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Children play in a fountain in Brooklyn, New York, last month, when there was an excessive heat alert in the city. Photo by Ed Jones/AFP via Getty Images

Hot times, summer in the city: As rising temperatures turn urban centers into smoldering heat bubbles, cities are turning to technology like reflective pavement coatings and "cool roofs."

Why it matters: Climate change will keep making cities hotter, and municipal leaders are starting to acknowledge that planting trees, opening "cooling centers," and putting white paint on streets and rooftops will not be enough.

What's happening: A growing number of startups are crowding into the market for products to counter "urban heat islands," with experimental (and proven) technologies aimed at absorbing or reflecting surface heat on roads, sidewalks, buildings and other structures.

  • "It's really an exciting time," Kurt Shickman, executive director of the Global Cool Cities Alliance, a 10-year-old nonprofit based in Washington, D.C., tells Axios. "The concept [of using technology to offset the sun's energy] is not new, but we are seeing a lot of innovation in the space now. "
  • His organization — with 70 member cities worldwide, including 25 in the U.S. — is dedicated to "passive cooling" techniques, which don't rely on electricity (vs. "active cooling" like air conditioning).

While "cool roofs" have been around for more than 30 years, the technology is evolving rapidly, Shickman says: "For any type of roof you can imagine, there is a way to make a cooler version of it. That's really where the innovation sits on that side."

  • "A cool roof is one that has been designed to reflect more sunlight and absorb less heat than a standard roof," per the Department of Energy. "Cool roofs can be made of a highly reflective type of paint, a sheet covering, or highly reflective tiles or shingles."

On the pavement side, the market has "really only been around for about a decade — it's a very young market," Shickman says.

  • Cool pavement is "a water-based asphalt treatment that is applied on top of the existing asphalt pavement," per the city of Phoenix, which is doing the largest U.S. demonstration of the technology and will present its findings virtually on Sept. 14.
  • "It's made with asphalt, water, an emulsifying agent (soap), mineral fillers, polymers and recycled materials," a city website explains. "It contains no harmful chemicals and is compatible with traditional asphalt."

But creating cool pavements "is more complicated than roofs," says a report issued in July by Climate Central. "In cities with urban canyons, the sunlight may not even reach the street level long enough to make a significant difference."

What they're saying: Whitewashing sidewalks and roadways is just the beginning. "We're seeing lots of innovation there, not just in going to a light-colored pavement — there's a wide variety of different ways you can actually make a pavement cool," says Shickman.

  • Those include using different colors and advanced coatings or sealants — some of which can make a roadway "30% reflective instead of 5% reflective."

Details: Cities like Los Angeles, Phoenix and Tokyo are in the vanguard of using cool pavement technology to combat urban heat islands.

  • New York and San Antonio and Austin, Texas, are in discussions about it, per Shickman.

Globally, the Cool Coalition, hosted by the United Nations Environment Programme, works to do things like reducing reliance on A/C by getting people to replace their air conditioners with heat pumps, which are more environmentally friendly.

Be smart: "Extreme urban heat is a public health threat, especially for individuals and communities that are more vulnerable due to health, social, economic, or other reasons," says the Climate Central report.

  • The report recommends everything from cool pavements and rooftops to solar panels, public assistance with energy bills, and, of course, planting trees.

Go deeper

1 hour ago - Politics & Policy

Scoop: Beto plans Texas comeback in governor's race

Former U.S. Rep. Beto O'Rourke speaks during the Georgetown to Austin March for Democracy rally on July 31, 2021 in Austin, Texas. (Photo by Brandon Bell/Getty Images)

Former Rep. Beto O’Rourke is preparing to run for governor of Texas in 2022, with an announcement expected later this year, Texas political operatives tell Axios.

Why it matters: O'Rourke's entry would give Democrats a high-profile candidate with a national fundraising network to challenge Republican Gov. Greg Abbott — and give O’Rourke, a former three-term congressman from El Paso and 2020 presidential candidate and voting rights activist, a path to a political comeback.

Texas doctor says he performed an abortion in violation of state law

Pro-choice protesters march down Congress Avenue and back to the Texas state capitol in Austin, Tx in July 2021. Photo: Erich Schlegel/Getty Images

A Texas doctor disclosed in an op-ed in the Washington Post Saturday that he has performed an abortion in violation of the state's restrictive new abortion law, which bans effectively bans the procedure after six weeks.

Why it matters: Alan Braid's op-ed is a direct disclosure that will very likely result in legal action, thereby setting it up as a potential test case for how the abortion ban will be litigated, notes the New York Times.

Mike Allen, author of AM
3 hours ago - Technology

Axios interview: Facebook to try for more transparency

Nick Clegg last year. Photo: Matthew Sobocinski/USA Today via Reuters

Nick Clegg, Facebook's vice president of global affairs, tells me the company will try to provide more data to outside researchers to scrutinize the health of activity on Facebook and Instagram, following The Wall Street Journal's brutal look at internal documents.

Driving the news: Clegg didn't say that in his public response to the series. So I called him to push for what Facebook will actually do differently given the new dangers raised by The Journal.