Cities across the country experience higher summer temperatures and worse air pollution than surrounding suburban and rural areas, and low-income communities in cities—which generally have greater population density, dark surfaces, and less tree coverage—feel these effects even more. Excess heat and poor air quality are tied to increased health problems, high energy bills, and decreased productivity in schools and at work. Can greener infrastructure reverse these effects while saving cities money?
This report analyzes the costs and benefits of applying smart surface technologies (e.g., cool roofs, green roofs, solar photovoltaic systems, reflective pavements, and urban trees) in El Paso, Texas; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; and Washington, DC, which previous research has not done. It draws on multiple methods, studies, and models to create an integrated methodology to estimate the impact of smart surface technologies. Costs include first costs, operations and maintenance, additional replacements, and employment training. Estimated benefits include energy savings, financial incentives, stormwater management, health outcomes, climate change, and employment. Additional impacts are not included because of insufficient data or lack of existing rigorous studies. The findings suggest that investing in smart surface technologies in urban areas can improve health outcomes, create jobs, and strengthen resilience while securing billions in net financial benefits.