(Unedited) Podcast Transcript 345: The Heat is On
This week we’re joined by Dr. V Kelly Turner, Director of Urban Environment Research at UCLA’s Luskin Center for Innovation. We chat about how to think differently about urban heat, how to measure it properly, and how to potentially regulate it.
You can listen to the episode and get past episodes at Streetsblog USA.
Jeff Wood (1m 13s):
Well, Dr. Kelly Turner, welcome to the talking headways podcast.
Dr. V. Kelly Turner
Thank you so much for having me
Well, thanks for being here before we get started. Can you tell us a little bit about yourself?
Dr. V. Kelly Turner (1m 30s):
Yeah, sure. I have a assistant professor of urban planning and also geography at UCLA. And I’m also the interim co-director of the Les skin center for innovation at UCLA, which is a policy meaning research center that does work on environment and climate adaptation.
Jeff Wood (1m 47s):
That’s awesome. And how did you get into this work? Like what brought you into the world of climate and environment and cities and all? Yeah. How far back do you want to go? As far as you want to go? We have little kids.
Dr. V. Kelly Turner (1m 58s):
Well, I grew up in Massachusetts and my family is all from Austin, Texas. And so even as a kid, I remember, yeah.
1 (2m 6s):
I went to the university of Texas.
Dr. V. Kelly Turner (2m 8s):
Oh, great. Yeah. So I grew up with this like vastly different sort of sense of two cities. You know, Western Massachusetts is full of triple Deckers and it’s cold and it’s very vertical. And then Austin is very flat and ranch style homes, it’s sprawling. And so as a kid, I always wonder why, why is that different? And I think somehow that like materialized as an adult, I went to graduate school at Arizona state university, and I was interested in urban sprawl and broadly why that mattered for the environment because I had been a political science undergraduate major, and I was writing an honors thesis on forest fire and the healthy forest restoration act under George w.
Dr. V. Kelly Turner (2m 52s):
And I got way more interested in this issue of urban sprawl and people at the urban wildlife interface and those of issues of how urban is that interfaces with the environment. You know, unfortunately this is still a super salient problem, right. But I went to Arizona state because they had gotten rid of all disciplines and I could be kind of agnostic to discipline. Even though I have a PhD in geography, you know, you were encouraged to take classes all over and do lots of collaborative work. And so I was really informed by a couple different things. One, I was in a merged geography and urban planning program. So I was around a lot of urbanists that took a really formative course with Dr.
Dr. V. Kelly Turner (3m 34s):
Emily TALEN, who was really deep into the new urbanist movement. And then I was also getting training in urban ecology. And so I became deeply interested in the built environment and how that becomes this interface between people and the decisions that we make on sort of a social realm and then how that manifests as environmental impact. And so I think a lot of times when people think of cities and the environment and environmental governance, you’re thinking about things like tree planting programs or forest street, you know, that kind of stuff. But it’s my view that everything we do, whether we build a home, we landscape our yard, we put a street in, we decide how wide that Street’s going to be.
Dr. V. Kelly Turner (4m 16s):
All of that cumulatively has way more impact on the environment of cities than maybe these individual sort of one-off programs.
Jeff Wood (4m 24s):
Yes. Interesting. In reading your research, especially about the tree planting, I think a lot of people are excited about tree planting specifically, and I find that a bit strange, not, not from a bad way, but just kind of, you know, there’s so much more like you said to, to the topic overall, but I wanted to chat with you today because we’re seeing some really crazy weather and impacts from climate change. You wrote a piece in next city before the Western heat wave in June and have obviously been focused on the topic for a while. So what’s your reaction been so far to these really intense weather events that we’re seeing around the world this summer?
Dr. V. Kelly Turner (4m 55s):
Yeah, it’s sort of one of those double pronged things where on the one hand you’re seeing the worst climate impacts that you knew were going to happen are happening and they’re playing out and they’re causing people to leave that lose their lives. And that’s horrible. On the other hand, heat is having this moment. Now people are paying attention to it. I mean, yesterday we just had the very first house science committee hearing on heat, you know, Miami just appointed a chief heat officer. So, you know, I’m hoping that we’re at this critical moment where we’re going to really start thinking seriously about heat management. And even before the summer came out, though, I was inspired to write the piece because out of a lot of the things I do, it’s like out of frustration.
Dr. V. Kelly Turner (5m 39s):
So one of the things I was frustrated with is I noticed a lot of the narrative around heat is around extreme heat events and heat waves and for good reason, because they’re events and they capture a lot of attention and they read a lot of it habits. But within my very tiny niche in that area, the built environment, I heard a lot of things being said like, well, you know, we need to provide more shade to adapt to extreme heat. And I think that’s a problematic framing because it’s actually mitigation, right? And I don’t think this is just semantics. I think it has to do with the fact that we aren’t acknowledging fully the role that the built environment plays and produce it heat.
Dr. V. Kelly Turner (6m 22s):
So I guess my big goal is to communicate that there are two aspects to the heat problem. There’s sort of a climate weather aspect to why we have a heat problem. And there’s an urban built environment aspect to why we have a heat problem. And so, while not all urban heat is extreme, not all extreme is urban. And we need to be careful in talking about the two.
Jeff Wood (6m 47s):
Yeah. Well, that makes a good point. And I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately, and I think that some of the folks have been writing it next city. Like you have been thinking about it lately as well. I mean, Mary pat McGuire just had this piece about pavement. That was really, I mean, opened my eyes. We’ve been talking about the freeway kind of tear down movement, but then, you know, you think about that as one part of a bigger message for all of the pavement that’s in cities and what pavement means for, you know, impervious cover what it means for heat trapping impacts what it means for nature and sealing in some of the roots and you know, all the important things that come along with the environment, but cities are covered by 30% of roads, which is all pavement. And that makes a huge impact, especially related to heat on something that people probably don’t think about it.
Dr. V. Kelly Turner (7m 32s):
Yeah. Yeah. So by our estimates, by the way, I’m part of another study looking at road butts and heat, and it’s about 20%, but I guess it depends where you are in the country. Yeah. Roads do contribute to heat. I don’t think we know exactly what the share is. Roads are not all the same. Los Angeles has been a Vanguard in doing some of the work on cool pavements and the Los Angeles streets. I, you know, I think this is a really innovative thing that LA is doing. They’re saying, okay, we have this public resource in a way, like if something that we frame as a heart, right. Streets, they’re, imperviousness, they’re causing heat and heat island effect. Well, what if we reframe that and say, streets are an asset and we can use those to make it cooler.
Dr. V. Kelly Turner (8m 12s):
And so that’s where the LA streets program comes in and start saying, okay, let’s do this cool pavement program. We’ve done cool roofs. Let’s bring it down to the street level. Of course, the minute you take something from the roofs where people are not, and nobody’s walking or driving and he put it down on the street level, it becomes a little bit more unwieldy. You know, there are a lot more things to consider about cool pavement. But the fact of the matter is that cities don’t have control over a lot of the built environment. They don’t own a lot of the property in cities, but they do own streets. So in some respects, you know, there’s some optimism around streets cause governments can control what happens there.
Jeff Wood (8m 53s):
I want to step back a second, discuss what he does. You know, people might know this, but he kills more people than any other natural disaster. And so I’m wondering why he is so insidious and, and what makes it specifically dangerous to humans?
Dr. V. Kelly Turner (9m 7s):
Yeah. I mean he, some people called it the silent killer because it kills more people than all other weather related disasters play it yet. It’s interesting. You know, you could think about a hurricane leaves, this very visible, visceral footprint on the environment after a hurricane or tornado, and some of these other weather events, you see the damage after heat waves, you know, unless you’ve had road buckling or some sort of major infrastructure failure, you don’t really see it. Heat’s also not visible as an actual like thing. Right. So, you know, if you, unless you have a thermal camera, you can’t see it. And I think that’s one aspect it’s literally invisible. And another aspect is it sort of this chronic pervasive thing.
Dr. V. Kelly Turner (9m 49s):
And so that the estimates, the heat death estimates you get, those are actually quite conservative. We think actually that morbidity and mortality is much higher than any of our estimates encompass. And that’s because it just basically affects so many aspects of your body, but it’s really hard to attribute heat because it’s something that you’re exposed to throughout the day. And there’s also this chronic bit and acute bit to heat exposure.
Jeff Wood (10m 12s):
And if things don’t cool down overnight, your body responds, right. I mean, you need that cool at night to kind of bounce back. And I think when you have these heat waves, like you had in Portland and the Northwest couple weeks ago, month ago or so, you know, and if it’s a hundred overnight too, then that causes even deeper impacts, especially in places that may not have air condition.
Dr. V. Kelly Turner (10m 30s):
Right? Yeah. The increase in low temperatures is probably more alarming than the increase in high temperatures in some respects, the inability to recover. Yeah.
Jeff Wood (10m 40s):
It’s, this seems like something that’s really
1 (10m 42s):
Getting, getting out of hand, but you know,
Dr. V. Kelly Turner (10m 44s):
One thing I’d like to say is that that invisibility, it actually has this tangible impact in terms of policy, which was another reason I was motivated to write the op ed, because if you can’t see something, if it heats sort of like not classically characterized in you can’t encompass it in a lot of our legal structures. So, you know, it gets binned as a hazard because heat waves do have that sort of acute effect. But one of the reasons I put out this term heat pollution is it actually, you know, when you do put impervious surface, just like impervious surface creates X amount of runoff, you’re producing X amount of anthropogenic and surface heat. And you know, that’s a subtle reframing of the term pollution, but that subtle reframing would unlock a regulatory lever we have at our disposal that we’re not using to talk about heat.
Jeff Wood (11m 34s):
Well, that’s something that you mentioned the piece is specifically is that you think that the EPA should regulate, he pollution just like it does water and air. And so I’m wondering what would that look like? What’s the best way to regulate heat? If it is something that’s kind of insidious, it’s there, but you can’t really see it. And you, like you said, you can’t really legally create a framework for it, but you know, that’s something that is impacting people. Yeah.
Dr. V. Kelly Turner (11m 57s):
Well, I think the urban smart surfaces proposal that’s on the table for the Biden Harris administration is a good first shot at that. And it’s not limited just to heat, but it says, look, we know the stuff we use to build cities has a number of environmental problems. One of which is producing heat. Let’s use smarter surfaces, the ones that we materials, we know that can mitigate that because just so as a plant might produce pollution, or we might produce runoff in the streets, we cannot quantify how much heat is produced by the built environment. We just need to know, you know, what kind of temperature readings to take. And we can do it fairly easily now with and all the different data products at our disposal.
Dr. V. Kelly Turner (12m 38s):
But the idea is that we shouldn’t just give developers, you know, this free card to use whatever materials they want, because we don’t let them do that with runoff. If you propose new development, you have to capture a certain amount of runoff. We just don’t have the regulatory infrastructure to do the same things with heat. So whether it’s the EPA or someone else, I think that we need to consider how everything we do in terms of developing as either a hot decision or a cool decision and try to, you know, shift the gear towards cooler decisions that don’t increase temperatures in a neighborhood.
Jeff Wood (13m 10s):
It makes an interesting point. I think about Austin and, you know, obviously you’ve lived there and you understand the environmental kind of policy that surrounds the city and the fights that happened in the eighties and nineties related to the Edwards aquifer. And so there was a huge discussion and something that I learned about when I was there. And when I was in school about impervious cover that, you know, over the Edwards aquifer, you don’t want more impervious cover because the runoff, you know, is pollutant. And those types of things, I’m wondering if there is some sort of a way to create a, save our Springs or some sort of a movement for, you know, heat rather than just air pollution, water pollution, and the other movements that are happening around the country and climate for that matter.
Dr. V. Kelly Turner (13m 47s):
Yeah. There’s a social movement. Well, I’m part of this, our Straka feller extreme heat Alliance, which is trying to do that and come up with really innovative ways to think about pushing heat as a suite. You know, I guess one thing I would say is like addressing, heat’s not going to be one policy. It’s not going to be one movement. It’s gotta be multiple movements. And right now we’re at the, like at the very beginning. So I sat and I listened to this house science committee meeting yesterday. And it was interesting because, you know, while people have these sort of general experiences with heat. So when Congress person comes and talks about being in an ad system and day laborers and sort of the impacts that people have, these sort of tangible experiences with the, and one of the ways we start our stakeholder workshops is saying, remember a time you were hot, what happened?
Dr. V. Kelly Turner (14m 34s):
How did that affect you? Everyone has one of the stories, but we don’t really understand heat and a deep enough way to address it through our regulatory system yet. And that’s because there’s a lot of conflation of chronic versus acute heat. There’s a lot of conflation between urban produced heat and climate stuff that you actually just can’t control and can only adapt to. And so I think we need to have a much more nuanced conversation because this is an instance where the biophysical processes that control heat really matter to the interventions. You can do an intervention to reduce the urban heat island and it can make people hotter.
Jeff Wood (15m 11s):
Yeah. And you know, the thing that came to comes to mind initially is the air conditioning, right? And it produces so much heat itself, even though it’s cooling the inside of buildings.
Dr. V. Kelly Turner (15m 18s):
Yeah. Except they are, we have a distribution issue, right? This is an equity issue because you have people who are living maybe in the cooler parts of town, so big houses, and they’re able to air conditioning them. And then you have folks who are just chronically exposed to heat who have no access. So one of the groups that I’m working with is out in the Coachella valley, by the Salton sea, it is it’s hot. There. It’s always hot there and they’re low income. They don’t have access to good housing. They don’t have access to good medical care. And they’re working out in agricultural fields all day and they live in older mobile homes and they have an evaporative cooler and they can’t cool their homes enough to ever fully recover.
Dr. V. Kelly Turner (16m 0s):
And so we did one of the workshops out there and one of the participants said, you know, what we try to do is we put our trailers together. We link them together to get enough power just to make our evaporative cooler work, but that doesn’t always work. And sometimes it causes fires. And so you just have this complete, you know, I guess that’s a long-winded way of saying like, some people should have air conditioning, some people should get, we should accept the trade-offs for the most vulnerable people and maybe less. So who has
Jeff Wood (16m 31s):
He event? What was your event that kind of sticks in your mind?
Dr. V. Kelly Turner (16m 35s):
Oh my gosh. So when I was younger, I used to go to tennis camp in new Braunfels, Texas, just south of Austin. And every single year as a little kid, I remember I would get heatstroke and I would vomit in the first week because it was just too hard. But you know, again, I am a well-resourced person, but when I walk around the city with my daughter, I’m always talking about heat. And I think she like picks up on that. And so one time I took her to a playground in the valley, you know, it was on the way to someplace we were going and it wasn’t our usual playground. And there were no shade structures. And she takes off her shoes, runs out into the sand, turns around, comes back and starts crying. Her feet are too hot and this was in the summertime in the valley.
Dr. V. Kelly Turner (17m 17s):
So, you know, I just think that we have a incredibly inequitable urban infrastructure, and I’m mostly concerned about the really vulnerable people as day laborers, the children and the elderly.
Jeff Wood (17m 28s):
Yeah. And that’s an important point about equity. The environmental justice portion of this is really important because a lot of recent research shows that the heat island effect disproportionately impacts low-income communities and communities of color specifically. And the research shows that it’s so insidious in those communities, that it’s something that we need to address. But the problem is we don’t tend to notice that in our planning policies, because in the ways that we look at things and you know, I’m wondering how you’ve seen the impacts of that from your research and what people are saying and doing about
Dr. V. Kelly Turner (17m 57s):
It. Yeah. So my first response to your question is that the urban heat island is this very specific phenomenon. It’s a regional heat island. In fact, a lot of the climate community won’t just use urban heat island alone anymore. They use breech urban heat island because it’s very specifically addressing this difference between urban and sort of Kerry urban areas. And so it references a specific climate phenomenon. And when we’re talking about inequitable exposure within cities and heterogeneous sort of built environments, the term we should be using to talk about that is local climate sense. And that’s, that’s a concept by Stuart and oaky, not my own, but it’s based on, you know, 40, 50 years of urban climate science, which shows that you can’t fundamentally change the thermal conditions of a neighborhood without addressing three dimensions, the materials, the composition, the materials that you have buildings to give trees, et cetera, how tall they are and how spread out they are.
Dr. V. Kelly Turner (19m 5s):
And so when I see interventions being proposed like tree planting programs, you know, I think we need to be careful and say, yeah, we might be providing shade. That will be good for pedestrian thermal comfort, shade, super important, but we’re not addressing the urban heat island. What we’re doing is just a drop in the bucket, shifting from one climate zone to a fundamentally different arrangement of trees and buildings that would actually be cooler.
Jeff Wood (19m 32s):
What does that mean specifically? I mean, like, I know that in your research, you showed that a lot of the, you know, suggested mitigations for the heat impact is trees. And so if the trees, if they do impact or don’t impact, how does that actually work? And how can you put that into policy so that you’re making sure you’re making the right decisions on planting trees rather than just planting for planting sake.
Dr. V. Kelly Turner (19m 56s):
Yeah. You hear a lot of right tree right place, right. Purpose, those kinds of statements being made, but focusing on the individual tree, I think that’s a little bit of, you know, you need multiple trees to actually change a local climate sense. So what would this look like? Let me give you a very concrete example. This is a project that we just got funded to work on in Watts. So we have this historical aerial photography going back to 1920 of Watson, the built environment. And you look at this one section of Watts and it’s consistently single family detached dwellings with a little bit of vegetation, some trees, some grass they’re kind of, they’re relatively compact and space, right?
Dr. V. Kelly Turner (20m 36s):
That is going to be a much cooler climate set. And then what it transitions to later in the 1950s sixties, where it becomes parking lots with wider roads, with big flat buildings that are wide and space to park, kind of your typical industrial kind of service sector, sprawly kind of configuration. Right. And you can imagine that I would ask your listeners to imagine, imagine being in a residential road that has, you know, it doesn’t even have to have that lush of vegetation with a bunch of homes, and then imagine yourself at a strip mall parking lot. One is going to feel much more, more than the other because the sum is greater than each one of the parts. Right.
Dr. V. Kelly Turner (21m 16s):
You know, one of the things we want to track in our research is how does that whole of the built environment, in fact, the thermal profile of the neighborhood.
Jeff Wood (21m 25s):
And you’ve seen that in a lot of the, kind of the popular culture articles that have come out on the topic as well. It feels like you see the picture of the infrared picture with the heat. And then also it talks about the inequities between rich neighborhoods and poor neighborhoods, the richest neighborhoods of all the trees, the poorest neighborhoods don’t necessarily have the same shrubbery and greenery that the other ones that have mature because they’ve grown up over time.
Dr. V. Kelly Turner (21m 47s):
Right. But I think that those, all those things are based on these thermal images, the land surface temperature, surface, temperature monitors, and those can be really misleading because all that’s capturing is basically if you look at a land surface temperature map, that’s what most cities have at their disposal, for planning for heat. That’s going to show you the importance of albido or the reflectance of a surface. And so that’s going to show you two things. It’s going to say, if we paint stuff white, we solar reflect the pain on all this across the whole city. Pretend theoretically, that’s possible. We’re going to reduce temperatures, right? Or if we plant a bunch of trees or have a bunch of brass, that’s dying to make cities cooler, however, it’s going to reduce the urban heat island. That’s what it’s going to do.
Dr. V. Kelly Turner (22m 28s):
Right? It’s addressing that regional difference problem. Is it going to make that community cooler? Is it going to make people less exposed to heat? No. And instead if we want to get it that we need to be measuring mean radiant temperature, and this gets a little in the weeds, but it’s super important. So mean radiant temperature is this composite indicator. It’s the amount of incoming solar radiation. So how much sun is hitting your body, how much energy is being reradiated off of surfaces as heat energy. It also takes into account sort of wind action and humidity. So it’s all of these various climate factors that ultimately determine how your body is experiencing heat.
Dr. V. Kelly Turner (23m 8s):
And that’s much more difficult to measure than a satellite image. And what that’s going to show you though, however, is that if you want to make people feel better, if you want to address public health and prove their comfort, it’s not just about surface albedo, it’s not just about reflectivity. It’s actually mostly about how much solar energy is coming. It’s about shade, shade improves thermal comfort because not only does it shield the body from all that sunlight, but it also prevents surfaces from Bree radiating heat. So it basically stops the problem it’s preventative, right? It stops the problem in the first place. And I think, you know, if I had a, a policymaker who had a lot of power overheat, but one thing I would say is, look, don’t use land surface temperature maps as your guide post for improving public health.
Dr. V. Kelly Turner (23m 58s):
Public health is about shade. When you’re talking about the outdoor environment, heat island is about that reflectivity. And they’re not always, co-benefits,
Jeff Wood (24m 8s):
That’s interesting. That’s something that I’d never heard of before. And I imagine that a lot of people listening, listening, haven’t heard about it either. It’s an interesting difference between the two. Another thing that I think about is trees generally, and I am, I’m all for trees. I love trees. I was really sad last year. And my listeners know this, that there was a tree in front of my house that got cut down because of box truck hit it. So it came down before it was supposed to, although it was hitting at the end of its life, the ficus trees are kind of, you know, an interesting species. But you know, one of the things that I I’ve been reading about and worrying about recently is a lot of the drought and the drought in the Western states specifically, and trying to plant trees and get shade and do all the things that we want to do.
Jeff Wood (24m 49s):
It seems really hard because of that. I mean, we had these articles in the New York times and in the LA times, even in the last couple of days about needles, which only has one water pump, it’s going to be 109 there today. And I think the pump actually went out. So, you know, they have 36 hours of water. It’s something that’s really stressful. And then places like Utah, there was a, there’s a ton of Oakley in Utah is actually, even though they have serious demand for housing because of the increase of people wanting to move out of cities and the housing prices and the madness is going on, but they have a moratorium because they don’t have enough water. And so when we’re thinking about planting trees, planting greenery, and shrubbery, all the things that were important, and you know, obviously there’s an age issue too, because it takes a while to, for trees to get to a mature age.
Jeff Wood (25m 29s):
That’s something I worry about too. Is that something that comes up in the discussions about heat overall is the drought, I mean, obviously from a water perspective, but just from a cultivating a Lusher environment as well.
Dr. V. Kelly Turner (25m 40s):
Yeah. Oh my gosh. I have so many thoughts on this topic. Okay. So one place to start is, you know, an unanswered question for every tree we plant, how many trees do we take away? And this is something that I don’t think any city knows for sure. So in Los Angeles, for instance, we have this other goal of housing, densification and housing densification triggers street widening, which triggers street, tree removal, which also widens roads. So there you have one sort of action that’s causing, you know, he profile to increase in an area. And so how often does that happen versus how often we plant trees?
Dr. V. Kelly Turner (26m 22s):
That’s one sort of trade up or one sort of unintended consequences in our tree, counting programs and methods, another issue with the trees and the trade-offs society. You bring up, they do require water, and they’re not the only way we could get shade. So my colleague Arianna Madell at Arizona state university just finished this great study. Her publications out is about 50 grades of shade. And yeah, and you know, it shows first and foremost, any shade is going to improve your thermal comfort, right? It doesn’t matter what form that comes in. You just need shade, but that not all shade is equal. So built environment shade. If you’ve got buildings or walls or sort of houses that are creating shade, that’s gonna have the most cooling effect followed by trees, followed by those sort of pervious wind sale things.
Dr. V. Kelly Turner (27m 9s):
Right? So I mean, something that cities to think about is the orientation and where they’re going to get shading from new buildings and structures that don’t require trees. Right? Another issue to think about with trees and water consumption are ways to kind of, again, direct the resources to the people that need them the most. You know, sometimes we do have to accept trade-offs and I think we should be accepting trade-offs in the communities that need trees the most, but what irks, everyone in the heat world is seeing these like skinny little trees being put in like an industrial downtown area, spaced 20 feet apart from one another. You know, that area is going to get an enormous amount of shade.
Dr. V. Kelly Turner (27m 51s):
Certain times of the day from all the tall buildings, you’re not really increasing canopy cover. And you’ve got these teeny little trees that may or may not survive. I mean, the rate of urban trees is not really great. So I think that again, placement is important, but also like connectivities. So this one project that we have going on, we’re using cell phone mobility, data to track where people go around the city. It’s not just about like the static place where our demographic maps show people are living. So, you know, one way to allocate tree resources, equitably say like, okay, we’re not going to, maybe we’re not going to put trees everywhere because they use an enormous amount of water. So we’re going to put trees in communities that need the most.
Dr. V. Kelly Turner (28m 31s):
And we do that by where people sleep at night, but maybe where people needed is when they’re going places or where they’re working. And so we’re hoping to figure out where do people go? Where do they go naturally to get cool? And how can we increase sort of cool connectivity. Maybe we should be siting these trees along the places that are traversed most by the people who are most vulnerable to the heat so that they don’t have long stretches of waiting or walking in places that are hot. But trees have a lot of co-benefits too. Yeah. Transpiration all kinds of other things. Oh, and there’s a scale issue with trees too. You know, there’s other interesting research coming out that in some climate regions, increasing tree canopy at a regional scale can actually make it hotter because it increases the urban boundary layer and it can actually trap in bead and they get hotter nest system.
Dr. V. Kelly Turner (29m 25s):
1 (29m 25s):
That’s great attention, pay attention to details.
Jeff Wood (29m 30s):
Well, I also noticed that you all looked at a lot of urban plans and policies cities have put together and you guys put together charts that focus on heat related topics. Infrastructure plans are seriously low on the totem pole. It seems like, and mentioning even Heath related issues in the policy yet, they’re probably the most impactful on the topic. Why, why do transportation planners or even infrastructure planners, electorate officials, et cetera, why do they not add this specific topic in an area where they might be most impacted?
Dr. V. Kelly Turner (30m 1s):
Yeah, I do. I think that goes back to the beginning of our conversation, talking about framing that framing of heat as a hazard event really orients our attention to certain things like OSHA and workers’ protection and emergency warnings and that kind of stuff. And that’s why I think you see a lot more in the hazard plans. Hazard plans tend to fold in keep stuff, but in general, by the way, most of the plans didn’t even consider heat. And if they did, it was in this really thin, general way, like, oh, he is a problem. We should deal with it, but have an actual heap framing that was a little bit more nuanced. We’re really, he planning and heat management is in its infancy.
Dr. V. Kelly Turner (30m 41s):
And I, I suspect if we redid that study, that it would look a little bit different five years from now. And I’m hoping that my colleagues and I can be part of the conversation and making that sort of like evidence-based. But yeah, that was a really interesting exercise to go through all those plans to, you know, fun fact, we did this thing where we looked at how similar the plans were in how they address heat. And the thing that seems to be driving it is being the same type of plan, whether it’s resilience, whether it’s infrastructure, whether it’s a climate plan, not what city you’re in. So for instance, the most similar plans where the Los Angeles and the Houston resilience plans and the least similar where the Houston and resilience and forget, I think it was the sustainability plan.
Dr. V. Kelly Turner (31m 28s):
I’d have to double check that, but why, because the resilience planner from Los Angeles moved to Houston and read their plan. That’s just a little, little fun fact. But the other thing that stood out from that study is that only 30% of the plans included equity as a concern when they were talking about, Hey, even though we know that he exposure and heat impact is incredibly inequitable.
Jeff Wood (31m 52s):
If you were going to help put together a piece in the infrastructure bill that’s being worked on right now about heat, what would you add in, like, what would be the thing that you would add in or would want?
Dr. V. Kelly Turner (32m 2s):
Well, there’s kind of two things. There would be the general literacy about heat, like entering things, like mean radiant temperature and local climate zones into the lexicon. So that we’re not just looking at surface temperature maps and deciding to slap reflective surfaces on everything that should be part of the program, but it should be specified. So that would be one thing I would also say, let’s take equities seriously and do that first. We can save lives right away. We know how to do that. And it might produce, trade-offs like putting air conditioning in apartment units or saying like, landlords have, there must be a thermal maximum. So right now, you know, we have regulation for apartments where it must be warm enough for people, but we don’t say it must be cool enough for people.
Dr. V. Kelly Turner (32m 51s):
And that really, that needs to change. So they’re the big things about like the literacy, but there’s also these specific things. So right now, California has this legislation on the docket, SB 5 85, it’s the extreme heat and resilient communities, legislation. I’m super supportive. I called in to support it. But you know, there just little things I would pick in there and one I’m going to like highlight air is that they want to use cool pavement as a strategy for pooling certain areas. And the list is nice, like parking lots roads. And then they say play arts that I think is super problematic because we know that in cool pavement in order to work, what they do really well is reflect solar, solar energy back.
Dr. V. Kelly Turner (33m 40s):
And that’s how they prevent the urban heat island. So they do a really good job at that. But in order to do that, they increase heat exposure on the body between about 11 o’clock to one o’clock midday hours. Well, that’s exactly when recess is. So we’re proposing put something that’s going to increase thermal burden. I’m one of the most vulnerable groups during the hottest hour. And during the time when they’re exerting themselves physically, I think that I would slow the brakes on that part of the legislation. So that’s the kind of thing I would really just hope that we could get a more nuanced discussion about heat going through these individual line items and say, look, the science says, that’s not a great idea.
Dr. V. Kelly Turner (34m 20s):
Or the science is uncertain here and we need to know more. And I think that’s actually to lay the case for certain certain issues related to heat.
Jeff Wood (34m 30s):
That’s one thing I thought I was wondering about reflective surfaces is the issue of reflectivity and sunburn. You know, cause when you go skiing and you’re on the snow all day, you have a higher likelihood of getting sunburned than you do if you’re going to be in the city. And so, you know, that reflection off the white snow gives you more ability to get sunburned. I’m curious, like if that’s something that even factors into the minds of folks who are thinking about these technological advances,
Dr. V. Kelly Turner (34m 56s):
They are, and I’ve had the opportunity to speak with a lot of people who have been involved in this. And they’re thinking about things like reflectivity and visibility and skidding on the highways and you know, that kind of stuff. And there’s some positive Tobin, that’s that reflectivity. If you’re in a dangerous neighborhood at night time, it increases visibility like the lights shine brighter and further that kind of thing. I think these are conversations that are having, but you know, I might be getting too political here, but you know, I think one, there’s a failure on the scientific community side to really articulate these trade-offs in a way that is hitting the ears of policymakers, but there’s also this sort of, I think policy makers get to fit certain narratives.
Dr. V. Kelly Turner (35m 39s):
They’re cherry picking, not on purpose, but they’re, you know, our, our cognition is such that we look for evidence that’s going to support what we want to be true. And I think that cities would really like solar reflective payment to be more than it is. And so there’s a tendency to sort of take that scientific information that supports that it’s good and really Herald that and also to fit like one of the reasons I think that for brief moments, solar reflective payments for being sort of couched in this public health perspective is because public health is super important. It’s easier to get action on public health. The problem is that the science doesn’t really support that. That’s how you improve public health.
Dr. V. Kelly Turner (36m 19s):
So, you know, to go back to the players, what would I do? I’d give them more grass and I give them more shade and not artificial grass either. That’s pretty bad too. Yeah. I was wondering about that too. Artificial
Jeff Wood (36m 29s):
Grass has become a thing, especially in places where they are limiting their, what is it in Vegas is Vegas or Reno? I think it’s like ornamental grass is illegal Phoenix, maybe ornamental grasses illegal now. So you have to have fake grass or something else that doesn’t take a lot of water, but then the ecosystem impacts of that are really fascinating. There’s, that’s a whole other conversation, but, but there’s also, I mean, in what you’d mentioned before in the solar pavements and those types of things, I mean, I think like transportation and the specific mention of solar reflective roads, there was a techno optimism. And I think sometimes that’s a little bit dangerous to think that, you know, you’re going to solve everything through technology and the future is that somewhat pervasive in the discussions about heat, as well as that we’ll solve it somehow we’re just going to invent some technology and it’ll fix everything.
Dr. V. Kelly Turner (37m 14s):
Yeah, that’s interesting. I’m not sure that I’ve seen that. I think that it seemed really convenient. I can only really speak to the conversation. I’ve been a part of, which has been mostly the California Los Angeles, but you know, it was an idea. Let’s take this from the roofs to the streets. It was a really, really good idea. And nobody really knew how it was going to work. And for me as an academic researcher, I’m all for that. I think, right. Let’s try this. It’s an experiment. Let’s see how it works. And then let’s be honest about the pros and the cons that communities can make informed decisions about what they would or would not like to see. I think that sometimes good ideas, you know, they, they move up the ladder quickly and then all of a sudden the conversation’s entrenched.
Dr. V. Kelly Turner (37m 59s):
So that’s the problem that I think I, I saw that, you know, the conversation just really got entrenched and it almost became like political and not almost it did. It’s a political thing to say that both payments aren’t a hundred percent good and that’s because it jeopardizes budgets and it jeopardizes, you know, stuff that we’re doing that actually is good. Right? We don’t want to take cool payments off the table. We want full tape and some lots of places parking lots are great. Roofs are great, certain neighborhoods and streets. They’re great. They’re just not great everywhere in all contexts. And we need to be honest about that without taking it off the table,
Jeff Wood (38m 34s):
I’ve seen a number of articles about, you know, sunscreen for pavement, which just seems to be the popular topic the last couple of weeks, I think spraying titanium dioxide on, on things which spraying, anything like that, that starts with titanium. Doesn’t sound good to me,
1 (38m 49s):
But it’s out there.
Dr. V. Kelly Turner (38m 51s):
I mean, that starts to fall into the realm of, we don’t really know. Let’s figure it out. You know, you’re, you were bringing up sunscreen right. Early research is not published yet. I’ve reticent to say it’s not my own, but like it might not. The UV reflection might not be so bad. We don’t really know yet. And so I would put that in the bin. Let’s find out some more.
Jeff Wood (39m 12s):
So what are cities doing now to deal with this? Are there any cities that are kind of leading the way in terms of, do they have a heat plan? I mean, obviously Miami has a heat officer and that’s really important, but are there any cities that are doing things that you find are impressive or interesting?
Dr. V. Kelly Turner (39m 26s):
Yeah. Well, Phoenix has a heat management response plan. They actually have a fit plan. They’re the first city to do so. And I heard rumors that Washington DC is going to do so as well. And in LA in some reason, some respects we do too. And our mayor has come out publicly and said that he is an equity issue. So I, I actually think we’re at a moment right now where cities are going to start doing more. But I think right now heat management has been very ad hoc. And so to answer your question, I would be pointing to these really specific examples of things that have been done. I’ve talked at nauseum now, the coolest streets.
Dr. V. Kelly Turner (40m 6s):
I actually think that was a great example of being at the cutting edge of heat management, but you know, doing things like, okay, cooling centers, people don’t really like to go to cooling centers, right. It’s hard for them to either get there or it’s sitting in a gymnasium. That’s cool, but there’s nothing going on or people are going to malls. Like why can’t we think of ways to make cooling fun? The other day I was at the playground with my child and the sprinklers were on to water, the grass and all the kids were just running through the sprinklers. Right. That’s fun. And they’re cool. So I just think that we have to be way more creative and make heat management meet people’s lifestyles rather than vice versa.
Jeff Wood (40m 51s):
That reminds me of a, there’s a park here in the mission where there’s a water feature for kids play and going past there a couple, maybe it was a couple of weeks ago and the kids were just, it was a hot day and the kids were just having so much fun and like sticking their head in the water and running away and then, you know, scared of it, but then running through it, it was just like really fun. And I appreciate that sentiment making cooling fun because they were certainly having a good time.
Dr. V. Kelly Turner (41m 14s):
Yeah. Well, I also think we have this moment to do that too because of television and all this stuff happening around sort of tactical urbanism and stuff that those folks have been saying forever. Like take over the streets and put restaurants there. Right. I think we have a moment now where we can think more broadly at that intersection of like sort of the creative architecture urban as in community and like the heat and find that science, where do those two things converge
Jeff Wood (41m 37s):
Research or look at over the last year? I know, obviously there’s been a lot of discussion about the pandemic’s impact on emissions and passenger movements and vehicles and those types of things. But has there been any like research showing what this whole, you know, kind of lockdowns have done for heat?
Dr. V. Kelly Turner (41m 55s):
Yeah, I mean, so one of my colleagues actually was doing a study lab. Keith at university of Arizona, did a study looking at the folks that are administering vaccines and the exposure. So they’re sitting out in parking lots all day and Tucson, right, where it’s very, very hot and that they’re basically being exposed to an unsafe conditions. And another example from some of my community engagement work, there are community volunteers trying to recruit people to go out and get vaccines. And it’s just so hot. It’s too hot to physically walk door to door. So they’re driving in air conditioned cars and going out and then like, you know, quickly knocking on people’s doors and getting back in the cars. So, you know, people do adapt is interesting, but in terms of like COVID and you know, whether or not people were going outside when it was hot and unsafely.
Dr. V. Kelly Turner (42m 44s):
So, because all they could do is go for a walk. I don’t know if anyone’s done that study, but they should. It’s a really good idea.
Jeff Wood (42m 51s):
Well, that brings me to like, what’s next for you? What’s next on your agenda in terms of research, in terms of thinking about heat policy, et cetera.
Dr. V. Kelly Turner (42m 58s):
Yeah. I mean, I have a number of projects going on right now, mostly focused on getting cities, the kind of information they need closing the gap between those land surface temperature models that are really coarse and only tell you a little bit about the built environment and then trying to get really kind of fine-grained detailed information to cities about morphology, because really where does planning happen? Where to interventions happen? It’s not the street segment, it’s at the tens of meters. That’s how decisions are made. And it’s complicated by all sorts of stuff. Like what is this land zone four? Do we need to have this be, you know, like accessible for wheelchairs? Do we, you know, there all these little considerations, but cities are dealing with that are just way more complicated than increase albido.
Dr. V. Kelly Turner (43m 43s):
And so most of the projects I have going on now are trying to tackle that because what we want to avoid is panaceas when we use really thin general data from regional studies and we apply it to hyper-local contexts at best case scenario, we get the, we get it right. But usually we get it kind of not so right. It’s not so effective or sometimes we get wrong. So that’s what we’re trying to avoid there. Other things that have going on, I’m really interested in communication and literacy about heat. So some of the ways we’ve been doing that, we did a series of cool art murals. There’s one in south LA and one in financial it’s elementary school in the valley.
Dr. V. Kelly Turner (44m 27s):
These are using that solar reflective paint, which actually comes in lots of different colors to murals that, you know, will express something about heat. And then you can look at them in the visible spectrum and in the thermal spectrum. So that’s the kind of thing, you know, I’m also really interested in this idea of naming heat waves, which has gotten a little play recently. So I think that’s a really interesting social science question about communication. I know that some folks are promoting that as like the, we should definitely do that. It’s a really good idea, but it’s bad something that’s gotten quite political and that’s because, you know, naming heat waves is a really difficult task, both from a climate perspective.
Dr. V. Kelly Turner (45m 7s):
And also it’s not a non-normative thing. If you name something, especially if it’s an anthropomorphic kind of name, then you introduce an element of subjectivity to something. And I think that the folks who are interested in naming heat waves are stepping off from like the human names, which I’m happy to see. But there’s a really interesting question about messaging. And when you go on social media, you know, some of the hazards study shows, well, what kind of messages Tran have most traction when you spew them out onto Twitter or whatever. And it’s something helped her message regimes. This is the work of Jeanette Sutton who is not focused on heat, but I’m multiple different hazard types and shows that, you know, if you just have to the fact of objective statements, those are the ones that get shared, followed retweeted more than others.
Dr. V. Kelly Turner (45m 56s):
And so, you know, I think there’s a lot of work to be done on the communication front, which has gets a little away from the built environment.
Jeff Wood (46m 3s):
Really interesting. I think I saw a couple of pieces on that specific idea of, of naming heatwave. I wonder how that scientifically can be, cause on a hurricane, as somebody who grew up in Houston and was living in the shadow of hurricanes, often there was a name that was associated with something that could be measured 75 miles an hour or more is a hurricane, right? Like, so you can measure the wind speed and then you know what it is and it comes, but then you have, I do know that there were a lot of people, friends, et cetera, that had names of the hurricanes that, you know, it was not fun for them for a certain amount of time. Right. Because, because they had the name, I’m sure Harvey specifically at the moment is not a great name to have when you’re thinking about somebody living along the Gulf coast dropping 50 inches.
Jeff Wood (46m 44s):
Dr. V. Kelly Turner (46m 44s):
Well, for a long time, hurricanes were only named after women and
1 (46m 50s):
This. Yeah. So there’s
Dr. V. Kelly Turner (46m 52s):
A really interesting book. It’s called Tempest and it’s about naming of hurricanes and it talks about the names and how the media portrayal based on names, you get things like, you know, talking about it’s squealing in like a woman giving childbirth and he’s really like problematic statements. But you know, beyond that, there was this whole controversy with the lizard naming and the national weather service. I don’t know if you’ve heard of this. The weather channel said that they were going to start naming blizzard events. This is maybe about 10 years ago as a way to make it easier for people to track the weather events and you know, the stance of the national weather. And no, it was basically that this is a media ploy to get more kind of more traffic around something like a blizzard on their websites.
Dr. V. Kelly Turner (47m 39s):
Right. And so they were staunchly against this and, but there were also some like scientific reasons. Why, like, how do you define the beginning? And then at the end of the blizzard, it’s not sort of the same thing as you said, was you pretty much know when a hurricane is started and ended. How do you measure the intensity of something like a blizzard? And by the way, you could substitute heat for basically everything I’m saying here, how do you measure the intensity? I mean, the Fujita scale for tornadoes, for instance, the Fujita scale used to be based just purely on damage. And you know, that that was highly problematic because you know, you could have infrastructure, that’s very inequitable in terms of its capacity to withstand a tornado.
Dr. V. Kelly Turner (48m 21s):
And so are you really truly getting like the categories, right? The little birds in my ear telling me that rankings systems have have more traction than naming systems,
Jeff Wood (48m 32s):
But they’re also super problematic. We have this annual contest to rank whether it’s traffic or the most livable city. And, and obviously those are as somebody who’s worked in an organization who tried to do ranking systems for a time, I’m like, this is ridiculous. And on its head kind of silly because of what are you going to measure and what are the measurements coming from and how are you doing it? It’s, it’s super frustrating. But, but at the same time, we also found that the only way for newspapers and others to pick some things up sometimes was to put a number, a ranking on it. Your city sucks because of this.
1 (49m 5s):
And so they’re like, well, well,
Jeff Wood (49m 7s):
Let’s report that to the masses. Our city was bad at that traffic or our city is bad. We’re the number one worst place in the country for this. And so, yeah, if it’s too nuanced, they won’t do anything with it. But if it’s very direct and seems authoritative, they’ll take it and run with it. And then you get your publicity. It’s like branding and shaming
Dr. V. Kelly Turner (49m 27s):
Shame is a great motivator for change. Well, where
Jeff Wood (49m 31s):
Can folks find your work if they want to, if you want to be found for that matter? Yeah.
Dr. V. Kelly Turner (49m 36s):
They can find me on the Luskin center for innovation website. It has links to all of my work. They can also see me on Twitter. I see Kelly Turner. I got very creative with my name and on Instagram, I occasionally post some of my more art focused stuff. And that is the Linda’s collaborative. So the handle for that one.
Jeff Wood (49m 57s):
Nice. Well, Dr. V Kelly Turner. Thank you so much for joining us. We really appreciate.
Dr. V. Kelly Turner
Yeah. Thank you so much. It was a lot of fun.