Phoenix UREx Synthesis
Phoenix UREx City Leads: Nancy Grimm, Chuck Redman, Mark Hartman
Research Team: Marta Berbés-Blázquez, Chingwen Cheng, Mikhail Chester, Dan Childers, Paul Coseo, Hallie Eakin, Stevan Earl, Matt Feagan, Margaret Garcia, David Manuel Navarette, Sara Meerow, David Swindell, Enrique Vivoni, Dave White
Practitioner Team:: Teo Argueta, Diana Bermudez, Harry Cooper, Maggie Messerschmidt, Masavi Perea, Ruthie Redmond, Anne Reichman, Holly Rosenthal
Postdoctoral fellows: Nasir Ahmad, Marta Berbés-Blázquez, Matt Feagan, Margaret Hinrichs, Yeowon Kim, Sam Markolf, Lauren McPhillips
Grad Research Fellows: Melissa Davidson, Yuliya Dzyuban, Stephen Elser, Phillip Gilbertson, Erica Gilrein, Melissa Guardaro, Alysha Helmrich, Robert Hobbins, Yeowon Kim, Rui Li, Marisa Manheim, Jason Sauer, Kristen Whitney, Mahir Yazar
Existing SETS Conditions
Located in the Sonoran Desert, Phoenix, home for 1.6 million residents, is the fifth largest city and one of the fastest growing cities in the US, with the second greatest population in the Southwest. The Phoenix metro area has been the site of a long-term ecological research (LTER) project, the Central Arizona – Phoenix (CAP) LTER, since 1997. The CAP area receives just 8 inches of rain per year, making water scarcity a major concern for many local stakeholders. Much of its precipitation is concentrated around summer monsoon storms, which can cause destructive floods. In addition to water-related issues, Phoenix is also concerned with extreme heat, especially in the summers when daily high temperatures average around 105˚F. Heat can be uncomfortable and even fatal, particularly for vulnerable populations. Exposure to extreme heat in vulnerable communities has been exacerbated by historical patterns of racial exclusion. This is particularly evident in South Phoenix, where patterns of segregation and environmental injustice persist to this day.
Participatory Workshops, Planning, and Knowledge Mobilization
In May 2018, the UREx SRN hosted a participatory workshop in the South Mountain Village of Phoenix to develop community visions of sustainability and resilience to climate change and extreme weather events. South Mountain Village is a subdivision of the City of Phoenix and includes the historically underserved community of South Phoenix. This workshop brought together about 50 practitioners, administrators, decision makers, civic and community organization leaders, designers, researchers, and students from different institutions at the South Mountain Environmental Education Center. Some community visions explored options for adapting to climate change while others were meant to inspire transformative change. The five scenario themes were: Some Like it Hot, Mountain to River, Equity District, The Right Kind of Green, and Connected and Mobile.
Below are some of the products from the workshop that help describe the co-produced visions for Phoenix:
- A report (in English and Spanish) summarizing the main goals and strategies developed for each scenario.
- Land-use/land-cover maps for the scenarios.
- Visualizations and narratives of the scenarios.
UREx SRN members in Phoenix have continued to use and expand upon some of the data generated in the scenario workshop. For example, Paul Coseo and Alyce Hargrove led the 4th Year Landscape Architecture Studio class (LDE 461) in developing green infrastructure master plans based around the co-produced visions. Designers were mentored by a team of grad students and post-docs with diverse expertise (e.g., hydrology, modeling, governance, design, environmental justice).
The South Mountain Village scenarios complement the regional scenarios co-produced under CAP LTER from 2014-2016. The regional scenarios have been published and are featured on a website. Having scenarios at local and regional scales allows demonstrates how practitioners’ future visions in this unique part of the valley compare with the entire metropolitan region.
To help address extreme heat and its effects on health, safety, and the economy in the Phoenix Metropolitan Area, UREx SRN team members partnered with The Nature Conservancy and other local organizations and community groups to launch a participatory Heat Action Planning process in several Phoenix neighborhoods. The goal was to identify mitigation and adaptation strategies for dealing with heat. This process helped develop concrete plans for strategies to reduce heat exposure at the neighborhood scale, and enhance awareness and social cohesion among underrepresented communities. The Heat Action Planning process is meant to serve as a model for future heat resilience efforts in other communities by emphasizing the importance of local, contextual, and culturally appropriate visions and plans. As a result of this work, Heat Action Planning Guides were created for Edison-Eastlake Community, Mesa Care Neighborhood, and the Lindo Park-Roesley Park Neighborhoods.
The Healthy Urban Environments initiative is expanding on some of the work that the UREx SRN has done in Phoenix. This initiative links ASU scholars with the Maricopa County Industrial Development Authority to develop new technologies, accelerate the transition from the lab to field testing, and partner with stakeholders to get solutions deployed in local communities to reduce urban heat and improve air quality.
Graduate and postdoctoral fellow-led research
The UREx graduate and postdoc fellows in Phoenix have been hard at work. Below are some of the research projects that they’ve led, and some of the products from those projects.
- A cross-city study, including Phoenix, that investigates how cities are constructing the knowledge systems needed to build resilience to cloudburst (short-duration intense rainfall events) floods [Rosenzweig et al. 2019]
- A paper comparing the implementation of green stormwater infrastructure over time in three US cities, including Phoenix [McPhillips and Matsler 2018]
- A study which evaluates “safe-to-fail” flood mitigation solutions for roadways in Phoenix by modeling the performance of roadway stormwater drainage systems under current and future-projected climate conditions [Kim et al. 2017]
- A Phoenix flooding vulnerability assessment that combines Bluespot analysis (which identifies low-lying lands prone to surface, pluvial flooding in the event of short, intense rainfall), storm drainage capacity, and social sensitivity to flooding [Kim et al. 2019]
- Though trees are frequently cited as important green infrastructure features for combating extreme heat, it isn’t always clear which trees are best at cooling down their surroundings. UREx SRN researchers have studied species-level differences in the cooling benefits that trees provide [Elser et al. 2020] in order to help practitioners and community members make decisions about tree planting.
- Bus stop infrastructure frequently does not provide thermally comfortable conditions during the summer, but certain design decisions can help. For instance, one study showed that people who felt that a bus stop was beautiful or pleasant were more likely to report being thermally comfortable [Dzyuban et al.].
- Walkability of a Phoenix neighborhood under hot conditions was evaluated during a Heat Walk event using walking interviews and microclimate measurements.
- Vacant land accounts for 6.5% of Phoenix’s total city area. A study of stormwater infiltration patterns in that vacant land revealed that infiltration rates are highly variable, but some of the lowest infiltration rates were in socially vulnerable neighborhoods, pointing to a need for increased interventions to prevent flooding issues [McPhillips et al.].
Phoenix team members have shared their work on the Future Cities podcast. Below are some of the episodes highlighting work done in Phoenix:
- Green Stormwater Management in Three U.S. Cities
- Resilience for Undocumented Community Members
- Safe to Fail Adaptation
- Heat and Thermal Comfort
- Adapting Phoenix to Extreme Heat
 Italics – emeritus team member