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Phoenix, AZ combats high heat mortality resulting from climate inequity in low-income neighborhoods

Phoenix, AZ, USA
The Atlas Community Team

Government Champion

Chief Sustainability Officer

Cost

Zero upfront cost to local government

Project Status

Operational since 2022

More Reading

Original Article

At a Glance

As the hottest city in America, Phoenix, Arizona, has been hit hard by climate change with some neighborhoods feeling the impacts more than others as a result of climate inequity. The city pursued a community-informed plan to combat the heat island effect and better serve its constituents.

Problem Addressed

Summer in Phoenix, Arizona means triple-digit temperatures. In 2019 alone, the region experienced 103 days of triple-digit temperatures and 197 fatalities from heat-related causes, representing the highest number of heat-associated deaths for the county. Both temperatures and fatalities are expected to rise as the climate continues to change.

Coupling the hostile temperature of the desert with increasing greenhouse gas emissions and the rapid urban development, the city has been hit hard by the "heat island effect." Tall buildings, glass windows, and asphalt exacerbate the impact of increased temperature, trapping heat from the sun and causing daytime high temperatures to remain later into the night.

Phoenix's Edison-Eastlake has an average summer temperature of 105 degrees. Most residents are people of color and live in outdated, concrete public housing more prone to trapping heat and overwhelming air conditioning systems. With only 5 percent of the area having trees, night temperatures are as much as 10 degrees higher than those of wealthier neighborhoods. As a result, the area's heat mortality rate is 20 times the county average.

Phoenix, Arizona used/is using community-informed strategic plans to address this/these challenge(s).

Solution(s) Used

In 2017, Phoenix began working on project "Nature's Cooling Systems," which planned to utilize evapotranspiration to cool the city's disproportionately impacted neighborhoods.

To kick off the plan, the director of special projects for the Nature Conservancy's Arizona Office, Diana Bermudez, and Urban conservation program manager, Maggie Messerschmidt, sought input from community members within the three hottest neighborhoods: Lindo Park-Roesley Park, Mesa Care and Edison-Eastlake. They held workshops in each community, where scientists discussed the science behind urban heat islands and how they could combat their dire impacts.

In 2019, residents of each area developed a 20-page "heat action plan." Edison-Eastlake plans to repave sidewalks with sun-reflecting materials, install shade structures at bus stops and create tree-covered areas in parks. Phoenix's housing department will incorporate these recommendations when redeveloping the city's aging public housing.

Lindo Park-Roesley Park gathered to plant over 102 plants in a previously empty lot to foster evapotranspiration as part of the Spaces of Opportunity cooperative garden. Families can lease gardening plots for $5 a month, and growers sell their goods at an on-site farmers market.

Outcomes

  1. In some spots, these interventions could lead to a 40-degree decrease in the mean radiant temperature, considering the effects of sunlight and radiation from nearby surfaces
  2. A cooperative garden where community members can rent out $5 plots, grow their own fruits and vegetables, and sell at the weekly farmers market
  3. A new mixed-income housing development with a shaded seating area and path to a community garden, in place of what was to be a parking lot
  4. Incorporation of resident feedback in public housing improvements, including increased shaded areas
  5. 11 mesquite and Palo Verde trees, 86 shrubs, and 25 cacti and succulents newly planted in a previously empty lot, which will increase natural evapotranspiration

Lessons Learned

  1. Community members contributed feedback and plans that top scientists and local leaders hadn't thought of. Their feedback was invaluable to creating impactful change.

Something Unique

Community members are keen on supporting one another, kindly reminding each other to wear a hat and carry water during the Summer. With social isolation as a strong risk factor for heat illness, this has been essential to keeping the community healthy.

Who Should Consider?

Cities looking for community-centric solutions to combat climate change and support those disproportionately impacted by its effects.

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