What cities can do to beat the heat

Worms (DE) focuses on participation, information campaigns and concrete support

Summer is just around the corner. With the first hot days of the year already behind us, more and more cities are wondering: how can we prepare urban spaces for extreme heat in the face of the climate crisis? Forecasts clearly indicate that temperatures will rise and that heat days as well as the stresses and strains that accompany them, especially for vulnerable groups, will increase. The City of Worms is now taking action and breaking new ground with its own urban heat action plan.

"As one of the heat hotspots in Germany, we knew we had to take action," says Selma Mergner, climate action manager of the City of Worms of the city’s decision for a heat action plan. The plan had already been defined in Worms' municipal concept for adapting to the climate crisis. "Adaptation means maintaining liveable cities. This is exactly why we decided to have a heat action plan – to take preventive measures to protect the health of our population," Selma Mergner explains further.

Climate change adaptation as a community task
The plan focuses in particular on vulnerable groups such as the elderly, the sick and the young as well as those who work outside or are homeless. To ensure that the concepts are as practical and needs-oriented as possible, all local stakeholders in contact with these groups, from municipal administrative staff to the fire brigade and from social associations to day care centre staff, were involved in the development of the heat action plan. A steering committee will also accompany the implementation and further development of the plan. The measures themselves were developed in a series of target group-specific workshops involving all local stakeholders. Together with Worms' partner city, Metz (FR), the municipality has also identified urban heat islands and climate havens in cooperation with citizens as part of Climate Alliance’s TANDEM initiative.

Hotspot maps for targeted measures
Critical information on urban heat islands forms an important basis for the Worms Heat Action Plan. These hotspot maps show which areas that are particularly at heat risk and thus help in making measures more targeted. Under the leadership of the Rhineland-Palatinate Competence Centre for Climate Change Impacts, these hotspots were combined with demographic data. The resulting hazard maps thus provide very precise information on where the danger is greatest in the event of a heat event. "Thanks to the maps, we are able to see exactly where it gets particularly hot and where vulnerable groups are at the same time, for example in kindergartens or care facilities. This is where we have to start with our measures," emphasises Mergner. As soon as the heat action plan has been adopted by the city council, the maps will be made available to all citizens on the city's homepage.

Establishing support structures
"Informing and raising awareness on climate change impacts is, of course, key. That's why we offer training on health-related heat protection and have designed informational materials. With our heat action plan, we also want to set up concrete structures to be able to provide rapid support during heat waves," explains Mergner. In the case of Worms, support infrastructure includes measures such as a heat telephone or a shopping service on particularly hot days. With the heat phone, for example, registered citizens can be warned of heat waves and receive tips on how to protect themselves from the heat. With these steps, Worms plans to aid affected people, complementing the medium and long term measures of the action plan.

Worms is acting on the heat action plan by recording heat hotspots in the city and with a community approach. The heat telephone, for example, will be launched as a pilot project and information about heat havens will be made accessible to the population. In addition, it is planned to make cool places in the city such as historical churches more attractive.

In the context of the project Hitze Sicher/Worms (Heat Safe/Worms), the city is being accompanied in its ambitious plans not only by Climate Alliance but also by scientific institutions. In the long term, the project also aims to make the concept transferable to other municipalities because one thing is clear: the consequences of the climate crisis will become increasingly noticeable with both the prevalence and intensity of heat waves on the rise. Cities are thus under pressure to prepare for the heat with suitable concepts and measures.

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written June 2022