City Climate Corner

Tempe AZ: Resilience to Extreme Heat

Episode Summary

Extreme heat is now commonplace in Tempe, with 100 days per year over 100 degrees Fahrenheit and 30 days a year over 110. And those numbers are increasing. We interview Dr. Braden Kay, Tempe's Director of Sustainability, to learn how Tempe's is adapting while trying to change its built environment to reduce the urban heat island effect.

Episode Notes

Extreme heat is now commonplace in Tempe, with 100 days per year over 100 degrees Fahrenheit and 30 days a year over 110. And those numbers are increasing. We interview Dr. Braden Kay, Tempe's Director of Sustainability, to learn how Tempe's is adapting while trying to change its built environment to reduce the urban heat island effect.


Episode Transcription


Abby Finis  00:02

Cities produce more than sixty percent of global greenhouse gas emissions. Big cities get a lot of attention, but most household emissions in the US actually come from communities outside urban cores, making them critical players in climate mitigation and climate justice. City Climate Corner explores how these small- and mid-size cities are tackling climate change and moving toward an equitable and sustainable future. I'm Abby Finis.

Larry Kraft  00:23

And, I'm Larry Kraft. We're co-hosts for City Climate Corner. 

Abby Finis  00:29

Hey, Larry. 

Larry Kraft  00:30

Hey, Abby.

Abby Finis  00:31

In our last episode, we talked a little bit about the Russian invasion of Ukraine. That's still going on as of March 10. We are chatting with Tempe, Arizona today and Tempe is a suburb of Phoenix and Phoenix as a WNBA team. And as a basketball player. I've retired a few times and have come back but still dabble in rec league. And a fan of the WNBA, there's been a disturbing event unfolding, where Phoenix Mercury player, Brittney Griner, has been detained by Russian authorities and has been held now for, I think, going on a month. And it's just caught up in probably the politics now. And this tragic war, where it comes back to fossil fuels, we still can't put real sanctions, the US has announced a ban on import of Russian fuels, but European countries haven't gone that far yet. And now we have a high profile, black, lesbian, gender non conforming woman who is caught in the middle of this.

Larry Kraft  01:47

It's so sad, this whole thing you hear and think it just can't be happening. You hear some of the interviews with Ukrainians that are just dumbfounded that this is going on. And obviously Putin is a twisted individual. But the point you made about fossil fuels is right on, this would look so different. Number one, if we had been able to transition off them, and if Europe would be able to cut off their purchases, but they just can't. 

Abby Finis  02:19

Yeah, and I'm sure Brittany will never hear this, but I hope that she knows that people are pulling for her and want her safe return. And for anybody who might be listening in the Phoenix area who's a Mercury fan, I'm sure you're all feeling the same way too. We'll just keep pulling for her and hoping for the best.

Larry Kraft  02:38

And it's not like she's a new person to playing in Russia, right? How long has she been playing there?

Abby Finis  02:44

I think she's been there since like 2015. So she's been there a while and she's a world class athlete. She's played on the US team and has won two gold medals. It's tragic. I hope they can bring her home soon.

Larry Kraft  02:56

Well, we should probably shift here to talk about Tempe. I think a really interesting discussion with a high energy individual.

Abby Finis  03:07

Yeah, so we're talking with Braden Kay, who is the sustainability director in Tempe, Arizona, and we're talking about extreme heat and what they're doing to combat that.

Larry Kraft  03:18

Yeah, extreme heat for here in Minnesota, right. 95 degrees or so. Right?

Abby Finis  03:22

Yeah, I think 33 degrees is extremely fine.

Larry Kraft  03:26

Yeah, a little different in Tempe. Well, let's do it. 

Abby Finis  03:28

Alright, let's do it.

Start of interview

Abby Finis  03:32

Today we're speaking with Dr. Braden Kay, who is the director of sustainability with the City of Tempe, Arizona. Welcome to City Climate Corner, Braden.

Braden Kay  03:41

Thank you. Great to be here!

Abby Finis  03:43

Can you start by introducing yourself and telling us about your role at Tempe?

Braden Kay  03:47

I am the sustainability and resilience director here in the city of Tempe. We are right next to the city of Phoenix, a city of about 200,000 people. We've had an office for about the last five years. I originally got my PhD in sustainability from Arizona State's School of Sustainability. I had the opportunity of doing a lot of work in the City of Phoenix and in the Office of Sustainability and Resilience in the City of Orlando, and then came to Tempe to help found the office of sustainability and resilience. And, excited to talk to you today about the five year journey we've been on to create a sustainability and climate action program for the City of Tempe.

Abby Finis  04:26

Can you tell us a little bit more about what it's like living in Tempe? What's the vibe there?

Braden Kay  04:31

Well, Tempe is a college town home to one of the largest universities in the country in Arizona state. It also is a suburban community. It is on the land of the Piipash and O'odham people. This land has been home to people for 1000s of years. The original inhabitants who are sometimes known as as the Hohokam created a very extensive canal network in this region. And it came to be originally as an agricultural community, and then became a town of development, and ads and meds over the course of the last 50-60 years. Our region exploded with the advent of air conditioning, we've gone from a region of 500,000 people to a region of over 5 million people over the last 50 years. 

Braden Kay  05:22

We're really at the cross center of climate change. We've seen daytime temperatures rise about two and a half degrees in the last 30 years. And we've seen our nighttime temperatures because of our urban heat island, go up about seven and a half degrees. We have a university, we have a very passionate group of young people, and trying to figure out how you do sustainability in a city that is progressive and likes to be innovative and doing new things. But, in a state that is historically more conservative, and where climate action and sustainability haven't been at the forefront of policy conversations and policy action. We really have the opportunity to figure out how do you do sustainability where you don't over rely on regulation, but you work on movement building, and you work on partnerships, and you work on supporting organizations and residents that want to do the work.

Extreme heat in Tempe

Larry Kraft  06:19

One of the things we want to talk to you about is Tempe's response to extreme heat events. In Minnesota, when we talk extreme heat, it's when we're getting close to 100 degrees with a high heat index. I imagine it's not quite the same where you are. Can you describe to folks what extreme heat means to you?

Braden Kay  06:37

We are very used to experiencing over 100 degree weather here. For much of the last several decades, we've had probably, you know, somewhere around 20 days a year that are over 110 degrees. And those amount of days have been growing. The 1950s saw about 10 days a year over 110. But with climate change, and with the increase of the urban heat island, we're now seeing on average about 30 days a summer over 110 degrees.

Larry Kraft  07:09

I have to cut in and say you went today's over 110 I thought you were going to be going to day's over 100 that's...

Braden Kay  07:17

Days over 100 is over 100 days a year. Days over 110 is it about it 30. 2020 was a record year where we saw 53 days over 110 degrees. And what the climate forecasts out of ASU and out of the National Weather Service and NOAA are showing us is that the summer we had in 2020 will be an average summer in the 2040s and beyond. We are in a brand new normal. And when you think about the way that sunbelt cities like Phoenix have been built, they've been built with parking lots and strip malls, and a lot of asphalt. And that's been severely contributing to not just the increase of heat of daytime temperatures, but equally severe, if not more severe problem is the days that don't go below 90 at night. And so we've seen a huge increase in those really hot nights as well. 

Braden Kay  08:13

And the problem is, is we're still not changing what our built environment looks like. We're using the same building codes, the same green stormwater infrastructure standards. Phoenix has not changed over 60 years, even though the climate is changing. And we know it's only going to be changing more. That's really what Tempe and Phoenix and hopefully a growing amount of cities in our region are understanding, "Hey, for public health concerns for economic concerns, for tourism concerns, we just can't keep on doing the status quo." We're turning quickly into the City of Riyadh from a climate perspective, and we've got to change our built environment if we want our economy and people to thrive in the coming decades. So what you'll hear about today is a variety of work that has been happening both in Tempe and around our region to try to figure out how do you change that culture so that people demand a new type of built environment to deal with those new climate realities?

Larry Kraft  09:15

This kind of extreme heat in days and nights, what are some of the concerns with that and who are the most vulnerable that are feeling this the worst?

Braden Kay  09:24

With heat, there's a direct correlation on our BIPOC communities that are hit hardest by our extreme heat, as well as residents without a high school diploma as well as elderly residents as well as residents living alone. There's no question that race and other social determinants affect one's heat vulnerability. 

Braden Kay  09:47

Another huge piece of the puzzle that's been happening in the last five or six years is we've seen a huge increase in the number of heat related deaths. So we've gone from in previous decades having 50-100 heat deaths this summer to getting close to having 300 heat deaths summer. And then we've also seen an explosion in heat related illnesses. So from the public health perspective, we definitely have lots of residents that are being affected by extreme heat. And one of the things that's interesting from an outsider's perspective is for quite a while when these numbers started spiking and 2016 2017, there was still this thought of, "Oh, you know, it's people coming from Minnesota  that are hiking in 100 degree weather, and they're just not used to it." But over half of the heat deaths in Maricopa County, in this last five year explosion of heat deaths, it's happening indoors. 

Braden Kay  10:43

What we're now understanding from some more research with County Public Health is that a lot of that has to do with energy insecurity, either broken AC systems, no AC systems. We've had some really sad examples of electric utility shut offs that have led to heat deaths. One of the other things that we find is you start to see negative health impacts over our highs of 95 degrees. Heat deaths, they don't necessarily happen on our hottest days, we see people suffering heat impacts everything over 100 degrees. We're noticing that that heat issue problem is no longer just a June and July or August problem, but it's turning into a March problem and an October problem. Our summers are starting earlier ending later and causing public health impacts.

The Built Environment and Extreme Heat

Abby Finis  11:34

It's intense. Some of that is, of course due to climate change. But, I want to dig a little bit more into what you touched on in the built environment and the decisions that have led to what exists in Tempe and the surrounding Phoenix area. Can you tell us a little bit more about the history and the decisions that have led? And, this is true in a lot of American cities, we've developed in very similar patterns, but maybe just break that down a little bit and how we got to where we are and what are some of the barriers to, as you mentioned, kind of transforming that thinking and rethinking how we develop.

Braden Kay  12:09

We have a really interesting natural experiment happening between Tucson and Phoenix. Tucson has experienced that two and a half daytime temperature increase that we have, but they've only experienced a two and a half degree nighttime temperature increase. Whereas when you look at the Phoenix region, you see it seven and a half at night. And really what that has to do with is just the massive development and spread throughout Maricopa county of asphalt of roads of development of a built environment that has also replaced what was one of the most productive agricultural counties in the country. 

Braden Kay  12:51

We've swapped out orange groves and cotton fields and alfalfa fields for developments and circle k's and strip malls and roads. And then there has been a lot of heat to come along with that type of decision making. So it's only been in our region for the last about decade and a half. The winter of 2009 we built our first light rail as a region that connects Phoenix and Tempe and Mesa. And now Phoenix has a regional transportation tax that's paying for further extensions. Tempe is building its first streetcar. We've started to see development patterns that are increasing tree canopy, increasing transit oriented development and pointing to a future that can be cooler, more connected and more resilient and really allow us to still thrive despite climate change. But it's going to be a multi decadal process. And it's going to require local, regional, state and federal investment to make those types of changes in the built environment.

Abby Finis  13:55

What does it take to reverse some of those things? You're mentioning the different strategies and working with different governments to make this happen. But is it happening at a scale and timeframe that needs to happen? Or do we need to accelerate that and how do we do that?

Braden Kay  14:11

No, it absolutely needs to accelerate. We were the first Climate Action Plan in the valley. Second in the state of Arizona after Flagstaff. Our climate action plan had three components energy transformation, transportation transformation, and we were one of the first cities in the country to have part of our Climate Action Plan being completely dedicated to resilience to extreme heat. And in that initial plan, we set out to say "Okay, when you think about extreme heat, there's a variety of key critical intervention points that need to take place." You need to change your buildings. You need to change your infrastructure, your roads, your right of ways, your parks. You need to invest in urban forestry and vegetation. And you need to invest in preparedness and response. 

Braden Kay  14:59

With that in mind, we created four initial actions for resilience to extreme heat: green stormwater infrastructure standards, Green Construction Code, urban forestry, and emergency management. We created an urban forestry master plan, we hired the first urban forester in the region. Our city didn't have an emergency manager, we were one of the largest cities in Arizona not to have a emergency management program. So we actually hired an emergency manager from Milwaukee, Wisconsin, Michele Seitz, who's now creating a new emergency management program here. We were the first city to make a major push in putting emergency actions into our county all hazard mitigation plan. 

Braden Kay  15:42

One of the stories I tell is Maricopa County had only two actions in their 2015 all hazard mitigation plan, education and water bottles. This was really an aha moment for us. What that told us was that if education and water bottles were really the only actions that the county was saying to FEMA that we might need to pay for one day, if there was an extreme heat emergency, that's really showing that we believe that extreme heat is an individual responsibility. You need to have your own water and you need to know what to do. The huge shift that we've been trying to make since the first climate action plan is to say, "How do we shift the culture both in our city and the region from that individual approach to a collective approach to extreme heat?" So we now have 40 actions in the 2020 all hazard mitigation plan, including resilience hubs, including resilient energy hubs, including capacity building programs, like youth engagement, including neighborhood based programs. 

Braden Kay  16:47

So really, what we're finding is that we have to change codes and standards at the government level. We need to be making massive investments in green stormwater infrastructure in urban forestry and to fully utilize the rain that does fall and create more vegetation to keep critical neighborhoods cool. And we need to be developing these movements within critical stakeholders throughout our city. And then throughout our region that really demand this built environment change happen. We have some really exciting projects that we've been getting funded. And doing that really has to do with this people centered, community based approach to resilience to extreme heat. And we're excited about the direction that that's going in. But it's nowhere near to the maturity that's needed to create the kind of policy changes, infrastructure investments and programs that will be necessary to have people thrive here in the 2040s and the 2050s.

Urban Forest and Extreme Heat

Larry Kraft  17:47

You talk about tree canopy and urban forestry. What are the challenges posed by the extreme heat and other climate disruptions you're seeing and expecting to see?

Braden Kay  17:59

A huge piece of sustaining and urban forest in our region, you're going to battle heat, you're going to battle drought, and you're going to battle storms. It's not just about planting trees. We're obsessed with this idea of really deeply investing in green stormwater infrastructure. We've seen the city of Tucson make some leaps and bounds improvements in how they do green stormwater infrastructure. Because we have to get the most out of the rain that falls in our region. And we can't rely on potable water to vegetate our whole valley. If you think about it, I really view it as we have this 20 year window to make sure that we're planting an urban forest and vegetation that's going to be able to survive the type of drought and the type of heat we're talking about in the 40s and 50s and 60s. I see a tremendous urgency to changing this infrastructure so that it's ready for those summers that where we could potentially could see 40 days over 120 and potentially 60 or 70, or 80 days over 110. That future seems to be barreling towards us and it's going to require a whole cadre of urban foresters and people helping us figure out how to manage vegetation and those types of extremes.

Larry Kraft  19:19

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Larry Kraft  19:37

What are the things that give you hope? What are some of the successes you're seeing or expect to see? 

Braden Kay  19:43

One of the things that's been so exciting is when we went to go do this Climate Action Plan update that just got approved by our council last week, our sustainability commission which has been just an amazing champions, they really said to us, you all need Climate Action Plan work to really be able to be touched and felt and co-owned by residents and businesses. And in all honesty, the beginning of our climate work was really like what can we accomplish as a government? And what can we accomplish with our electric utilities? And it was a pretty insular document that was the very basics of some initial actions that could get done. 

Braden Kay  20:22

After that encouragement from our sustainability and resilience commission, we did a series of listening sessions. We did listening sessions with our youth, with our faith based community, with our business community, with our design community, and with our climate justice community and key target neighborhoods that are affected most by heat. And what we heard is, "Hey, we want our voices to be heard. We want you to do this planning with us and not for us." We then went about creating four co-created agendas, a youth agenda, a business agenda, a climate justice agenda, and a neighborhoods agenda. We had Arizona State University students led by Marta Berbice and Lauren Withacombkeeler to help us create a neighborhood agenda. They went and created these story walks that told stories about the future of Tempe and had residents text message what they would want to see in the neighborhood plan. 

Braden Kay  21:17

We hired a local nonprofit, Unlimited Potential and their leadership at with Emma Vieira helped us create our first ever climate justice plan. We worked with our local Chamber of Commerce and local first Arizona, and they co-created with us. And then we got a grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation to work on youth engagement and we created a youth agenda. And now we're continuing that work based out of McClintock High School, where we have a youth council that's meeting every week to work on how their school the neighborhood around their school, and eventually the city in the whole region should be addressing extreme heat. 

Braden Kay  21:53

So the most inspiring thing to me is to watch what happens when government listens differently and watches differently. It can support businesses and residents in whole new ways. Watching how our youth community is starting to advocate for local food programs, watching how the climate justice community is advocating for indigenous land stewardship, watching how the business community is advocating for energy efficiency and water conservation, watching how our neighborhoods are advocating for responsible energy policy and micro grids. It's so amazing to see residents and businesses step up to the plate, realize that we need to govern and build our city differently, and create this whole new vision where government is not leading our climate work. Government is just supporting the work that's happening out in our schools and neighborhoods, businesses and homes.

Resilience Hubs and Resilient Energy Hubs

Abby Finis  22:49

That's pretty incredible list of community engagement. I think we've said this before where the more people you bring in, the easier your road is ahead. We found out about the work that you're doing through an NPR article that was talking about the resilience hubs. You mentioned resilience hubs and resilient energy hubs. Is there a distinction between the two? What are they?

Braden Kay  23:12

Resilience hubs is an idea that urban sustainability directors network led by Kristin Baja has been leading around the country really understanding that we need community hubs that can function both during normal times and during disasters. It's a really important concept to say, "Hey, we can have these community based hubs that are basically community support services at all times, but then can be critical during need." The resilient energy hub is specifically the infrastructure that supports a resilience hub. That's in our case solar with battery storage, so that you have a building that's off the grid and can be available as a cooling center, or as a neighborhood staging center. Resilient energy hubs can be both for areas for first refuge and for first responders. 

Braden Kay  24:04

We want all of our police stations and fire stations to be resilient energy hubs, but those aren't going to be resilient hubs. Resilience hubs need to be a place where community members have the keys, and the community members are really using it for their own services and needs. Whereas resilient energy hubs can be that but they could also be for other city services that need that backup power. We believe that both of those investments are really critical investments. But it's important to understand resilience hubs is not just physical infrastructure, but really a social infrastructure that's helping build the connections and capacities to thrive even despite disaster. 

Braden Kay  24:44

We have our first resilience hub along the light rail corridor in our city. We hired unlimited potential when they were doing the climate justice agenda work. They also did a bilingual forum to help us listen to residents. A local NPR reporter was able to cover that work and that's what you heard on NPR story was one of the engagements that we had listening to residents as to what they want at that facility. And it's really important that if government is going to be part of resilience hubs that they really develop the trust, that community would go there, on one of those nights that it's 107 degrees and someone's air conditioning has gone out. 

Braden Kay  25:20

There are cities around the country that are doing this in different ways. In Baltimore, for instance, some of the resilience hubs are community based organizations. Some of the resilience hubs are based in city buildings, there can be a mix. Our hope is, as we build a whole system of these throughout the city, that they won't all being city buildings that will be a mixture, and every neighborhood will be able to work on whether they trust a city government building to be that building, or whether we need to find another trusted space for those activities to occur. When we think about what happened in the Pacific Northwest last year, when we think about what happened in Texas, the winter before that, I think we all now understand the importance of having neighborhood resources, in times of disaster. As a country, we need to be figuring out how to invest in these types of facilities as a way of keeping us connected during quote unquote, normal times, and also prepared for when disaster strikes.

Abby Finis  26:16

I think that it's super important to prepare for that. And the article also cited a study that said, if you had say a Texas like event were kind of the opposite, where it's extreme heat and power goes out for several days, you're looking at potential death and injury of over one and a half million people. Not Tempe alone, obviously, but the Phoenix area. Do you anticipate that the resilience hubs will all have that energy component so that they'll be able to provide cooling during those events?

Braden Kay  26:47

We need to figure out how to make it happen. It's not going to be government alone, it's not going to be our faith based community and our nonprofit community alone. We're gonna need to find community whole solutions. I think that there'll be a really critical need to find ways to pay for this infrastructure. I think that where this is all headed is the need for a regional resilience authority in Maricopa County. When we think about the investments that need to be made in resilience hubs and resilient energy hubs in green stormwater infrastructure and urban forestry, in other heat relief response work in clean energy economy investments, what we're finding is, is that we can't just be waiting for pro climate cycles and the federal government to come along to pay for this. 

Braden Kay  27:32

We've seen Portland, Oregon do a climate tax, we've seen a similar climate fund emerge in Denver. I'm really interested in the regional resilience authority that has started in Annapolis, Maryland where the city and the county have gotten together and said "Hey, we have to find a way to pay for sea walls." And we need to have a taxing authority and ability to design implement and finance, resilience infrastructure, we need absolutely need that kind of infrastructure here in Maricopa County. Right now, what we have is pilot projects. We have a few cool schools, a few cool corridors, a few cooling center slash resilience hubs, and we need them at scale, we need hundreds and potentially 1000s of these types of investments. And we're going to have to have some type of regional solution to design implement and pay for it. 

A Regional Approach?

Abby Finis  28:21

I think that's a really interesting concept. And sometimes we think about these things in isolation, green infrastructure, urban forests, over here, resilience hubs over here and preparing for those disasters. But they're all connected, and they're all addressing the same issue. Yeah, I love that concept of having this regional authority and addressing it from the scale of the region versus just one city.

Braden Kay  28:46

With so many of the systems that need to be ready for climate change, water, energy, transportation, economies, none of those are drawn out of city lines. We really do need new governance systems in order to have the type of comprehensive and coordinated solutions that are going to be critical to saving lives and supporting livelihoods in the 21st century. We cannot have this continued balkanization of resources and capacities. It's not going to go well for us if we continue to do that.


Abby Finis  29:20

I imagine the electric utility is probably a pretty critical player in this. Have they been receptive to and responsive to these ideas? 

Braden Kay  29:30

We have two utilities here in our region, APS and SRP. And we have seen a real shift in the last few years in both organizations. I think both organizations are now really understanding that they need to decarbonize and they need to decarbonize rapidly. And they're also understanding that they play a critical role and resilience to extreme heat. The proof is in the pudding. I would love for you to talk to me in five years and say, "Wow, Braden, SRP and APS really stepped up to the table. They made massive investments in micro grids. They made massive investments in urban forestry. They supported green stormwater infrastructure. And they've made a lot of philanthropic efforts to help support these types of social solutions." 

Braden Kay  30:09

They've been very important parts of our community for a long time. But they're just right now stepping up to resilience to extreme heat and some of the climate change challenges. So I'm hopeful from what I'm hearing from them that they're ready to take on those challenges. But they haven't always been at the table the way that we really need them to be. And it's not all on them. You know, people have asked me before, like at the Arizona Corporation Commission, "Should APS be paying for all of the resilient energy hubs?" Absolutely not. The electric utilities, and their ratepayers cannot take on the sole burden of our resilient energy issues. But they do play a very important role. And I'm excited to see them step up.

The Most Vulnerable

Larry Kraft  30:48

Your background in stakeholder engagement comes through. The question I have, in some ways, you've already started to answer it, this concept of government as a convener and listener and being integrated with other partners in the community. But how do you ensure that the most vulnerable are reached and are part of the solution?

Braden Kay  31:10

You must be an elected official. You know that it's the hardest thing. We're still early days in figuring out how to do that in a high quality way. In all honesty, like we've been making major strides in Tempe, but we're still just scratching the surface. There's so many structural changes that have to happen to do that deep listening to the people that have the hardest time getting to the microphone. 

Braden Kay  31:38

We've been on a city wide journey in that regard. We got some mentorship through an ASU grant from Portland State University, Fletcher Bowdoin, and Michelle Krim, from the City of Portland. And they came down very, very early on into the creation of our initial Climate Action Plan. And they gave us a you know, a bunch of advice on how to think about equitable engagement, and how to think about centering racial equity as part of city decision making and city policymaking. And it was through that idea that we started a program here in Tempe called equity and action. And so what we did is we hired 10 residents and organizations to help be advisors to the city for a multi year process, where we worked with local racial equity consultants and we created a shared equitable engagement framework. And then we had some money from a local innovation fund and a local health nonprofit Vitalist Health Foundation. And we're now actually in the process of creating pilot projects that are coming out to test that framework. 

Braden Kay  32:39

We have a local organization, creating a people's budget, and they're actually doing a workshop to listen to hard to reach neighbors that have opinions about our city budget. And then they're going to be articulating that back to the city as to what they think the city should be spending money on. We have another pilot project where rail CDC, they've been helping us do walking audits where they've been walking with neighbors to understand what's happening in their neighborhood, and then giving us direct feedback on changes that need to be made to outdoor lighting or changes that need to be made to parks. And then we have another pilot project where we're looking at alternatives to policing another pilot project where we're having a forum to listen to how we should change our city council meetings in order to be more accessible to residents. 

Braden Kay  33:25

We just decided that we were going to get a few critical departments together that we were going to start listening to residents in new ways. And we gave them and partners that they wanted to bring in resources to do new types of experimenting and how we do engagement. And it's brought in a lot of change. We're now doing our first equity assessment of our parks and recreation programs. So next week, we'll be selecting a consultant to help us figure out how we change our capital improvement program process to center racial equity and equity in our parks and rec decision making infrastructure and programs. 

Braden Kay  34:02

So it's been fascinating since the five years since Portland came down to give us some advice on how to do this, just all the different cultural change that's been happening with very little money. We started using that money to pay residents to pay community based organizations. And now we're seeing so many different spin offs into where that work is taking us. And now as a city, we're creating programs and new ways. We're investing in infrastructure that wasn't previously prioritized in the same way. I will say though, every community has to do it in a way that makes sense for them. And I would by no means give us an a plus in that work yet. It's relationship by relationship, resident by resident organization by organization. But it has been very cool to see the progress we've been making. 

Braden Kay  34:48

Now we're trying to hold a series of workshops to take that same way of working throughout our whole region. There's so much that goes into the type of organizational transformation that's necessary to listen in new ways, but we're hoping not only that we do it in Tempe, but that we do it through the region. And it ties back to what we talked about earlier. We can have this regional resilience authority. But if this regional resilience authority doesn't have an understanding of the history of how tribes have been treated, and how colonization has showed up in our region, ot they don't understand the structural racism, and racism has showed up in our region, and we don't have a new approach to intersectional, and equitable urban cooling and urban resilience, we could be creating governance systems that just create the same inequalities and the same problems. 

Braden Kay  35:37

The only way that you get to the kind of equitable resilience and climate change and the infrastructure and the programs that are reaching the right people in the right places, is if you change those governance systems. The only way you start to change those governance systems, is if you start to change your ways of doing engagement and your way of building policy. It's tough work. And it's never easy. But I think it's the type of roller coaster that's necessary to govern in a time of climate change.


Abby Finis  36:07

Well Braden, we have covered a lot of ground. And I really appreciate your comprehensive approach to thinking about these issues. In thinking about resilience, what advice do you have to other cities?

Braden Kay  36:20

Don't do anything alone, start bringing people together that haven't been brought together in your own county or city or town. But also realize that somewhere down the road from where you are, there's someone that might be a little bit further along the journey, or may have some lessons for you. I'm the chair of the Sustainable Cities Network, which is our sustainability organization in Arizona. I'm the co-chair of the Western Adaptation Alliance, which are cities and counties throughout the western United States. And I'm the vice chair of the planning committee for the Urban Sustainability Directors Network, which has over 250 members around the country. 

Braden Kay  36:58

For those of you that are doing this work if you're not in USDN yet, or one of our USDN regional networks, like the Southeast Sustainable Directors Network, or the Cascadia network, you should definitely join a network. And then you should also do that deep listening and partnership work in your own community if you haven't started it yet. There's a lot of resources out there with national philanthropies with different federal agencies. And there's a lot of opportunity for you to work on being more connected in your own region. 

Braden Kay  37:28

There's no way we've would have been on the journey we've been on without the help of Providence, Rhode Island and Orlando, Florida and Ann Arbor, Michigan and Portland, Oregon and a bunch of folks in LA Climate Resolve, Civic Well, in Sacramento, National League of Cities in their Sustainability Institute, ICLEI, CDP. It's sort of a connect nationally, and then get the work done, and get the partnerships and relationships built locally, and great things can happen. That's been our recipe to being on the journey we are in Tempe. So definitely encourage all of you out there that are listening to what small- and mid-size cities are doing. You know, I really feel like small- and mid-size cities have this incredible opportunity to innovate and to get things done more quickly and sometimes more creatively than our bigger counterparts. And I really appreciate the two of you having this podcast to allow small- and mid-size cities to share some of those lessons learned and to be part of that dialogue.

Abby Finis  38:26

Yeah, well, thank you for joining us and all of the work that you're doing in Tempe. It's really inspiring, and I hope that folks can take some of this back to their community. 

Abby and Larry debrief

Abby Finis  38:37

Okay, so what did you think Larry?

Larry Kraft  38:40

Yeah, a lot of thoughts. First one was when he right away, went to giving us data about the days over 110. That just blew me away, because I was expecting to hear about the 100 days over 100. They're beyond that, that was an afterthought.

Abby Finis  39:01

Yeah. And the amount that that's exacerbated by the built environment. I mean, just to measure that, to live in that and endure, you can't keep going on that way. You have to change how you develop how you respond to heat. We can't just paint asphalt all over everything and in the desert, and expect it to be okay.

Larry Kraft  39:23

Yeah, the data he gave us on the called the experiment in quotes versus Tucson, where Tucson has a similar heat differential. day versus night. It's 2.5 in the day 2.5 in the night in Tucson, but in Tempe it's 2.5 in the day and 7.5 at night, and that's where he pointed out one of the real concerns is is it just not cooling down at night.

Abby Finis  39:49

Yeah, and I think that that's something that we don't always think about when we think about urban heat island effect is the problem is really at night and not being able to cool off and buildings and asphalt parking lots. Roads absorbing all of that heat and just hanging on to it and slowly releasing it through the night. And that's where we get into trouble with not being able to cool down.

Larry Kraft  40:10

I thought it was also interesting how he said when they first were looking at it, looking at the emergency plans, and it was education, and water bottles. Which sounds kind of ridiculous when you think about it. But what he pointed out was, well, that means it was a focus on individual action. And that was the thought of how you deal with the heatwave. And the recognition that it's not, it's got to be collective action or regional action.

Abby Finis  40:38

Yeah, and we didn't talk about it in the conversation, but just in the context of COVID and being in a pandemic, and that kind of individual responsibility versus taking this on as collective action, we have to have a paradigm shift. And we have to think about these things more collectively. We can't solve climate change through individual action, we have to do together, it can't just be one city, it has to be all cities, and everybody has to pitch in. And I like that idea of a regional approach to resilience, because that's the same concept. Okay, Tempe can do all of the actions that it's doing. But if surrounding communities aren't doing it, then you're still having this issue occurring across the entire metro region. I like that response of thinking about it collectively.

Larry Kraft  41:32

One caution in that just not really related to this episode, but I've heard it before, has been well, what can we do is one city or if you're not doing it regionally, or nationally, or stuff, then why should we do anything? And to me, that's also the wrong way of thinking because it does take that initial city to get started, and then to rally others. And what we've seen over and over again, is when people take action and take initiative, others come to them and are willing to help.

Abby Finis  42:01

Somebody has got to start right? And then you build up from there. 

Larry Kraft  42:04

One other thought I had was, was almost an afterthought was the way he said it, their approach on figuring out where to locate resilient hubs. And that it was important to find a place that is a trusted place or a trusted facility. They weren't doing it in a top down fashion, saying it's going to go here or there, but they're working with community partners to figure out where that trusted location would be. I think that's an important indication that feels like they're doing the right thing.

Abby Finis  42:35

Yeah, I mean, nobody's gonna use it, if they don't trust it, or they don't know it's there. So I agree. I think that's a smart approach to making it work and making it function. I also, you know, like the distinction between the resilience hub and the resilience energy hub. And I think it's really important to have that backup power. If people are going there expecting to be cool and safe. The backup power there exists but also thinking about it on critical infrastructure like fire, police, hospitals, having that backup power available in those places, as well as the resilience energy hub.

Larry Kraft  43:11

Lot of stuff in this episode. 

Abby Finis  43:14

Tempe is busy.

Abby Finis  43:18

We hope you enjoyed this episode of City Climate Corner. If you like what you're hearing, make sure to subscribe and give us a review. If you're able, become a monthly supporter through Patreon. As always, you can find more information on this topic and resources from each episode's guests on our webpage If you have an idea for the show, send us an email at or find us on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook.

Larry Kraft  43:41

City Climate Corner is produced by Abby Finis and me Larry Kraft. Edited by, me. Our production assistant is Maggie Morin. Music by…

Abby Finis  43:50

King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard. 

Larry Kraft  43:52

Thanks for listening, and we'll see you next time!