Despite living in a cold-climate region, residents of the city of Buffalo experience vulnerability to both extreme cold and heat. To understand this on a deeper level, we must ask: What landscape, housing, and personal factors are influencing one's vulnerability, and are residents able to protect themselves during extreme temperature events?
My name is Grace DeSantis, and I'm a Master of Urban Planning student at UB. Under the leadership of Dr. Zoé Hamstead at the UB Community Resilience Lab, I've had the opportunity to work on an interdisciplinary team that explores critical questions related to urban structure, climate change, and environmental justice. Here since August of 2018, I've been researching the distribution of microclimates within Buffalo, the health and financial impacts of thermal extremes on residents, and the factors that influence residents' vulnerability and coping capacity in the face of extreme heat and cold.
While previous studies have recognized the negative health outcomes that extreme temperature events inflict on communities, the impact that a Great Lake has on micro-climates is less understood. Moreover, understanding the mechanisms through which residents experience vulnerability to thermal extremes will become increasingly pressing as climate change shifts the range of temperature extremes in cold-climate cities.
This project in Buffalo, NY involves two primary activities: 1) developing a pilot indoor and outdoor network of weather stations that are used to model micro-climate variation as a function of urban landscapes and 2) conducting interviews to understand ways in which residents' thermal comfort is linked to building characteristics, awareness and accessibility of resources, and mechanisms for coping with extreme temperatures. The weather station network reveals that households across the city have varying preferences and capacities for controlling their indoor thermal environments. Despite living in a cold-climate city, participants express negative personal outcomes associated with extreme heat and an inability to adequately cope with such temperatures. As the range of thermal extremes shifts due to climate change, this study serves as a template for other traditionally cold-climate cities - especially those with an energy-inefficient housing stock and a large low-income renter population - that aim to understand how residents experience thermal vulnerability.
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