Upgrading cooling centers

Bryan Alexander
5 min readAug 14, 2022

What is a cooling center? How are they changing? What does such a thing have to do with higher ed?

Cooling centers are shaded, enclosed, and obviously cooler spaces for people to shelter in during bad heat waves. Colleges and universities afflicted by problematic heat should consider building some, or renovating current spaces to serve that purpose, as I’ve written previously. Some campuses already do so. The key point is that as climate change increases temperatures, there will be greater need for such spaces.

I wonder about the local community dimension here. What responsibility does a university have to provide cooling for its neighbors? And can academics depend on the locality to provide off-campus shelter when their institution doesn’t offer enough?

Yet this question, aimed as it is into the future, might be already out of date. Axios reports that some cities have upgraded their cooling centers into something more than a place to survive a heatwave.

Miami-Dade County is at the forefront with its mobile “resilience pod” made from a 40-foot shipping container. It debuted two years ago and offers people a chilled, solar-powered place to gather, with Wi-Fi, phone charging and a suite of solutions for “food insecurity” — including fruit trees for people to plant.

Tempe, Arizona, has budgeted $2.3 million for EnVision Tempe, a one-stop resource center that’ll have a big walk-in freezer and free ice — plus staffers who can help visitors find a job, GED classes, housing assistance, parenting programs, etc.

There’s even a new name for them: climate resilience hubs.

It’s a fascinating development. On the one hand we can see these hubs as, partly, cooling centers with 21st century infrastructure and/or amenities: internet access, electrical power, ice. They sound a bit like a hotel in that way. On the other, they recognize the climate crisis with their use of solar power and basic agriculture. This shows the possibility of local support structures failing while offering non-carbon-dioxide-based services. Which is why there are social services in the EnVision Tempe model. Climate resilience hubs are hedges against a harder future.

As a futurist, I sometimes look to countervailing forces which a trend might…

Bryan Alexander

Futurist, speaker, writer, educator. Author of the FTTE report, UNIVERSITIES ON FIRE, and ACADEMIA NEXT. Creator of The Future Trends Forum.

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