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Extreme Heat and Urban Densification

This UREx SRN Research Theme is focused on:

  1. Understanding how the rapid densification of urban landscapes affects the thermal comfort experienced by pedestrians within these areas
  2. Assessing how certain areas of the urban core, particularly open-space plazas, are utilized by pedestrians
  3. Determining how thermal comfort patterns change throughout the year, and whether changes can have an impact on pedestrian activity and plaza usage

About Extreme Heat and Urban Densification

In recent years, dense metropolitan cores and an urban lifestyle have become an attractive alternative to the once-preferred suburban way of life. City planners have begun to increasingly focus on the idea of creating concentrated city centers that give residents the opportunity to live a more connected lifestyle in close proximity to their home, while reducing reliance on automobile transportation. Plazas can function as a microcosm of the urban area itself, where diverse groups of people can come together to interact and engage with their community through the showcasing of art and other forms of entertainment. From a practical standpoint, plazas are frequently used as pass-throughs for pedestrians searching for the quickest route to their destination. No matter which of these diverse purposes a plaza may serve on any given day, it is clear these spaces, as high-traffic areas, are important to understand in terms of thermal comfort. In July 2019, School of Sustainability student Nicole Cox launched a study in Downtown Tempe to examine the relationship between urban densification and pedestrian thermal comfort at different times of the year, and to understand how this can impact patterns of activity in downtown areas. The focus of the research was on plazas in the urban core, given their importance to the pedestrian landscape. Using an ASU-designed human biometeorological device known as MaRTy, Nicole gathered thermal comfort measurements in summer and autumn and compared this data to pedestrian thermal comfort surveys in order to better understand how pedestrians handle heat within a densifying city.

Project Partners

  • ASU SHaDE Lab
  • ASU Decision Theater
  • Barrett, the Honors College at ASU
  • ASU School of Sustainability
  • CIty of Tempe

Heat and Densification Strategic Themes

  • Inform and educate
  • Advocate for thoughtful city planning
  • Improve pedestrian safety and comfort


The results of the initial study suggest that plazas in urban cores are ill-equipped to handle heat even during more mild weather. In Downtown Tempe in particular, this information could be critical as the city continues to expand upward and densify in the coming years. The dynamic plans for city expansion both in Downtown Tempe and in urban cores more generally demonstrate the need for better, more informed decision-making that is able to take into account a variety of perspectives. For this reason, the proposed intervention based on this research study is the development of decision support tools focused on two primary topics: heat safety education and community engagement that ensures responsible practices during all times of the year for the residents of Downtown Tempe, and planning for a more thermally comfortable urban core in the future through intentional design choices that can reduce urban heat and limit pedestrian exposure to radiation and extreme temperatures while encouraging the adoption of new requirements or regulations.