compared to the countryside. This leads to reduced removal of heat and air pollution, which in turn creates problems for residents in larger urban areas. Now researchers at Chalmers have received 4.3 million to develop new tools for sustainable urban planning.
“Higher daytime temperatures reduced nighttime cooling and increased levels of air pollution have a negative impact on human health. For example, it can contribute to generally reduced well-being, respiratory difficulties, heat cramps, fatigue and heat stroke”, says Gaetano Sardina, assistant professor in the Division of Fluid Dynamics at the Department of Mechanics and Maritime Sciences.

In densely populated areas, temperatures become higher and the air quality deteriorates due to lower wind speeds as buildings act as a wind trap and shut in the hot and polluted air. This effect is known as "Urban Heat Islands" and is most noticeable during the summer and winter months. Also, the effects of heatwaves in the urban areas are heightened with increased air temperature. Sensitive individuals such as children, the elderly and people with certain illnesses are particularly exposed to such events.

Bad air increases deaths

The combination of severe heat and high levels of air pollution can be very problematic. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that between 1979 and 2003, heat waves contributed to more than 8,000 premature deaths in the United States. It is more than the deaths caused by hurricanes, lightning, tornadoes, floods and earthquakes altogether.

The large-scale effects on society are evident in the increase in costs for health care, lost working days and reduced productivity. But researchers expect that economic losses due to increased temperatures in urban areas can be reduced by up to 200 per cent in cities that have implemented appropriate measures.

“Our goal is to find out how the cities of the future will be built to improve thermal comfort and air quality for its inhabitants. In current urban planning practices in Sweden, these aspects of residents' health are not considered”, says Gaetano Sardina.

Digital tool for city planning

The researchers will develop a new digital tool that can provide a representation of an urban area in 3D. The use of digital tools will increase significantly in the future and change regulations and help urban planners to start using effective data-driven design. The results of this study will provide new guidelines for sustainable urban planning to improve the quality of life for residents in terms of thermal comfort and air quality.

The project has received 4.3 million SEK from Formas and is a collaboration between the departments of Mechanics and Maritime Sciences as well as Architecture and Civil Engineering together with FCC Fraunhofer.

Read more about Goal 11 in Agenda 2030: Sustainable Cities and Communities​​​​

Text: Anders Ryttarson Törneholm​

Published: Wed 04 Dec 2019.