Blog #22: Hot in Vienna

June 10, 2021 
Monika Weber-Fahr
It’s hot. And it’s getting hotter. After a cool and wet spring here in Vienna, we now regularly see 27, 28, or even 29 Centigrade on the thermometer, with 14 hours of sun throughout the day, blue blue skies, and relatively little wind. Like many people, I live in a flat without air conditioning, glad that temperatures go down in the evening, allowing us to cool down overnight. This is something we won’t be able to do in July or August. Climate Change has put Vienna, like many many cities around the world, on a path towards more and more Heat Days per year, defined as days with 30 Centigrade or more. Last weekend, I found out what the city administration is doing about this, and how we can all help - and so this week’s Living Light blog offers some of the facts and insights I learned.
How did she find out about this, you might ask yourself... Well, I did a tour with Austria Guides for the Future, one of several organizations offering guided walks and bike rides across Vienna that combine traditional sightseeing and historical storytelling with concrete insights in the green dimension of urban planning and interventions in Vienna. The tour was offered as part of the Wir Sind Wien Festival (We are Vienna), a month-long series of activities that includes, on the green side of things, a June 11 a bicycle tour through Simmering featuring new and green concepts of urban mobility, and on June 13, a walk through the greenest part of Vienna (Hietzing). Much of it may be in German only, but one can also arrange for English-only tours directly.

Yes, these poppies are blooming in the middle of the 5th district, part of the city's program to have wild plants grow in public and semi-public places, reducing the city's heat and improving liability. City-speak for this is "Naturnahe Grünoase" (Green Oasis, close to nature)
But back to what we ourselves can do: Given that the number of Heat Days in Vienna has been growing steadily over the past decades, and that many people, notably children and more senior folks, tend to not react well when exposed to heat over longer times, the city has developed a useful heat map, listing parts of town that are particularly exposed. This is based on the temperatures typically measured in these areas and based on the share of young people and senior citizens living there. Check it out. The third district, home to Christ Church Vienna - is not the hottest among them, but does have a few heat islands. The tour I took last weekend mostly focused on Margareten, the 5th District, which joins Favoriten (10th) and Ottakring (16th) for the dubious record of having more of these islands than other parts of town. Here, our guide told us, temperatures can be up to 10 degrees hotter than in other parts of town. Why? It’s about the way houses are constructed, the amount of green infrastructure in the streets, in terms of trees and other plants, and structural elements that can bring or prevent a cooling breeze.
Vienna’s way of dealing with the (increasing) heat is based on two elements: More green and more blue. The blue side of things is both visibly impressive and fun: It involves, for example, setting up some 1100 water fountains (Trinkbrunnen) on the premise that no one should be further away than 500 metres from an opportunity to drink. There are also Water Mist Showers being put up, in addition to mobile carts with a water misty function, and then, of course, there are water playgrounds and free bathing opportunities alongside the various shores of the Danube. How can one find these when you are in a hot apartment? The city now offers a free app that can guide you to the closest water fountain, water park, coolest park to sit in, and so on.
 
Green facades, vertical gardens, contribute greatly to lowering outside temperatures in the city, and so the municipality is offering subsidies to those greening their facades. This building houses Vienna's waste management teams ("48ers"), located in the 5th District.
While the city seems to have a lot of great plans and initiatives, regular citizens can do a lot to help too. One thing we can do is to apply for and run a Parklet. These are little wooden structures that will be built on top of 1-3 parking spaces, offering areas to sit and enjoy some greenery. Another way of being engaged is to become an urban gardener, looking after one or more Baumscheiben, planting and looking after flowers and other greenery there. A third thing you can do if you own a flat in a house: Convince your neighbours to invest in greening the front of your building. The city is currently offering generous subsidies for Green Facades. Also called living walls or vertical gardens, these nice looking green structures are becoming increasingly popular around the world and seem to be effective in fighting city heat.
As we move into the summer this year, let’s keep our eyes open also for those who struggle to deal with the heat. Coordinated by Caritas Wien, a number of churches are opening up their properties for people living in overheated flats with no place to go or who may be homeless, inviting them to cool down for a few hours a day. If you are looking for a list of facilities and tips on what to do and how to help, check out the city’s resources in German or English.
 
Water points like this one offer both drinking water and heat-relief through mist, this one is in the 5th District. Check out the app that tells you where there is a misty water point close to you.
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