In addition to flooding, Charleston Medical District recognizes heat as a major health vulnerability. Working with the CMD partners and others, the CMD has begun planning the Lowcountry Oases. The concept incorporates global best practices linking flood mitigation to heat reduction in order to achieve multiple benefits for the people who frequent the CMD. These include better water and heat management as well as improved patient, faculty, staff, and visitor experiences.
The Lowcountry Oases program intends to reduce urban heat islands, improve co-benefit investments for flooding and heat mitigation, and increase opportunities for heat-mitigated outdoor activities related to patient therapy and healthcare service provider respite at CMD. By integrating heat mitigation strategies with its planned resilient water management strategies, the Charleston Medical District will reduce climate-driven risks that impact their core mission of health service access and, over time, realize measurable environmental performance improvements.
Increases in green infrastructure, maintenance of existing tree cover along with further improvement of shading, and reduction of impervious surface will contribute to these outcomes. Thoughtfully considered green infrastructure serves dual purposes of capturing excess water and improving excessively warm microclimates. Maintaining existing tree cover, an important best practice for heat reduction extends the work of the MUSC Arboretum. Increasing shading where possible complements the valuable canopy. Reducing hard surfaces, in turn, reduces stored and radiated heat, thereby improving heat islands further. Each of these tactics complements the ongoing work on the Greenway and extend it to include health-focused awareness of risks.
By creating a people-focused urban environment, and by connecting water and heat exposures, the Lowcountry Oases improves the experience for patients and healthcare service providers alike. Imagining cool pathways between facilities, gardens for respite and reflection, improved connections to transit stops and parking areas, and an inclusive therapeutic walk and recreation space adjoining Long Lake inspires future investments. These provide a restorative CMD experience for patients, family members, visitors, and health service while measurably changing the physical risks of too much water and heat.
The Greenway application of the Lowcountry Oases program also acts as a model, intended to be copied, wherein health-related risks associated with climate, such as escalations in cardiovascular or respiratory risks, challenges to mental health, struggles with obesity and diabetes, and many other co-morbidities may be reduced while community assets, such as the Greenway, continue to positively contribute to better health outcomes while encouraging a stronger sense of community.
The Lowcountry Oases project addresses health risks & inequities in the Lowcountry region of South Carolina. Charleston, South Carolina's largest city, comprises 800,000+ residents in its metropolitan area (the Tri-County region of Charleston, Dorchester, and Berkeley Counties), with nearly 7 million tourists annually. Charleston normally experiences 50+ days of chronic flooding and extreme heat per year. Its climate predicts increased flooding (80+ days in 2019), storm intensity, and extreme heat. Charleston is a regional economic center, a critical medical destination, & the home to many generationally-, economically-, & health equity-vulnerable populations. Flooding interrupts access to health services, costing more than $30M for the Medical University of South Carolina (MUSC) alone since 2016.
Flooding & extreme heat introduce health complications, which unduly impact vulnerable populations, inclusive of poverty, education, outdoor workers, children, the elderly, & those with underlying chronic health conditions. Lowcountry Oases, a community readiness project, intends to advance:
1) adaptive mitigation strategies for Charleston's climate risks of flooding & extreme heat, as related to health issues in populations of elevated vulnerability;
2) citizen awareness of risks;
3) coping capacity for those risks; &
4) improvements in City & institutional governance, inclusive of heat & health.
**In this time of greater learning about pandemic response, it also seeks to establish an area of respite in Charleston's Medical District (CMD) to enable patients, families, and health service providers to safely enjoy the outdoors.
Lowcountry Oases is following and modeled after the Paris OASIS Schoolyard Project from Paris, France, & broaden it to include the CMD & the EPIC Center. OASIS aims to provide equitable citizen access to cooling areas, improve social cohesion & engagement, reduce urban heat islands, reduce stormwater runoff & improve citizen awareness of the benefits of nature-based solutions to address climate change & health. Expected outcomes include:
1) multigenerational awareness of flood & heat risks, & their expected increase over time;
2) improved capacity to manage risk, &
3) integrated City & institutional climate change policy, to include heat & health.
In collaboration with the City of Charleston, MUSC, Roper St. Francis Healthcare (RSF), Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), the MUSC Boeing Center for Children's Wellness (BCCW), Charleston County School District (CCSD), the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC), the Riley Center, & the EPIC Center, Lowcountry Oases will ignite action & forge a transformative path for broader policy change across multiple areas. This encourages a health-in-all policies to approach citywide by integrating the threats of health, equity, & climate change. Project & stakeholder collaboration works for the good of the entire community, incorporating populations who are most at risk of inequities through partnerships with: the CMD (to represent patients, their families, and health service employees who are in need of areas of respite); the VA (to represent the veteran population); DHEC (to represent people with chronic conditions, disabilities, the elderly, & pregnant women); CCSD (to represent children); & the City of Charleston (to represent people with limited financial resources & social contacts, people living in poverty, & people of color). Marginalized groups include schools, churches, & clinics to engage community members from African American, Latino, low socioeconomic, LGBTQ, veteran, ESL, & disabled populations to reach underrepresented groups. Success metrics include:
1) increased citizen awareness of heat & health risks, linked with flood mitigation;
2) increased integration of heat & health interventions in the Comprehensive Plan & City, CMD, & CCSD planned capital investments;
3) established heat & health program within CMD & BCCW networks;
4) publicly-available Lowcountry Oases toolkit for broader adoption.
The Long-Term Vision & Goals of the Lowcountry Oases include:
1) reduced heat-related emergency calls;
2) improved patient, family, & health service provider respite opportunities, especially since COVID-19;
3) reduced heat-related hospital admissions; 4) increased physical activity measures; &
5) development of Blue Zones or Top 10 Healthiest City status.
With Long-term success, the Lowcountry Oases will:
1) increased access to cooler oases;
2) decreased need for energy support; &
3) community-driven heat awareness campaigns.
Expected climate change impacts:
1) reduced urban heat islands;
2) improved co-benefit investments for flooding & heat mitigation; &
3) increased opportunities for heat-mitigated outdoor activities related to patient therapies at CMD.