Smart design can help Florida beat the heat

Smart design can help Florida beat the heat

It’s coming.

It creeps up on you, starting with a single bead of sweat on your neck. Then there’s another. And another.

Soon, you’re drenched, and you’ve only gone halfway on the walk from your front door to your car. Yes, the hot, steamy, sticky Florida summertime is right around the corner.

And it’s only getting worse with each passing year. As Southwest Florida grows, so too does its susceptibility to the heat island effect — in other words, our cities are getting hotter than their surroundings.

Put a million people together in a city, and it can be as much as 22 degrees hotter at night than it is in the country around it.

So much for that pleasant evening stroll.

We aren’t there quite yet; Cape Coral has close to 180,000 people and Fort Myers has upward of 77,000. But we’re getting there. Those numbers were 76,000 and 45,000, respectively, in 1990. That means the collective population of the two neighboring cities more than doubled in less than 30 years.

But the way we grow can make the heat island effect less profound.

Placing buildings in random clusters rather than ordinary grids helps cities stay cooler, according to a recently released study by researchers from MIT and the University of California, Irvine. The reason has to do with heat that radiates between buildings that face each other. Fewer structures right in front of each other means less heat bouncing around, the researchers determined.

Take one look at a map of Cape Coral, and all its neat rectangles and squares, and you can almost feel the heat starting to build.

But we can use this innovative science to influence how we build the Cape Coral and Fort Myers of the future. Grid-like canals present a challenge, but it doesn’t mean homes and businesses can’t be built at angles on the lots. Similarly, as we build eastward from Fort Myers, we can create neighborhoods and office parks with more bends and turns.

You know how it goes — we’ll be begging for every degree of difference we can get on those sweltering midsummer days. But the right planning and design can help us cling to our chill.

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