A Portfolio Approach to Urban Heat: Navigating in the Learning Space

June 20, 2024

Urban Heat is happening and Skopje is no exception. The United Nations estimates that by 2050, roughly 70% of the world's population will live in urban areas. The cities are warming up and people are increasingly exposed to high temperatures. According to the University of Hawaii, deadly heatwaves could affect 74 percent of the world’s population. As we speak, we are having challenges with the sever warning on heat waves in Asia and the earliest heat wave recorded in Greece. The trend of more frequent and more extreme weathers is in rise.

Through a series of strategic interventions and collaborative efforts, we have been working to address this pressing issue. Using the Chora Foundation's robust framework for strategy making, which emphasizes Problem Space, Learning Space, and Solution Space, we have embarked on a journey to make sense of the urban heat phenomenon, take actionable steps, and drive impactful decisions.


Problem Space: Understanding Urban Heat in Skopje

The first step in our approach was to thoroughly understand the problem. Urban heat in Skopje has multifaceted impacts, particularly affecting vulnerable populations, including the youth. To grasp the extent of these challenges, we engaged with young people to learn about their experiences and how they cope with the heat. This grassroots level understanding was crucial in framing the problem accurately.

In 2018 UNDP CO in North Macedonia in partnership with City of Skopje supported a study on urban heat Islands. This work provided a on-time snapshot on how the temperature in Skopje varies, and was carried out through areo-spatial temperature scanning.  This was an important step to understand how temperature differs depending on where you live, where you work, and most importantly where you move in the city. As Accelerator Lab, we took a step further carried out interviews with architects, civil society organizations, informal bikers’ community in the city. This also gave a great insight on multiple levels of complexities that are associated with the heat. 


Learning Space: Building Knowledge and Collaborative Insights

Our next focus was on expanding our knowledge and fostering collaborations to gain deeper insights into urban heat and potential solutions. To this end, we organized several key activities:

  1. Expert Consultations: We held discussions with the Chief Heat Officer of Athens and the Adrienn Arsth Rockefeller Foundation Resilience Center to discuss what policies and tools cities could deploy to deal with the growing temperatures in urban areas, and the heatwaves that have been affecting. We also  organized a call with Harvard University’s FXB Center for Health and Human Rights to explore the intersection of heat and health. These conversations provided us with valuable expert perspectives on how to understand heat, as well as how to ideate on intervention and strategies that could be adapted to Skopje.
  2. Collective Intelligence for Climate Action: We started a collective intelligence initiative, forming an informal group known as Cool Heroes. This group, comprising diverse stakeholders, focused on collecting data, identifying the heat islands, and brainstorming and sharing ideas for climate action related to urban heat in Skopje.
  3. Global Solution Mapping: To gather a wide array of solutions, we launched a campaign to map how various stakeholders globally tackle heat-related challenges. This resulted in a comprehensive dataset of 247 solutions, empowering both individual and collective actions against urban heat.
  4. Collaboration with Academia: We published our dataset on GitHub and collaborated with universities to analyze the solutions. This partnership aimed to extract valuable insights and intelligence from the data, enhancing our understanding of effective cooling strategies.

To further enhance our learning space, we can expand research partnerships by broadening academic collaborations with global universities and engaging with think tanks specializing in climate change and urban planning. Launching citizen science initiatives, can provide more granular insights into local heat distribution and engage residents in the process. Establishing city-to-city learning exchanges and hosting international conferences will facilitate knowledge exchange with other cities and experts. Utilizing advanced data analytics, AI for deeper analysis of our global solutions dataset, and developing predictive models will enhance our understanding and proactive planning. 

Conducting policy impact studies and offering advocacy training can help identify and address gaps in current policies. Engaging with the private sector for innovative cooling solutions and partnering with CSOs can broaden our outreach and impact. Testing new technologies and integrating urban heat management into smart city initiatives will leverage technological advancements. 

Solution Space: Implementing and Innovating Cooling Strategies

With a initial understanding of the problem and enriched knowledge from our learning initiatives, we opened up to activate couple of options in different dimensions. These activations are: 


  1. Workshops for Solution Typologies: We organized workshops with AccLab colleagues to derive typologies of cooling solutions. These sessions helped categorize the various strategies, helped sense on how the solutions are designed and implemented. We are aiming on creating insights that brings the value of the open R&D at the global network of Accelerator Labs. 
  2. Generative AI for Urban Redesign: Leveraging cutting-edge technology, we used a Generative AI tool (text to image) to redesign heat islands in Skopje. This innovative approach allowed us to visualize and plan practical interventions to mitigate urban heat. We created an image bank with visuals that convey the conversations among various interest groups in the city. This was an important aspect that resulted in participation and collective action at local level. 


  1. Prototyping: (1)Collaborating with the #FabLab at the Faculty of Electrical Engineering and Information Technology in Skopje, we developed prototypes of devices to measure the micro-climate. These devices will be installed in specific locations to generate granular data, providing us with a detailed understanding of the urban heat dynamics and opening up datasets for further research and action.


(2) Together with the Faculty of Architecture in Skopje, we launched a design challenges with students to work on public water fountains. 

We also organized a joint workshop together with the Faculty of Architecture in Skopje, where we implemented a ‘student’s design challenge on the topic of sustainable public water infrastructure –redesigning the public fountains in the city’. Our team presented the work we've done with the crowd-mapping campaign, and pinpointed from our research the challenges we see in the current set up of public fountains [water losses, accessibility, materials, environment etc.]. We set the challenge for the students and worked with their teachers on the deadlines, awards and next steps.


In conclusion, we had a deliberated attempt to make sense of our work on addressing urban heat in Skopje through a portfolio approach. Moving forward, we aim to continue engagement with global and local stakeholders, leveraging advanced data analytics, and fostering community involvement and this will be crucial in our ongoing efforts to build a resilient and cooler urban environment for Skopje's residents. Through these multifaceted initiatives, we are not only addressing the immediate impacts of urban heat but also paving the way for a more climate-resilient future.


We extend our heartfelt thanks to our dedicated colleagues who made this blog possible and supported the activation of our solutions. Special gratitude goes to Lazar Pop Ivanov for his invaluable input during the writing process. We also thank colleagues from the Accelerator Lab team for their creativity in organizing workshops and prototyping sessions. Finally, thanks to the teams at the Faculty of Electrical Engineering and Information Technology and the Faculty of Architecture in Skopje for their essential collaboration in developing prototypes and participating in design challenges.