If You Can't Stand the Heat....Stay Out of Phoenix

Already the hottest major American city, Peter O'Dowd describes how planners in Phoenix are preparing for the increased sizzle brought on by global warming.
August 17, 2012, 8am PDT | Jonathan Nettler | @nettsj
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Global climate change and the increasing urban heat island effect of an expanding city are the twin fires stoking rising temperatures in this desert city. Although the effects of these heat problems are already being felt, the future is much more bleak. "Data from the North American Regional Climate Change Assessment Program predict sustained heat waves above 114 degrees will be a yearly crisis in Phoenix by 2040. And each one, researchers project, will last a sweltering three weeks," writes O'Dowd.

As a result, city officials are planning to make Phoenix a laboratory for testing strategies to mitigate increased temperatures. Covering 25 percent of Phoenix with shade trees is one idea being considered. Building higher, and more densely is another. 

In the northern part of the city, at a housing complex designed for people with lower incomes called Devine Legacy, some of these ideas are already being tested, with positive results. "Walking through the front gate leads you to a courtyard. Four-story buildings rise up on either side of you. There's shade everywhere, and a breeze moves through the space. Even on a 113-degree day in Phoenix, it feels much cooler," notes O'Dowd. 

"Ernesto Fonseca, a planner who specializes in sustainable communities, helped test Devine Legacy's energy use before it opened late last year. He considers the complex a small victory in what may someday be a more complicated effort to stay cool."


Thanks to Daniel Lippman

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Published on Tuesday, August 14, 2012 in NPR
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