One of Europe’s hottest cities turns to 1,000-year-old technology to beat the heat

One of Europe’s hottest cities turns to 1,000-year-old technology to beat the heat

Many Spanish children’s childhood memories of the summer are filled with sweat, long siestas and street games around grandmothers who brought their folding chairs outside as soon as the sun went down and spent the most pleasant hours of the day talking with neighbors and friends, writes Bloomberg.

The tradition is known in Spanish as charla al fresco, and last year a village in the southern region of Andalucia petitioned for UNESCO World Heritage status. The village’s mayor claims the old tradition is in danger due to the mass penetration of social media, which encourages people to stare at their phones or computers instead of having real conversations.

This summer’s record high temperatures, however, show that it’s not just social media that threatens old European traditions. The heat – even at night – keeps Spanish grandmothers indoors in many villages. The worst heatwave on record in the west of the continent this summer has seen many villages in France and Britain cancel public gatherings, street markets and festivals to protect people from dangerously high temperatures.

This is nothing new for Seville, where people don’t leave their homes until 8pm in the summer and where local festivals usually start at 10pm. Built along the Guadalquivir River in the Middle Ages, the Spanish city regularly registers temperatures above 40°C in July and August. This will worsen as the planet warms, with scientists expecting several consecutive days of temperatures above 50°C there over the next five to ten years.

“It is our responsibility to take measures to avoid a scenario where this city becomes unlivable,” said Seville Mayor Antonio Muñoz. “We need to develop measures to mitigate the effects of climate change,” he pointed out.

Battling the heat in Seville is nothing new – photos from as far back as 1940 show streets covered with large sunshades that shield people from direct sunlight and help keep cool in some of the city’s most popular parts. In the past few years, these measures have been extended to taxi ranks, public playgrounds, schools and hospital entrances.

“We call it shadow politics,” Munoz said. “This is just one of the many things we need to do if we want to be able to use the streets – from children playing to people wanting to shop or just sit outside and talk,” he added.

The city is also using every other strategy to adapt to the heat — installing public fountains, planting 5,000 trees a year and switching to building materials that reflect heat. And because extreme heat calls for extreme measures, earlier this summer Seville became the first city in the world to name and categorize heat waves the same way the US or Asian nations name hurricanes and typhoons.

Heatwave Zoe was designated as a Category 3 heat event, the most severe of the three levels provided in the categorization system. It hit Seville at the end of July and brought minimum temperatures of around 30°C and maximums of over 43°C.

The pilot initiative, supported by the Adrienne Arsht-Rockefeller Foundation’s Center for Resilience, means that each heat wave will trigger measures such as opening city pools and water parks or deploying health workers to screen vulnerable populations.

“Heat kills more people than any other climate-induced hazard, and it doesn’t have to,” says Arsht-Rock director Kathy Baughman McLeod. “Her quiet, invisible nature makes the challenge of explaining how serious this is extremely difficult,” she adds.

But adapting to the heat today is not enough. At the current level of emissions and with the latest policies to combat climate change, global temperatures are still expected to rise by between 2.4°C and 2.7°C by the end of the century compared to pre-industrial averages. calculated by the non-profit organization Climate Action Tracker. This level of warming would make life in some parts of the world impossible.

Seville’s answer to this prediction is CartujaQanat, a €5 million pilot project that aims to reduce average temperatures around one street by 10°C. The project, 80% of which is funded by the European Union and should be completed in October, is led by the City Hall of Seville and supported by various institutions, including the University of Seville.

To reduce average temperatures, engineers have devised a way to replicate an ancient Persian technology. Ganates are systems developed over 1,000 years ago and consist of underground channels that carry water over a large area to be cooled. Vertical shafts drilled along the canal bring underground air to the surface, lowering temperatures above ground.

The new system will replace an old gannet that was first used in modern Seville in 1992 as an experimental project while the city hosted the Universal Exposition. This helped to lower the street temperature by 3°C, but the engines that kept the water moving in the canal were powered by fossil fuels. Now, technology developed by engineers at the University of Seville allows this system to run on renewable energy.

Another experiment envisions cool groundwater being pumped above ground and directed to the top of a building. From there, it will flow down the porous walls, helping to lower temperatures inside and out. Special benches connected to this system will allow people to sit and recover from extreme heat, says Lucas Perea, an employee at Seville’s public water company EMASESA. “It sounds like science fiction, but it’s applicable to a bunch of spaces around the city,” he said, adding, “You just need a little imagination and the involvement of local stakeholders.”

And while EMASESA is helping to develop the CartujaQanat project, it will also use the same technology in a series of so-called “comfort rooms” along one of Seville’s main avenues, where people will be able to seek refuge from the sweltering heat. Talks are underway with the municipal metro and bus companies to create a similar system in the main communication hubs of the city.

“Old traditions like charlas al fresco should not disappear,” Perea said. “But it will be increasingly difficult to conserve them if we don’t figure out how to manage public spaces as the world warms,” ​​he adds.