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City awarded grant to combat excess heat as climate change effects compound

The City of Boston will study mitigating the effects of climate change with new state funding.

Boston has been awarded a $280,070 heat resilience grant, which will help the city develop more resilient infrastructure to combat rising sea levels, stronger storms and extreme heat. ELIZA SHAW/ DFP FILE

The City has been awarded a $280,070 Municipal Vulnerability Preparedness grant from the state to fund a study on heat resilience, the Mayor’s Office announced Saturday. 

The grant is a “critical component” of the City’s climate change action plan, Climate Ready Boston, and a step toward developing more resilient infrastructure in anticipation of rising sea levels, stronger storms and extreme heat, according to the press release.

Boston was one of 41 Massachusetts municipalities that received funding from the state’s Executive Office of Energy and Environment Affairs.

The program distributes approximately $10 million each year to municipalities across the state, according to Mia Mansfield, the Office’s director of climate adaptation and resilience. 

This year was especially competitive, Mansfield said. The Office received more than 140 applications from across the Commonwealth for a total budget request of more than $46 million.

“It is a competitive program to fund the strongest applications we receive,” Mansfield said, “even though there are a lot of great projects that unfortunately don’t get funded.”

Kenneth Reardon, director of the University of Massachusetts Boston’s Graduate Program of Urban Planning and Community Development, said urban areas are often warmer than the surrounding places because buildings absorb heat.

“Low-income people of color are at a greater risk,” Reardon said. “They tend to be in concentrated areas of our city which have older housing stock, and less likely to have heating, air conditioning, ventilation systems that are up to snuff.” 

Financial concerns also may prevent residents who have ventilation systems from using them, he added.

“If they are responsible as part of their rent or as a utility bill to pay for that,” Reardon said, “they may have the service available to them, but they may not be able to afford it.” 

Zoe Davis, climate resilience project coordinator for the City, said she worked on the MVP grant proposal. With the funding, she said Boston will work to locate heat islands — areas where buildings trap heat.

“We have a fairly good understanding of the problem,” Davis said. “At this point, it is identifying the solutions that the City has available while building on what already exists.

Jennie Stephens, director of the Northeastern University’s School of Public Policy and Urban Affairs, said creating shade can help address heat problems.

“Planting trees and having more green space and more shade is critical,” Stephens said. “We’re going to need to be investing to make sure people have access to cooling technology.”

Painting rooftops lighter shades such as white or green can also cool down the inside of buildings, she said, and helping provide households with electrical infrastructure can help with temperatures as well.

Extreme heat can cause health problems, especially for older or very young people, she added.

As climate change continues to worsen, she said Boston will see more of extreme heat’s impacts.

“Temperatures have been going up and the number of extreme heat days each year has been increasing,” Stephens said. “It’s going to be an increasingly more important issue in cities around the country, including here in Boston.”

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