See what's being done to cool off some of Richmond's hottest neighborhoods

Posted at 8:14 PM, Jun 23, 2024

RICHMOND, Va. -- The sweltering summer heat was in full force this weekend, with some locations in the greater Richmond area seeing a heat index of 105 degrees.

Todd Lookingbill, a professor at the University of Richmond, studies the effect of "urban heat island effect," tracking which neighborhoods in Richmond are more prone to high temperatures, due to large areas of dark asphalt and concrete, paired with a limited amount of tree coverage and green spaces.

"There's a wide variety of temperatures within the City of Richmond," Lookingbill said. "As much as 16 degrees from the coolest parts of the city to the warmest parts of the city."

Some of the hottest neighborhoods, according to studies from the University of Richmond, include Scott's Addition, Forest View, and Richmond's Southside.

"There is a relationship between neighborhoods that have lower median incomes than other neighborhoods, those also seem to have a spike in heat-related emergency response calls as well," Lookingbill said. "There's a higher rate of emergency response incidents in neighborhoods that are primarily Black versus primarily white, so all of those demographics kind of play into the disproportionate effect of heat."

Lookingbill said so far, researchers have estimated about 100 linear miles of sidewalk in Richmond can be put on a sidewalk "diet," which would shorten the width of the sidewalk to create space for grass and trees, while also keeping the sidewalk ADA compliant.

"The city of Richmond has a goal of increase its tree canopy cover from 40% to 60% and with each 10% increase in tree canopy cover, that equates to about a two-degree Fahrenheit cooling effect, so that alone would have, from 40 to 60%, would have about a four-degree cooling effect for the city," Lookingbill said. "For specific neighborhoods, that potential is a lot more dramatic where you're going from nearly zero percent canopy cover to up to 60%, you could have a dramatic cooling as a response to that addition of trees."

Andrew Alli, who works with the City of Richmond, helped with a sidewalk "diet" project just feet away from his home in Forest View.

"Even beyond the cooling, it provides habitat for wildlife, a little bit of noise reduction," Alli said.

Though planting trees is a start, Lookingbill said

Lookingbill said based on that data, parts of the Chesterfield County-Richmond City border have seen an increase in temperatures due to the urban heat island effect.

"So, this urban island effect is bleeding into the suburbs as well," Lookingbill said.


BONUS: See Heat Map

According to the National Weather Service, a heat index of at least 100F is not uncommon in June. A heat index of 105F is less common.

Though Lookingbill said tree planting is a solution to urban heat effect, it's a long-term strategy.

"Where we have the oaks and trees planted, they'll take 10 to 30 years in order to really return those shading, cooling effects that result in those cooler temperatures that you look for," Lookingbill said.

Richmond is offering several walk-up cooling stations at its public library locations, at the Department of Social Services' Marshall Plaza Building and at the Department of Social Services' Southside Plaza Building.

The Inclement Weather Shelter at 1900 Chamberlayne Avenue will open and provide 100 walk-up beds that will operate from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. on any day when temperatures reach or exceed 92F, which is said to open later this month.

Inclement Weather Shelter
1900 Chamberlayne Avenue
11 a.m. – 5 p.m. (or until temperatures drop below 92F)
The shelter will remain open overnight if temperatures are 92F or higher at 9 p.m.

Monday-Saturday (until Labor Day) 

  • Department of Social Services - Marshall Plaza 
    900 E. Marshall Street, Suite 160,  Monday-Saturday, 11 a.m. – 6 p.m. 
  • Department of Social Services - Southside Plaza 
    4100 Hull Street Road Monday-Saturday, 11 a.m. – 6 p.m. 

Monday-Sunday (times/days vary) 

  • Main Library  101 E. Franklin Street 
  • Belmont Library  3100 Ellwood Avenue 
  • Broad Rock Library  4820 Old Warwick Road 
  • East End Library  1200 N. 25th Street 
  • Ginter Park Library  1200 W. Brook Avenue 
  • Hull Street Library  1400 Hull Street 
  • North Avenue Library  2901 North Avenue 
  • West End Library  5420 Patterson Avenue 
  • Westover Hills Library  1408 Westover Hills Boulevard 

Lookingbill said while the cooling stations are a great option, there are still disparities with access to cooling stations.
“They’re not everywhere where they’re needed. We still have gaps in that cooling center distribution. For example, one of the highest rates of heat-related medical emergencies is in the Diamond District, Scott’s Addition, kind of that area of the city, which is also the hottest area of the city," Lookingbill said. "There’s no easily accessible, within walking distance, designated cooling center in that area of the city, which is problematic. So there’s work to be done kind of in that regard as well.”

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