Climate Refuge in Urban Areas: Using Spatial Data to Identify Risk and Benefit Tradeoffs

Project Lead: Rebecca Neumann, Civil & Environmental Engineering

eScience Liaison: Spencer Wood and Scott Henderson

In Washington State, climate change is causing more frequent summer water shortages, wildfire, flooding, poor air quality, heat-related illnesses, respiratory illnesses, and mental health stress. Socially and economically disadvantaged people are disproportionately impacted by these changes. Given these disproportionate impacts, there is a need for regional managers and planners to understand and prepare for the changes that will occur within different neighborhoods. In urban areas, greenspaces and blue spaces (i.e., water bodies) are important features, providing refuge against hot temperatures and even helping to mitigate heat island effects. However, many areas in the Puget Sound region are impacted by legacy contamination (e.g., emissions from the former Asarco Smelter), air pollution, and water pollution. It is important that efforts to create new outdoor climate-refuge space consider the potentially negative health effects associated with exposure to pollution and contaminants given increased use of these impacted areas. In addition, some existing green and blue urban spaces are presently contaminated, resulting in certain activities, like fishing for food, posing a health risk. In this project we are created a Python workflow that can assist with generating the knowledge managers need to evaluate benefits and risks associated with existing and planned spaces for climate adaptation. We created python scripts that ingest relevant spatial data about existing green and blue spaces, including populations within a 10-min walk and drive of parks, air pollution, and water quality; clean and align those data; assign population and environmental-quality characteristics to individual parks; and create maps and other visualizations that show park environmental-quality and how quality relates to populations served. Results are summarized and presented through a public GitHub page. Ultimately, after community and agency input, the tool will provide information needed for city managers and planners to identify areas in need of new green and blue spaces, understand the environmental risk involved with creation of these spaces, and to determine if existing green and blue spaces require investment for lowering environmental exposures to pollution.

View the project GitHub here.