Low-Income Amsterdam Locals More Prone to Heat Stress

Amsterdam residents with the lowest incomes live in parts of the city where they have less access to cooling through greenery, such as parks and trees, than residents with higher incomes. Consequently, this low-income group is more vulnerable to heat stress during heatwaves. Those are the findings of a study on the distribution of "green cooling" in 14 European cities. The results were published in Nature Cities scientific journal.

Every year, heat-related deaths are high in Europe. Heat waves will become more frequent and last longer due to climate change. Large cities are vulnerable to high temperatures in particular. Heat will be more prevalent there than in the countryside, because of the many buildings and hard surfaces. Green spaces in cities offer shade and evaporation, providing the residents with much-needed cooling.

Less cooling for tenants; more for home owners

New research has shown that greenery in cities, and thus the opportunity for cooling through the presence of greenery, is not distributed evenly amongst all residents. 'We have seen this inequality in all 14 large European cities that were part of the study,' says Gert-Jan Steeneveld of Wageningen University & Research (WUR).

Tenants, immigrants and unemployed citizens often live in neglected city centers with little greenery. As a result, they are less likely to have nearby access to cooler parts of town. On the other hand, residents with higher incomes and home owners benefit from green cooling above average. They are more likely to live in neighbourhoods with detached houses and a lot of greenery. Because of this difference, there is an increasing risk on heat stress among vulnerable resident groups during heatwaves, which can even lead to fatalities. Steeneveld: 'On top of that, low-income groups cannot afford external cooling either, such as air conditioning, and often live in small, overcrowded, poorly ventilated and poorly insulated homes.'

Down on the rankings

Less than 20 percent of Amsterdam's residents live in an area with plenty of access to green spaces, such as parks, backyards and tree lanes. Steeneveld: 'Areas with little green cooling correlate with high population density, low incomes and high unemployment rates. In contrast, a lot of green cooling is found in neighbourhoods where people enjoy high incomes and many residents are over the age of 60.'

Compared to other European cities, Amsterdam is in the down on the rankings when it comes to an equal distribution of green cooling, on par with Istanbul, Madrid and Paris. Cities like Florence, Stockholm and Budapest top this list and have a more equal distribution. For almost all of the cities studied, there is a similar relationship between green cooling, income, age and unemployment.

Research method

The researchers used the Green Cooling Services index (GCoS) with a computational model. This model was validated against meteorological observations from a monitoring mast at the "Amsterdam Atmospheric Monitoring Supersite." The GCoS index includes the effects of evaporation and shading.

Amsterdam is a so-called "Living Lab" for urban heat research. WUR and the Amsterdam Institute of Advanced Metropolitan Solutions (AMS Institute) jointly run a number of projects in this city, such as this research on 'Green Cooling'.

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