EPISODE 23: Too Hot? Your City Needs a New Coat of Paint

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Show Notes

Heat is intensifying, thanks to climate change. A coalition of cities is pioneering a makeover for roads and rooftops that makes everything feel cooler. 

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Transcript


Straw media like. If you ask
people about climate change, they start talking

to you about politics, but if
you ask them about the weather in their

neighborhood or their comfort in their neighborhood, every single Angelino thinks their neighborhood is

getting hotter. Very reasonably, this
is Lucas grimly from next city, a

show about change makers and their stories. Truth is, there are solutions to

the problems oppressing people in cities.
If you're listening, I hope it's because

you want to spread good ideas from
one city to the next city. As

a former Floridian, I've dodged my
share of hurricanes and I have seen the

aftermath firsthand of a category four.
It's devastating. The National Weather Service tracks

the number of our weather related fatalities, but over the last thirty years,

the most deadly form of weather in
the US is not hurricanes, its heat.

The number of heat related deaths is
considered actually a climate change indicator,

and the EPA tract a new high
point or low point set in two thousand

and six. Between two thousand and
four and two thousand and eighteen, we

averaged seven hundred and two heat related
deaths every year in the United States cities

have it especially tough thanks to the
urban heat island effect. Noah says,

mid afternoon temperatures in some places can
be fifteen to twenty degrees warmer. Listen

now to a Los Angeles mayor at
our city last year announcing an expansion of

a program he calls cool streets,
cool neighborhoods. We are here to launch

the next phase of cool La.
Code read. Code read is what the

United Nations said. Is this moment
that we are living through, the rising

temperatures, more extreme weather, forced
migration and all the things that we will

live with for the rest of our
lives because of human inaction when it comes

to climate change. After some of
the record breaking temperatures we've seen lately,

and I I know that people keep
saying last year was the hottest year we've

ever had, I would say last
year is the coolest year we will ever

have. When you look at what
is happening each year, it's getting hotter

and hotter, it's getting more unbearable, and I know, especially after the

hot days we've had here in the
middle of the fall, how good the

words cool la sound right today we're
learning about what La is doing to lower

the temperature. Here's reporter Mikhaela Hass
from our partner reasons to be cheerful.

By the way, Michaela is also
the author of bouncing forward, transforming bad

breaks into breakthroughs. Be sure to
check it out. You've noted in your

story that urban heat islands and urban
heat is not distributed equally. So first

what our urban heat islands and why
are you more likely to be experiencing when

if you're black or Latino? So
urban heat islands are areas in big cits

that store the heat from the sun
disproportionately. So it's quite simple. I

imagine you're wearing a black tight t
shirt and in planes on you'll feel much

hotter than if you wearing a blousy
white shirt. So it's the same that

asphelt on the concrete. They work
like heaters almost, and they give off

the heat throughout the day and night. So that makes it much hotter.

And the data is quite amazing.
Black and Hispanic resident throughout the US have

a fifty percent higher exposure to heat
islands than white residents, and that's because

trees are the best remedy for heat
islands. They give shade, they breathe.

They give oxygen. So you find
trees and a better tree canopy in

wealth the areas because they're you know, they cost money to maintain. So

that's the connection. The difference is
significant. It could be as much as

fifteen degrees Fahrenheit on the pavement itself
and several degrees in the atmosphere. Fifteen

degrees difference is a significant different.
What is that like in your everyday life?

So I'm near Los Angeles and we're
not the hottest city in the US.

That would be phoenix. But we're
the only city in the US that

has heat death in winter. And
so already forty to fifty days a year

or above ninety five degrees Fahrenheit,
and through climate change these days will double.

So imagine having a hundred days a
year with more than ninety five degrees

Fahrenheit. So this is not just
a problem of discomfort, this is actually

costing lives. There are about Twentyzero
heat related injuries every year in California alone.

It's a huge human cost, it's
a huge economic cost and that's why

I wrote the story about white paint
as a means to mitigate this urban heat

problem. M Taylor reports that ten
streets and ten La neighborhoods have already been

treated with reflective pain. Earlier you
heard Mayor Garciti announcing the cooling paint will

be added to two hundred more city
blocks targeting eight underserved neighborhoods. That's almost

twozero streets getting this new reflective paint. So this reflective paint that they're using

in Los Angeles, it does sound
sort of simple. You're just going to

paint the roads in this reflective coating. But what does it look like,

first of all, and how does
someone experience at? What does it feel

like if they come across it?
So it's not as easy as just painting

everything white. They do that on
the Greek islands and it works for them,

but in a big city like la
or like Phoenix or Philadelphia, you

have to be pretty careful and where
you place these these white streets because if

you do it wrong, they could
reflect onto the wrong areas and make things

even hotter. So they have to
be strategically placed. So Los Angeles has

this big program where they have identified
two hundred city blocks across eight undersurf neighborhoods

where they will apply this urban cooling
paint. It's expensive. It's about fortyzero

dollars per mile. So but you
feel the difference. Like often residents will

come out and say their neighborhood feels
so much cooler and it makes a difference

of several degrees. You don't really
see that much. It just a little

lighter color. That's what it looks
like, but you feel it. But

I want to be clear that the
white paint is not the only solution.

The best solution is really to plant
more trees, more vegetation in general,

and the cities know that, like
Los Angeles and other cities, they're doing

this with a holistic approach and they're
also taking into account and have plans to

significantly increase the tree coverage in these
areas. Of course, all these measures

are managing a problem. The best
answer to urban heat would be to really

take effective measures against climate change,
stop burning fossil fuels, things like that.

But the realities of climate change are
here with us now. So what

are we going to do about it? For the comfort and safety of residents

today, reflective streets could be one
solution. After the break we will talk

with Greg Spots, chief sustainability officer
for cool streets La. No one knows

more about the reflective streets project and
the other improvements Makila alluded to that are

protecting Angelinos from the heat. Welcome
back to next city in today's show.

Reflective streets are being used to cool
down urban heat islands that especially affect poor

communities of color in our cities.
Here is great spots, who is leading

the implementation of reflective streets in Los
Angeles. So we're here to talk about

reflective pavement. Is that the right
word for it? Is it indeed really

reflective? That how it works?
Sure, solar reflective pavement is part of

a suite of cooling interventions that were
starting to call smart surfaces, and that

might include reflective roof coatings, reflective
wall coatings, reflective pavement and also permeable

pavement. That's pavement where water can
get in and and cool the pavement as

well. That works in some climates
also, and this is one part of

your strategy for cool streets at La
Right. It's a whole Assembly of tactics.

Sure you know we started out in
two thousand and fourteen with the thought

that maybe we could be the first
city in California to apply a cool pavement

coating on a public street. But
over time we've become part of multi city

movement nationally and even globally on addressing
urban heat island with a variety of holistic

interventions that work together. The goal
is to reduce heat related illnesses and deaths.

We have certain neighborhoods in La that
currently have forty to fifty days a

year where the high temperature is over
ninety five degrees Fahrenheit. In many of

those neighborhoods that's going to go from
fifty days a year to one hundred days

a year sometime in the next twenty
to forty years. So we are facing

as a city, a rapid rise
in heat related emergency room visits and debts

unless we do something to start mitigating
the growing problem of urban heat. What

kind of reaction do you get when
you go out and apply these reflective coatings

to streets? Great Question. It's
very interesting. You know, when we

go out there people have never really
seen you sort of spraying a gray coating

on the street. They ask you
what you're doing and you say, Oh,

we're we're trying on emerging treatment to
try to help cool this neighborhood on

hot summer days, every single Angelino
says, my neighborhood has been getting warmer

lately. Like if you ask people
about climate change, they start talking to

you about politics, but if you
ask them about the weather and their neighborhood

or their comfort in their neighborhood,
every single Angelino thinks their neighborhood is getting

hotter very recently. After you put
in the streets or other tactics to they

feel like it's getting cooler sometimes.
You know, we've done some surveys and

people tell us that they feel that
it's some you know, less oppressive on

hot summer afternoons and in the evenings. You know, we're partnering with NASA

Jet Propulsion Laboratory to visualize these projects
with the thermal camera on the Internet National

Space Station and we can actually see
our projects at night from space on this

thermal camera, because the roadway is
emitting less heat. So our normal black

asphalt roadway captures solar energy all day
long and then admits that back into the

neighborhood at night as heat, just
at the time when people need a thermal

recharge. You know, the human
being needs to recharge from daytime eat with

nighttime cooling, and our herdscape that
we've built is actually inhibiting that nighttime cooling.

Yeah, I think it was you
who said that we've built our cities

like ovens. What does that really
mean? You know, was a good

friend of mine, Alan freed from
Bloomberg associates, who originally set it,

but I've repeated it. It means
that sort of in organizing our cities since

World War Two around movement of automobiles, we've taken out a lot of features

that made our cities more walkable,
bikable and livable and replaced it with hardscape

that literally is making our cities into
ovens. I mean, think about it.

There are times where you know the
general plans, as a certain street

is supposed to carry more traffic and
be wider than it currently is. So

someone goes and builds housing and that
triggers a street widening and that removes five

or ten beautiful mature shade trees.
So we just made it more like an

oven and less like a livable place. So to make the neighborhood more livable,

reflective streets are needed to prevent the
pavement from storing so much heat and

that needs to be combined with efforts
like planting more trees. In Los Angeles,

the city's green new deal called for
increasing the tree canopy in areas of

greatest need by at least fifty percent
by two thousand and twenty eight. So

our first round of cool pavement codings
was in two thousand and seventeen. We

applied a cool pavement coding to one
city block of roadway in each of the

fifteen council districts. When we got
some funding to do neighborhood level projects,

of doing ten to fifteen blocks contiguously, we decided to supplement those projects with

tree planting and we thought we would
bring this sort of emerging solution of smart

surfaces along with the proven solution of
shade trees. And so ever since two

thousand and nineteen, all of our
cool pavement projects have a tree planting component

where we basically plant trees and all
the vacant planting locations, and sometimes we

also like create new planting locations by
making, you know, concrete cuts for

tree wells, you know, Lucas. Something we've learned in the last few

years in La that's really disappointing is
that our tree. Poor areas today are

the red line neighborhoods from the s
that we have like a ninety year legacy

of disinvestment from that set of policies
and you know, therefore, we urge

itly need to green up those formerly
red line neighborhoods right because the lacquer tree

canopy and then the increased heat is
contributing to the problem you originally named,

which is that people are dying and
most likely than in these neighborhoods, absolutely

on you know, the elderly or
more vulnerable youth or more of honorable and

people with certain health conditions are more
vulnerable. A fascinating thing about Los Angeles

we can have heat related illnesses and
deaths in January in the winter. We

can get like a hot, humid, still air mass in the winter and

people aren't ready. We have a
different challenge than Phoenix, you know,

where everybody knows the summer's going to
be brutally hot and the built environment has

kind of been designed around that and
it's sort of a city built around air

conditioning. But in Nola we have
lots of people who don't have air conditioning

and lots of people who the air
conditioner doesn't work or they can't afford to

run it, and vulnerable populations can
get caught off guard with a like a

winter heat wave here in a lay. You know a lot of people who

listen to this podcast are people who
are trained to do this in their cities,

and I heard you mentioned that you
did one block and eat to the

fifteen council districts at first. was
that kind of a move to try to

gain support? What was that about? Well, you know, interestingly,

when there's a shiny new thing in
La usually all the council members say where's

mine? So it's helpful to spread
it around. But also we wanted folks.

You know, La is almost five
hundred square miles, so we wanted

folks to have a cool street near
them that they could go look at and

check out. And what happened was
all these different communities started coming to US

asking, you know, for these
urban cooling interventions. The real game changer

was this image from that NASA thermal
camera that showed that in the Winnetka neighborhood

the pixels near our cool pavement where
two degrees Fahrenheit cool or on average,

than the entire rest of the neighborhood. So once that image came out,

not only did we get four million
dollars for this year's larger program but all

sorts of communities have come forward asking
for these interventions. With proof these tactics

work. Are More cities trying the
same thing after the break? How these

initiatives are part of a multi city
cooperative project. Welcome back to next city

in this episode, reflective streets and
other strategies to cool down urban heat islands

that have been proven dangerous for poor
residents and residents of color. I am

with great spots, the chief sustainability
officer for cool streets La. Even though

La is not the hottest city in
the country, heat is a serious problem.

Greg spot says La is the only
city to face heat death in the

winter. It catches people off guard. So you mentioned that people aren't ready,

and one thing that's, I guess, proposed in California is that they

want to rank heat waves like hurricanes
to help better communicate it. Do you

think that would be helpful? I
do think that it would be very helpful

to treat heat waves, particularly the
ones that have these certain conditions of like

no breeze and heat lots of humidity. Treat them like a storm event.

Name Them. Monitor the number of
our emergency room visits that are coming in

in real time today. We get
that date of months later and often it

doesn't say that it's heat related necessarily. It says what particular malady the person

was was experiencing. There's also a
movement to like perhaps a point a chief

heat officer for the city of Los
Angeles and potentially also for the state of

California. I believe Phoenix and Miami
are the two cities in the US that

have chief heat officers, and I
think that can really help, because there's

a public health component, there's a
libraries and parks as cooling centers component,

there's a streets component, there's a
cool roof component, so you sort of

need somebody who can operate across all
the different Sylos of government. I'm a

leader and urban cooling in La but
I work for the streets agencies, so

I can't I have to stop when
I get onto private property, you know,

and it would be great to have
someone who could work across all these

dimensions when it comes to fighting heat. There's a lot to learn from other

cities, especially Phoenix, which is
the nation's hottest city. They're doing it

bigger than we're doing it. Like
the city's divided up into quarter Mile Square

sections. They call them quarter sections, and they're doing their coding entire quarter

sections. They think they've done six
million square feet so far and they have

another five to six million planned for
two thousand and twenty two. I was

very lucky to tour those projects with
the streets department in Phoenix last month.

I got to see three or four
of the projects. They look very good.

The one thing is they're not pairing
their tree planting with their cool pavement

like we're doing. Phoenix has a
like tree planting program along major or corridors,

but that's running differently than the cool
pavement program there's the possibility down the

road that the actual pavement, that
asphalt, could be gray, could have

solar reflective properties, but right now
you know to add those properties with a

coating that's a hundredth of an inch
thick as a lot cheaper than including whatever

that ingredient is that makes it solar
reflective in like two to four inches of

asphalt. So right now it's a
coatings game. But in Europe there's one

company experimentally producing a solar reflective asphalt
and that's very intriguing. The city of

LA operates two asphalt plants, so
we know a lot about how to make

asphalt. And Challenge of adding these
pigments into the asphalt is that in that

mixing drum it's a very, very
hot and sticky and once you put something

in you could never get it out. So it's not like Monday you could

produce black asphalt and Tuesday you could
produce gray asphalt. You know, you're

kind of have to be totally committed. I guess you need a dedicated production

line to do it and that makes
it a lot harder than just bringing on

a coating. The exciting thing is
these coatings have maintenance benefits. You know,

they're kind of waterproofing the street,
that are preventing oxidizing of the street.

You know, the up the asphalt
basically has a binder holding together that

rock and sand and the sun gradually
breaks that down. So this is almost

like a sunscreen over the street.
And interestingly, if every day the peak

temperature of the road surface is ten
degrees Fahrenheit Cooler, that's less where and

tear on the binder. And so
we're working with some researchers to try to

quantify that. What if a Cooler
Street actually last longer? So how does

a la compare with Phoenix or even
New York City on cool roofs and repainting

roofs and just for people? Two
roofs have more of an effect on like

cooling the building. Are Just cooling
the whole surrounding area. So a cool

roof really helps to keep the occupants
cool, but it also can help with

cooling the surrounding area. Lah was
a leader in having incentives for cool roofs

and then a requirement. I think
today, if you're replacing more than half

of your roof you have to use
a solar reflective product when you put it

back. I think we have more
than thirty five million square feet of cool

roofs in La. Now we could
have a lot more. I mean,

I'll ay should be the cool roof
and solar roof capital of the United States.

There's no question because of the solar
resource we have and the sort of,

you know, low rise, decentralized
city that we have spread out.

But we are a big leader in
that. I think it's very different in

New York City, the different kinds
of roofs, different types of buildings.

I'm not sure where you know Phoenix
is on that as well, but this

is one reason why I think these
cities really do need like a chief heat

officer to try to bring these different
interventions together just to kind of get a

sense of the scale of what's possible. Is the goal even to have like

every road and every roof be a
cool road and cool roof? And if

it were, what would that feel
like in the lives of people who live

in Los Angeles? So there are
some really interesting reports by the smart surfaces

coalition out of Washington DC, and
I'm actually on their steering committee, where

they look at individual cities and they
look at taking these interventions to scale and

they figure out how much cooling and
how much averted more to heat related mortality

you would achieve, and they're really
fascinating. The signature report is about the

city of Baltimore and I highly recommend
it because these reports, which they're down

doing for other cities, really give
policy makers this road map. You know,

if you really were willing to go
big on this this and this heat

related intervention, these are the results
you could get. This isn't all hands

on deck. Isssue and lives are
at stake. We're going to need a

combination of trees, reflective streets cool
rooftops if we're going to keep urban life

safe for everyone. Here again is
Mikaela hast, the reporter from reasons to

be cheerful, who wrote about cool
streets la so you mentioned expense. So

how does this rank? The reflective
street covers versus more trees, or versus

even painting roofs and changing them to
be cool roofs? All of that has

to go together. The streets cost
a little more than painting roofs, which

cities like New York and Los Angeles
are also doing. Millions of roofs actually

are being painted white or in a
lighter color. The streets are a little

more expensive because you have to think. You know, they need to withstand

the traffic and the maintenance. So
it has to be reapplied every couple of

years. Depending on which code you
use, it could last about seven years.

The dilemma is that the coding that
lasts longer is less environmentally friendly,

so you don't really want to use
chemicals that kind of counter you know that

undo the environmental effect. So it's
a little tricky. That's why there are

studies being done and that's also why
Los Angeles and eighteen other cities have formed

a partnership to exchange information about best
practices to maybe even use their collective bargain

power to purchase better paint at a
lower price, to reduce the cost so

that everybody can hopefully have a milder
summer than what we've been facing the last

couple of years. Did you get
any sense of what might be preventing other

cities from adopting this or that would
encourage other cities to adopt it? I

think one is money. Los Angeles
is pouring many millions into this project,

and the other thing is that cities
are still Experi menting with which pain works

the best, which neighborhoods to identify. Some have gotten a raw so it's

still an area where more research is
needed and I think once more cities have

more experience with this, it will
take off, because it's a problem that

almost all mega cities face. We
hope you enjoyed this episode of next city,

show about change makers and their stories. Together we can spread good ideas

from one city to the next.
City. Thanks for listening this week.

Thank you to Makhela Hass from our
partner reasons to be cheerful, which first

reported this story. Thank you to
our guests, Greg spots, from the

city of Los Angeles. Our audio
producer is Silvana Alcala. Our scriptwriter is

Francesca Mamlin. Our executive producers are
Tyler Nielsen and Ryan Tillotson. By the

way, next city is a news
organization with a nonprofit model. If you

like what we're doing here, please
consider pitching in to support our work.

visit next city dot org slash membership
to make a donation. We'd love to

hear any feedback from our listeners.
Please feel free to email us at Info

at next city dot Org and,
if you haven't already, subscribe to the

show on Apple, spotify or anywhere
you listen to your podcasts. UNT
Next City
Join Lucas Grindley, executive director at Next City, where we believe journalists have the power to amplify solutions and spread workable ideas. Each week Lucas will... View More

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