Climate-sensitive Urban Planning through Optimization of Tree Placements

Dec 15, 2023



Climate change is increasing the intensity and frequency of many extreme weather events, including heatwaves, which results in increased thermal discomfort and mortality rates. While global mitigation action is undoubtedly necessary, so is climate adaptation, e.g., through climate-sensitive urban planning. Among the most promising strategies is harnessing the benefits of urban trees in shading and cooling pedestrian-level environments. Our work investigates the challenge of optimal placement of such trees. Physical simulations can estimate the radiative and thermal impact of trees on human thermal comfort but induce high computational costs. This rules out optimization of tree placements over large areas and considering effects over longer time scales. Hence, we employ neural networks to simulate the point-wise mean radiant temperatures–a driving factor of outdoor human thermal comfort–across various time scales, spanning from daily variations to extended time scales of heatwave events and even decades. To optimize tree placements, we harness the innate local effect of trees within the iterated local search framework with tailored adaptations. We show the efficacy of our approach across a wide spectrum of study areas and time scales. We believe that our approach is a step towards empowering decision-makers, urban designers and planners to proactively and effectively assess the potential of urban trees to mitigate heat stress.


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