Officials and planners in Las Vegas say they are working to reduce rising temperatures in a city where paved areas create a warmer environment than plant-covered or rural desert areas.
Several business, city and academic representatives at a roundtable last week considered an August report by the Urban Land Institute that found Las Vegas is the most intense “urban heat island” city in the U.S., the Las Vegas Sun reported .
The term refers to a metropolitan area that’s significantly warmer than surrounding rural areas because of human activity.
The finding came after science news organization Climate Central reported in April that average temperatures have risen faster in Las Vegas than any other city in the nation — nearly 5.8 degrees since 1970.
Heat-related deaths also are rising.
Las Vegas is working on a new master plan that will repurpose abandoned or underdeveloped parts of the city, add more vegetation and discourage use of vehicles, chief sustainability officer Tom Perrigo said.
“We built the city with way too much right-of-way for cars,” Perrigo said. “We’re taking it back and giving it to people and trees and plants.”
The Oct. 15 roundtable included Perrigo, Urban Land Institute researcher Elizabeth Foster, Southern Nevada Water Authority executive John Entsminger, University of Nevada, Las Vegas, School of Architecture director Steffen Lehmann and Tom Warden, senior vice president of the Howard Hughes Corp.
Lehmann said the Las Vegas area could introduce more vegetation to public spaces, increase urban density, diversify land-use types within neighborhoods and upgrade buildings to be more sustainable.
“(This) could be disruptive and it will be significant what we have to change, but here we are, and this is a good start,” Lehmann said.
Rapid growth offers an opportunity to innovate to tackle urban heat, he said.
Some casino-resorts on the Las Vegas Strip are making changes, Lehmann said, citing a huge array of solar panels on the roof at Mandalay Bay as an example. But the sprawling properties use a lot of energy, food and water.
Warden said his company’s master-planned northwest Las Vegas community of Summerlin is replacing water-thirsty landscaping and decorative panels with drought-friendly plants.
The developer also plans more trees in public spaces and hopes to build denser, mixed-use neighborhoods in its remaining 35 square miles (90 square kilometers) of undeveloped area.
While increasing green spaces and incorporating plants into urban areas could lessen the urban heat island effect, landscaping in Las Vegas still uses more water than any other source.
Entsminger said the water authority encourages planners to choose desert-friendly and drought-tolerant plants.
“We think there’s a lot of tree canopy that exists in Las Vegas today that probably isn’t going to survive these warmer temperatures,” he said.