Study underway to control heat levels in Gadsden Green in downtown Charleston

Published: Aug. 31, 2022 at 4:57 PM EDT|Updated: Aug. 31, 2022 at 7:00 PM EDT
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CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCSC) - It is no secret temperatures in the Lowcountry can get hot during the day, but a group of organizations, including the city of Charleston, are looking at how heat impacts the health of a downtown neighborhood.

City of Charleston Chief Resilience Officer Dale Morris said Wednesday that heat kills more people than any other natural disaster.

“We don’t have a hot day. We have hot months here,” Morris said. “People sort of get used to that, but if you don’t get cooling at nighttime, the heat manifests and causes health problems.”

A group of scientists came out to the Gadsden Green neighborhood over the weekend during a cloudy day, and they measured the temperature of the pavement to be 118 degrees Fahrenheit, which they say reaches dangerous levels.

There are 11 organizations, including the city, that are involved in the Charleston Heat Health Research Project, which is fully funded by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

The study first started in 2020. It identified Gadsden Green, the medical district and the Union Pier Terminal as having the most intense heat on the peninsula.

Scientists will be looking at how the direction of the wind, tree shading, building materials and even the paint on the buildings contributes to that heat.

“What we’re trying to understand is what’s going on here in the neighborhood outside of the buildings,” Morris said, “and eventually, inside of the buildings to see what we can learn from that and what kind of solutions we would be able to offer to the housing authority and to a bunch of other folks around the city as the city gets redeveloped.”

Charleston Housing Authority CEO Art Milligan said there are around 400 units in the neighborhood.

“We’ve heard that constantly, that the heat is exhausting,” Milligan said.

Milligan said the housing authority already had plans to either rehabilitate or reposition the buildings, meaning they would tear them down and redevelop the area in phases over the next four to five years. He said the results of the study could help them decide where to place those buildings.

“We wouldn’t do it all at one time,” Milligan said. “We would phase it out, and that way we would be able to give residents a place to stay until the units were rebuilt.”

Morris said the community will play a big part in the neighborhood’s future.

“How they may like us to improve the buildings, to improve the streetscape, to put more trees and things like that, so they’re going to be a part of this process going forward,” Morris said.

Scientists expect to have the results from this study in October. That is when they will share those recommendations on how to further cool down the neighborhood.