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A Heat Resilient Sitges? Insights from our UCCRN Edu Workshop

By April 17, 2023Learnings, News

This year, the municipality of the Barcelona nearby coastal town of Sitges asked us for support in framing their heatwaves responses. So here we are explaining to you how we did it.

As part of the module implementation, after last year’s workshop on the resilience of the Barcelona university campus of Pompeu Fabra, this year we have organized the workshop in synergy with the European project titled The Urban Climate Change Research Network for Higher Education (also known as UCCRN_edu). As already introduced in our recent post on the Aalborg workshop “new perspectives to new problems” the UCCRN brings together more than 1,000 scholars across the globe to define the “state of the art” of climate resilience planning and design.

A Heatwave Resilience Roadmap for the City of Sitges

Using a multidisciplinary approach, the focus of the workshop was to present guidelines relating the heatwave emergency response with  longer term integrated planning and governance resilience strategies. Students undertook multiple site visits, engaged with the community and key technical staff of the Municipality of Sitges, in order to understand the current situation. Whilst from one side Sitges  initial focus was on setting up from public facilities some “heat shelters”, our mission was to everage off a framework for resilience to heat and prepare  a roadmap whereby Sitges can further understand the vulnerabilities of the community and work towards a long term resilience strategy.

Theoretical Framework: Understanding “day and night” heat responsibilities and responses

Along the master, we came across influential scholars and resilience experts, among which Sara Meerow (co-chair of the Urban Resilience research Network URNet) who recently published the report “Planning for Urban Heat Resilience” (Meerow, 2022), Lily Yumagulova (expert in community resilience) and one of the IPCC author Minal Pathak. These scholars’ work truly inspired us to propose to the city of Sitges a locally adapted framework and adaptation pathway.

We resonated with the fact that heat lacks a ‘problem owner’ (compared to other climate risks such as urban flooding, wildfire, and drought) and this creates a lack of accountability and an unequal landscape for those who are mostly hit by heat now and in the future. The framework we developed unpacked and distinguish different responsibilities part for heat waves drivers,

representing a moon and a sun, reflecting two very different aspects of heat: one being the sun burning with high temperatures during the day, and the other side is the heat-island effect of high night temperatures generated by our cities that have accumulated heat during the day and release it during the night. The very definition of heat wave (more than a day of temperatures above the usual high) emphasizes the impact on human bodies of heat because during nights the temperatures don’t fall, and people cannot recover thanks to fresh nights the impact of the high temperatures already faced during the day. Thus, the nights’ heat island effect plays a key role in heatwaves.

If this difference is clear, you can get why in our framework heat management (emergency responses) and heat Mitigation (try to reduce the driver of heat) are symbolized from two different sides of the image.  The proposed framework underlines the unavoidable role the built environment plays in exacerbating the Urban Heat Island Effect, reminding that planners and policy makers have a deeply rooted responsibility in enabling a safer and cooler built environment.

In order to guide actions,  the ‘sun side’, represents the ways in which heat can be attempted to be managed, due to its unavoidable presence: public health emergency preparedness, social cohesion for mutual support, establishment of heat shelters available for people in need, proper communication, education and awareness.  On the other hand, the ‘moon side’ reflects more long-term mitigation strategies that tackle heat at its core by changing how cities are designed: design of a heat adapted built environment (thus addressing green, grey and blue infrastructure), mobility (to ensure shadow, safe access to public spaces), energy and waste heat. These categories provide options and strategies for addressing urban heat resilience from different angles and for different vulnerable groups.

Finally, the framework considers factors that influence vulnerability and vulnerable groups to create positive adaptation measures. Indeed, within the image of our framework there is an “orbit” revolving around the sun and night, symbolizing the vulnerability assessments, needing to take into account all the aspects of heatwaves and vulnerable groups.

Start from heat shelters: best practices 

Shelters are the first responses to heat.  However, their effectiveness has been contested due to mismanagement. The chapter of our report (available here) elaborates on best practices for heat shelters through case studies and literature reviews. One example of a case study is to be seen on the following image:

Within this chapter, thanks to an exhaustive literature review, we created a check-list to evaluate heat shelters, and provide a comprehensive set of characteristics (physical, functional, etc) of heat shelters in order to guide Sitge (or any city) in the design and management of heat shelters. This assessment tool uses an intuitive scoring system (1 point for every characteristic) to eventually rank shelters (or public facilities that could be used as shelters) against the proposed checklist.

Beyond the assessment, an outcome of the workshop was also to develop a pilot project framework for shelters. The ‘Lighting the Way’ project is a pilot heat shelter project that aims to provide a scalable solution for other locations, while the ‘Shelter from the Sun’ project is a pilot pergola project that aims to be funded through other sources in the future. Both projects aim to provide shelter and community-oriented spaces, but they differ in their approach and funding sources.

The ‘Lighting the Way’ project aims to create a lighthouse heat shelter in a short period of time that can serve as a testing ground for the upcoming heatwave and a scalable solution for other locations, as well as to secure wider funding. It will be open 365 days a year from 8 am to 8 pm, with possible expansion to 24/7 depending on the demand. The project will take place at Edifici Miramar in Sitges, which was chosen for its accessibility and existing facilities. The facility will have trained healthcare staff onsite responsible for data collection, and a potential pick-up service for vulnerable groups with reduced mobility. The space is considered safe, highly adaptive to seasonal needs, and utilized frequently.

On the other hand, the ‘Shelter from the Sun’ project aims to create an adaptable and extendable pergola along the beach walk, funded through private economic stakeholder funding, which will contribute to community cohesion, shelter, event space, and endemic plant regeneration. The project will have co-benefits such as the creation of shaded public space and revenue generation. It will be managed and funded by private economic stakeholders who can invest in the project and receive equity in terms of space usage for events or mobile stores. Public-private partnerships can also secure further funds for the project through the City Branding Campaign. Data on usage will be collected through sensor analytics to understand how the space is being utilized. The space can be used for community events and markets, and expansion can be done progressively based on community feedback.

A last part of our work with respect to shelters was to guide a better design and management of existing public facilities in Sitges, by distributing them for short and long term scheduling of actions, as displayed in the figure below.  For example, design first steps that can be implemented in the short term are enhancing the efficiency of energy or customizing the furniture, or putting in some artificial canopy while planting green infrastructures that will start working in the next few years. At the same time, in the short term, from the management perspective the cities need to think of health emergency  preparedness, communication and information campaigns about heat wave impacts and good habits to cope with them. As displayed in the figure below, in the longer term, the actions to improve heat shelters should be more oriented toward upgrading the building envelope and acting through green canopy, managing the rainwater in order to recollect, filter and reuse it for the green and vaporisation if needed. While from the management side people could be involved in co-design and co-management processes to adapt what the shelters provide and how.

However, we all know, also looking at our framework, that through shelters we only respond to heat waves from an emergency preparedness very specific point of view. There is much more that needs to be done, and this is what we explored and introduced through the report.

When shelters are not enough

The report chapter “beyond shelters” discusses a comprehensive approach guiding Sitges toward climate resilience building, instead of just acting through emergency responses. This means designing a coherent policy program that can mitigate the effects of climate change on Sitges’ economy, social cohesion, public health, and ecosystem. Indeed, as introduced by the “moon side” of our framework, the Urban Heat Island effect is a critical aspect of heatwaves and  the proposed climate resilience pathway includes thinking of blue and green infrastructures, public spaces, building codes, access and mobility as energy.  Also in this part, our strategy outlines proposal for the shorter and longer term, starting from the built-grey  environment since  “poorly designed” grey infrastructure can worsen the urban heat island effect by accumulating heat and releasing what we call “heat waste” turning the city into an hoven. An example of how to quite easily implement some urban design and management strategies with respect to the built environment are shown in the following images: white painting, panels reflecting solar radiation, shadowing public spaces enhancing the thermal comfort, among others.

From another side, since  Sitges has a Mediterranean climate ( cold winters and hot summers, and sporadic but intense rainfall events putting pressure on the drainage system while polluting the sea) it makes absolutely sense to adopt a decentralized water management approach. This means that in order to cope with autumns’ floodings and  summer water scarcity, the city can implement measures to capture and reuse for green infrastructures maintenance rainwater through underground  storing deposits. These solutions can improve water infrastructure and contribute to the city’s and ecosystems’ resilience.

Integrated solutions need to be framed within some resilient and bioclimatic city vision for the longer term. Bioclimatic and smart streets mean to minimize the use of non-renewable resources while enhancing the relationship between the built and natural environments. They incorporate green and grey infrastructure to mitigate the UHI effect, reduce stormwater runoff, and improve air quality. Nature-based solutions promote nature as a solution for climate change and biodiversity loss. Bioclimatic streets can also address Sitges’ lack of public green spaces by incorporating greenery, energy-efficient lighting, solar panels, water management systems, smart technology, and mobility solutions. These solutions help capture and filter rainwater, optimize energy use and traffic flow, and provide shading through high albedo materials or design, and evaporative cooling through water features. An example of a bioclimatic and smart city future scenario is illustrated in the image above, proposing to Sitges Municipality how to upgrade a specific street by shadowing using specific drought resistant plants.

We developed a whole meta-designed  master plan vision for Sitges, suggesting transforming streets into bioclimatic corridors through grey and green solutions and using car parks as key points in the mitigation strategy. The plan also highlights the importance of the waterfront for tourism, ecosystems, social cohesion, and public health in Sitges, as illustrated in the image below.

The Importance of Communication

To gain support with local stakeholders, a two-path communications campaign has been developed for Sitges. One campaign will focus on public health, aiming for building knowledge on the dangers of heat, gaining support for adaptation building by local stakeholders and informing on the location of heat shelters. The second campaign should focus on city branding by entailing economic stakeholder activation and city marketing.

Monitoring and Evaluation

The M&E cycle proposed below was designed during the workshop and aims to provide a robust framework for Sitges to establish and continue monitoring and evaluation of the proposed solutions. Monitoring the impacts and success of the adaptation measures will help the city to scale up the initiatives, secure funding and to ensure the initiatives are providing effective solutions.The M&E cycle proposed includes four phases: Gathering Data, Evaluate, Adapt, and Implement, with a focus on community engagement throughout the process.

In conjunction with the proposed M&E cycle, the workshop provided an opportunity to begin to define Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) to measure the impacts of the solutions proposed. These indicators have been designed to appropriately measure the progress of the proposed solutions and provide a framework for the Municipality of Sitges to adjust as future solutions are implemented.

Key Takeaways from our Workshop Experience

Proceed from the socio-economic-climatic analysis to the definition to a short-middle-long term adaptation strategy was challenging, but extremely interesting for this workshop.

A part of what was introduced through this short post, we also developed a “Heatwave Resilience City branding” Campaign and a monitoring and evaluation protocol for our adaptation pathways implementation delivered to the Municipality (you can find all these materials in the link at the end of the post). The knowledge sharing, local community engagement and action planning undertaken during the workshop supported participants to effectively leverage a theoretical framework to integrate climate change mitigation and adaptation into a broader resilience strategy. Establishment of this framework was the foundation for development of a comprehensive set of strategies for mitigating and managing heat in urban settings toward a bio-climatic resilient city. One of the main insights of this experience was not only how to frame a strategy, but that from strategies and implementation there are huge political and technical gaps. Indeed, while Sitges is experiencing already drought (as the whole country, now in Spring) they just approved 50 more licenses for building single  family swimming pool houses, while the new urban development is shaping a city looking like a puzzle of private luxury gated communities (see the picture below taken during our site visit).

During the interview with the city officials, they described the city as moved by the “parties and events” and tourism, producing an incredible amount of waste and with frustrating challenges for changing these dynamics, because a city driven by parties is not a city used with respectful and sustainable behaviors. The budget for planning and designing a climate resilient city, or even to start with the proposed shelter enhancement, sounded to be weak, and proper funding needed to be found. Thus, with these limitations and challenges in our eye, we hope our work – full of guidelines and examples – could be helpful for the city to turn its economic engine and business as usual unsustainable and socially excluding model into an inclusive climate resilient city.

Thanks for following us and please find all the materials mentioned along the post in the full report available here.

Authors: Alice Bazzica, Rose Dagg, Cato Poss