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Louisville's Urban Heat Island Study Expected Soon

It’ll be another month or so before Louisville gets a look at a plan designed to address the fast-growing urban heat island in the city.

The report was due last fall but has been delayed. Sustainability Director Maria Koetter said she expects a draft this month. The city will review the draft and seek public comment on it before developing a plan to address its findings.

Urban heat islands are areas where cities are substantially hotter than surrounding rural areas. This is exacerbated by factors such as large swathes of paved surfaces and declining tree canopies. As measured by various studies, Louisville has one of the most intense and fastest-growing urban heat islands in the nation.

In 2014, Louisville commissioned Brian Stone of Georgia Tech — one of the foremost UHI researchers in the country — to study the city and its heat island. The study cost $135,000 and was funded through private grants.

“I think part of the beauty of this study is it is going to be the first of its kind in the country, and we definitely want it to be replicable such that any methodologies that are recommended in the computer modeling academic study can be shared with other cities,” Koetter said.

She said she expects the study to identify ways the city can best mitigate the urban heat island by focusing on where to plant trees, replace pavement with grass, install cool roofs and reduce wasted heat from building mechanical systems.

The study will be based on modeling; Koetter said it’ll be up to city officials and the public to determine which solutions are the most feasible.

“We’re really looking forward to getting the findings from Dr. Stone and taking the information in that document and turning it into something we can actually implement to improve quality of life and reduce heat, because it is a matter of life and death," Koetter said.

The city has also yet to respond to another related study — this one on Louisville’s tree canopy. It found that Louisville is losing about 54,000 trees a year. Koetter said tree planting might be part of the urban heat island study, but there will be a separate response to both studies.