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Cities for Smart Surfaces Project: Transforming Urban Environments

Over time, urbanization has replaced green spaces with heat-trapping asphalt and dark rooftops.

With significantly higher temperatures, these "urban heat islands" pose a major public health threat, disproportionately impacting vulnerable populations and communities of color who often lack access to green spaces and infrastructure upgrades.

Photo of rowhouses showing that dark, non-porous surfaces in urban areas lead to extreme heat

APHA is excited to partner with the Smart Surfaces Coalition on the Cities for Smart Surfaces project, along with the National League of Cities, Metropolitan AME, American Lung Association and many others.

This groundbreaking project brings together six APHA affiliates from across the country to explore the potential of smart surfaces to improve public health in urban environments.

What are smart surfaces?


Smart surfaces are transformative technologies to help cities withstand the health effects of climate change.

Photos of smart surfaces, including cool roofs, green roofs, porous and permeable pavements, solar photovoltaics, cool pavements, tree and rain gardens, low- and zero-carbon concrete and combined surfaces

For example:

  • Reflective (cool) roofs and pavements help cool cities by reflecting sunlight, reducing the urban heat island effect.
  • Green roofs covered with vegetation provide insulation, absorb rainwater and enhance air quality.
  • Trees, forming urban forests, play a crucial role in cooling and improving overall well-being.
  • Solar photovoltaics, or solar panels, generate clean energy while reducing heat absorption.
  • Rain gardens manage stormwater, prevent flooding and enhance biodiversity.

Why do smart surfaces matter?


Smart surfaces build climate resilience and improve public health by:

  • Mitigating extreme heat. As global temperatures rise, cities face more frequent and intense heat waves. Smart surfaces like reflective roofs and green spaces help cool urban areas, reducing the risk of heat-related illnesses.
  • Preventing flooding. Intense rainfall events lead to urban flooding. Smart surfaces like rain gardens and permeable pavements manage stormwater effectively, preventing floods and safeguarding communities.
  • Reducing heat-related illnesses. Extreme heat poses a significant health risk, especially for vulnerable populations. Smart surfaces mitigate heat island effects, making cities healthier and more livable.
  • Improving air quality. Trees, green roofs and reflective pavements improve air quality by absorbing pollutants and reducing emissions. Cleaner air translates to better respiratory health for residents.
  • Boosting mental well-being. Access to green spaces and aesthetically pleasing environments positively impacts mental health. Smart surfaces enhance urban aesthetics, promoting well-being.

Our Approach


We’re proud to collaborate with six APHA affiliates by providing grants and training to raise awareness about smart surfaces’ benefits, influence local policies and planning, and drive regional smart surface projects:

Our commitment to health equity is ingrained throughout the project. Through an equity lens, we assess how smart surface projects impact different communities, ensuring no one is left behind. Our Affiliates also focus on community engagement as they involve residents, especially those in underserved areas, to co-create solutions.

Stay Connected!


We invite you to follow along with the Cities for Smart Surfaces initiative as it unfolds. We will be sharing updates on the project's progress, key findings, and resources on this webpage. Additionally, you can connect with us on social media using the hashtag #CitiesForSmartSurfaces.

Learn more about the project.

Together, we can build cooler, healthier and more sustainable cities for all!

Project Resources

Coming soon!

Staff and Partners

Shweta Arya
Sr. Project Manager, Smart Surfaces, Center for Climate, Health and Equity, APHA

Katherine Catalano
Deputy Director, Center for Climate, Health and Equity, APHA

Arianne Noorestani
Affiliate Manager, APHA