Street Grids May Make Cities Hotter

Yet Roland Pellenq, a senior research scientist at MIT’s Concrete Sustainability Hub, wondered how much the actual layout of a city area contributes to the intensity of the urban heat island effect. To find the answer, Pellenq and his team turned to physics.

In a paper published last month in the journal Physical Review Letters, he and his team concluded that the “texture” of a city makes a big difference. Grids may be making cities much warmer than nearby suburbs and countryside.

It all began while Pellenq was on his coffee break, looking at Boston’s skyline from across the Charles River. To him, the buildings resembled water molecules piled up on a surface. So, he thought, “why don’t we calculate the relative position of [the buildings] and see if there is a pattern of order that emerges?”