Since there are no currently active contests, we have switched Climate CoLab to read-only mode.
Learn more at
Skip navigation

Urban Heat Island Effect 2015


How can we effectively mitigate the urban heat island effect in Cambridge, Massachusetts?

Submit proposals:
Deadline:  February 6, 2015, at 11:59:59 PM U.S. Eastern Time
Rules:  All entrants must agree to the 2014 Contest Rules.

Webinar with Jennifer Lawrence and Bronwyn Cooke from the City of Cambridge



The goal of this contest is to crowdsource tangible and realistic ideas for how to mitigate the urban heat island effect in Cambridge, Massachusetts. The City of Cambridge intends to utilize winning proposals in our policy, regulatory and planning processes moving forward.

Prizes include:

  1. At least one proposal will ultimately win the contest and have a newly planted tree in Cambridge dedicated to them.
  2. At least one winner will be invited to present their idea in front of the Cambridge Climate Protection Action Committee at an official public meeting.
  3. All winners of this contest will be considered for inclusion in the Climate Change Preparedness and Resiliency Plan, and will be asked to meet with City staff for further discussion about the proposals.



Why are ideas being sought for this topic?

The City of Cambridge seeks innovative, realistic, actionable, and location-based strategies to mitigate UHI in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Cambridge is midway through a series of long-term planning processes to decrease our community impact on global climate change, and to prepare for the effects that climate change will have on our residents and infrastructure. The City is conducting the Climate Change Vulnerability Assessment and will develop a Preparedness and Resiliency Plan, a process that will allow for the City to begin preparing for changing climate. Cambridge’s Climate Protection Action Committee (CPAC), an advisory group that advises the City on issues concerning climate, has developed a series of climate goals and objectives for 2020, which were ratified by the City Council in July of 2014. One of these goals is to minimize the urban heat island effect by fulfilling the following objectives:

Ideas are being sought through this contest to help us to achieve the final objective on this list. We seek innovative policy, program, incentive, and/or regulatory ideas that are specific and measurable to reduce the urban heat island effect in our community.

All plans mentioned above are linked to in the references section.


What are the important problems/key issues being faced?

Protecting existing vegetation/tree canopy

Protecting existing tree canopy and vegetated space is essential to reduce UHI. While new trees can be planted, they take years to fully develop into a shade providing canopy. Cambridge’s mature trees have developed extensive canopies that take decades to replace.

Increasing vegetative cover, especially in neighborhoods with higher heat index.

There is growing evidence that when 35% of a community’s land area is vegetative surface, the community begins to see climate adaptation benefits. Many neighborhoods in Cambridge do not meet this threshold for vegetative cover. An analysis of tree cover and heat index in Cambridge shows a strong correlation between low tree canopy cover and higher temperatures. Cambridge needs to ensure that solutions improve neighborhood conditions.

Reducing the absorption of heat in the built environment.

The built environment is typically constructed of materials that absorb rather than reflect solar radiation. This creates surfaces that absorb heat during the day, and slowly release it in the evening, both of which create a localized heating effect.

Developing policies and programs that encourage use of the most effective UHI mitigation strategies in both public and private property.


Contest Guidelines

The City of Cambridge seeks proposals that meet the following criteria:

  1. All proposals must be specific, location-based (Cambridge-specific), realistic, actionable, relevant, and measurable.
  2. Projects that are most successful will target neighborhoods with the highest heat index in Cambridge.
  3. Proposals should demonstrate effectiveness and will describe how success will be measured.
  4. Proposals should detail expected benefits and costs, including ideas for funding projects.
  5. Proposals will be creative and will not just target the ‘low-hanging fruit.’


Solution Types

The City of Cambridge is looking for solutions to the urban heat island effect that address or include one or more of the following:

  1. Community-based actions
  2. City-led actions
  3. Strategies/solutions for Public property
  4. Strategies/solutions for Private property
  5. Policy-focused strategies/solutions
  6. Regulatory strategies/solutions
  7. Incentive programs
  8. Infrastructure projects
  9. Actions focused on the built environment
  10. Actions focused on the vegetative environment
  11. Innovative data analysis
  12. Any other project you can dream up


Scope of Use

This contest seeks proposals local to the city of Cambridge, Massachusetts, and prefers projects that are neighborhood-based and focus on specific locations within Cambridge. Winning projects will be incorporated into planning efforts to prepare for and mitigate the effects of climate change, and thus should be realistic, well thought out, and relevant to Cambridge.