Wu Administration Unveils Boston’s Heat Plan for Equitable Extreme Heat Response

Written By Isabella Gambill, Senior Policy Advisor on Climate, Energy, & Resilience

At an Earth Day event in Chinatown earlier this year, Mayor Michelle Wu and her team unveiled Boston’s new report Heat Resilience Solutions for Boston (the “Heat Plan”). The Heat Plan explores a range of different strategies to equitably address extreme heat citywide, with an additional set of customized strategies through five neighborhood focus areas that are both hotspots within Boston’s citywide heat island and also are environmental justice communities. Importantly, this report contextualizes Boston’s heat realities within our city’s own history of exclusion and disinvestment in communities of color, resulting in communities like the Plan’s focus areas of Chinatown, Dorchester, East Boston, Mattapan, and Roxbury being at times 10˚F or more degrees warmer than surrounding neighborhoods, with less ability to survive and adapt to the impacts of extreme heat.

The Heat Plan builds off the climate resilience work of Climate Ready Boston to: frame new community-informed heat resilience methodologies; update Boston’s temperature projections; provide new extreme temperature modeling; identify focus area-specific heat risks and resilience solutions for 5 hotspot environmental justice neighborhoods (Chinatown, Dorchester, East Boston, Mattapan, and Roxbury); provide 26 citywide strategies for extreme heat solutions and resilience, and; detail next step actions to help implement the Heat Plan and protect Boston’s communities from heat. The Heat Plan is part of the Wu Administration’s Healthy Places: Planning for Heat, Trees, and Open Space Initiative that represents a multi-plan approach across the Heat Resilience Solutions for Boston Plan, the anticipated 20-Year Urban Forest Plan, the Parcel Priority Plan, and the Open Space and Recreation Plan – together, these plans will expand urban tree canopy, improve the parks system, and help Bostonians adapt to and thrive in a changing climate. Regionally, Boston is coordinating its Heat Plan efforts with 3 ongoing regional heat vulnerability and analysis planning efforts: 1) Wicked Hot Mystic through the Museum of Science, Mystic River Watershed Association, and the City of Cambridge, 2) C-HEAT through Boston University, GreenRoots, and the City of Chelsea, and 3) Regional heat preparedness planning through the Metropolitan Area Planning Council (MAPC).

Although heat is a relatively new and accelerating climate risk to New England climates like Boston, extreme heat remains as the number one killer of any weather-related climate threat – more so than hurricanes, tornadoes, flooding, and cold weather combined. As the Heat Plan asserts, in order to build extreme heat resilience, we must address exposure to extreme heat, adaptive capacity to access cooling, and the sensitivity of certain populations to changes in temperature, due to factors like health, housing, and age. Additionally, the Wu administration is ensuring that the Heat Plan embeds a just, equitable, and resilient Boston for all communities in its heat solutions, with community experiences and expertise woven throughout the Plan. These include comprehensive suggestions for increased access to cooling, improved social resilience and connectedness, and strategies for addressing the systemic inequities that contribute to hotter neighborhoods in communities of color.


As part of Boston’s citywide actions to address extreme heat, the Heat Plan offers 26 strategies to apply across all communities with a whole-of-government approach. The strategies are separated into near-term relief solutions during heat waves (across operations & communications, cooling during heat waves, looking out for neighbors, and awareness, education, & training) and longer-term heat resilience solutions to address the systemic and root causes of extreme heat (across buildings, parks, trees, & outdoor spaces, transportation & infrastructure, and planning, zoning, & permitting).


A Better City would like to help address extreme heat solutions in our communities. Member organizations and the private sector could be transformational in helping the city to implement heat solutions in downtown neighborhoods, like Chinatown, and at a regional scale in Greater Boston. A Better City hopes to identify and compile heat resilience solutions supported by the private sector in Boston, informed by the expertise of our membership and complementary to the City’s 26 identified heat resilience strategies.


While there are 26 citywide heat resilience solutions offered for application across neighborhoods, the Heat Plan also distinguishes neighborhood-specific heat risks and vulnerabilities in 5 focus areas that then inform customized heat solutions for Chinatown, Dorchester, East Boston, Mattapan, and Roxbury. For the purposes of this blogpost, three neighborhoods that have significant ABC member presence are summarized: Chinatown, East Boston, and Roxbury.

  • Chinatown is the hottest of the 5 neighborhoods. It struggles to cool down at night and remains in the 99th percentile for traffic proximity and volume compared to all block groups in the U.S. The solutions for Chinatown must be contextualized to the neighborhood’s industrial buildings with large footprints and dark roofs, large industrial campuses, and large surface roads. Community-informed solutions for Chinatown include: shaded, vegetated, cool walks to local destinations and main streets; commercial buildings with cool rooftops and energy efficient strategies; cool, shaded pavement and surface parking; cool homes; more shaded gathering spaces with natural play space; cool schools; a socially resilient indoor cooling network, and; heat-resilient design for new development. A discussion with the business community within and around Chinatown could begin to address large commercial and industrial campuses that contribute to the neighborhood’s heat vulnerability.

  • East Boston is quite different from Chinatown with cool waterfronts, a grid street system that allows for some cross breezes, some of the lowest tree canopy cover of any neighborhood, and hot inland neighborhoods. With the largest immigrant population (over 50%) of any neighborhood, East Boston is a vibrant community that is socially vulnerable; 20% of East Boston’s population is low-income and 81% of housing units are renter-occupied, making solutions tailored to cool homes difficult to implement. In addition to the heat resilience solutions suggested in Chinatown, East Boston’s neighborhood-specific suggestions include accessible public indoor cooling, finding renter-tailored options for staying cool at home, cooling the neighborhood’s built environment, community partnerships for social resilience, and cooler outdoor gathering places.

  • Roxbury experiences pockets of extreme heat. Areas surrounding Franklin Park are some of the coolest while areas around Newmarket and the Frederick Douglas Square Historic District experience the neighborhood’s hottest temperatures. As a central hub of Boston’s Black community (approximately 50% of residents identify as Black, compared to a citywide 23%), Roxbury has been a community shaped by racist housing and land use policies like redlining that contributed to denser, hotter urban neighborhoods and less access to parks and open space. The community has a high percentage of renters, uneven park access (outside of Franklin Park, only 6% of the neighborhood is park space compared to the citywide average of 23%), and high rates of air pollution. In addition to the solutions suggested for Chinatown and East Boston, Roxbury’s community-informed solutions include: a green neighborhood network (e.g. green space connectivity with cool routes/connected cool corridors); cool schools and heat education in schools, and; community-led heat preparedness and communications.


As we await complementary City resilience plans like the anticipated 20-Year Urban Forest Plan, A Better City will work with members and the Wu Administration to identify opportunities for collaboration and public-private partnerships in the implementation of Boston’s Heat Plan solutions. We hope to help identify additional heat resilience strategies to deploy within the business community both at the individual building/landowner scale and at a regional scale in Greater Boston. Additionally, with energy prices continuing to climb as extreme temperatures are normalized, a key part of Boston’s extreme heat resilience will have to look at the role of utilities and energy affordability in keeping our communities safe; we cannot and should not have residents putting their health and survival at risk because they cannot afford to run a fan or air conditioner in their homes.

Given the threat that extreme heat poses to our communities, our critical infrastructure, our businesses, and our region’s survival and economic vitality as a whole – it is imperative that we do whatever we can to help act now. A Better City applauds the Wu Administration for such a comprehensive, community-informed, and strategic Heat Plan for Boston, and we look forward to helping the City implement its Heat Plan in partnership with the business community.

For any questions and more information on the Heat Plan and A Better City’s extreme heat work, please contact Isabella Gambill.

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