Turner Calls for Equitable, Coordinated Approach to Extreme Heat

Extreme heat events — such as the road-buckling, record-smashing temperatures seen throughout the West this past summer — are becoming more deadly and common in a rapidly changing climate. Assistant Professor of Urban Planning V. Kelly Turner, who also serves as the co-director of the UCLA Luskin Center for Innovation, co-authored a new article in Nature dissecting the issue of extreme heat and outlining the necessary components of an equitable strategy to address the crisis. Unlike with fires and floods, no single government body is responsible for managing extreme heat, making it difficult to implement effective strategies that protect communities. “Protecting people from extreme heat will require a coordinated and well-researched government approach,” Turner said. “This is especially crucial for advancing equity and reducing the disproportionate effect heat has on people of color and low-income communities.” The authors of the paper laid out several key actions to address the issue of extreme heat. First, they recommended advancing heat equity by investigating how communities of color and low-income communities are disproportionately affected by extreme heat events. Next, they recommended expanding research on the effectiveness of different interventions as well as associated risks and tradeoffs of different strategies. They also suggested that governments work together to integrate and coordinate plans for measuring and combating extreme heat. Finally, they proposed building programs and institutions dedicated to heat management and expanding research in the field. Turner and her colleagues emphasized the importance of coordinated, strategic and equity-focused action in order to manage extreme heat.

Vulnerable Populations Need Cooling, Turner Says

Assistant Professor of Urban Planning V. Kelly Turner spoke to the Guardian about the role of air conditioning and shade as a response to climate change. As temperatures rise, new technologies are emerging as an alternative to air conditioning, which itself is a contributor to the climate crisis. It’s necessary to tackle the fundamental problems that make cities hotter, said Turner, but in the meantime, “we will need some air conditioning because [without it], you can’t get your core temperature cool enough if you’re exposed to really extreme heat.” Air conditioning is especially important for vulnerable populations including outdoor agricultural and construction laborers, children, elderly people and low-income renters, said Turner, who is co-director of the UCLA Luskin Center for Innovation. She added, “If you want to cool people, you have to provide shade” to protect people’s bodies from the direct heat of the sun. 

Turner on Starting Climate Conversations With Art

Assistant Professor of Urban Planning V. Kelly Turner spoke to Smart Cities Dive about how to combine art with climate change action and awareness. The Metropolitan Area Planning Council in Boston recently published a guidebook that encourages communities and artists to develop creative approaches to shade and cooling infrastructure. “When we talk about heat, a portion of it is climate change, but a portion of it is how we choose to build and divide a city,” said Turner, who studies how the urban heat island effect makes cities without green spaces hotter. She developed the idea of using cooling reflective paint in a public art project and rallied community partners to create an enormous cool-paint mural of Zeus in South Los Angeles. Turner said the mural was designed to start a conversation about climate change. “You can show people statistics, but they feel art,” she said. “I think there’s power there.”

Turner on Building Heat Resilient Communities

Assistant Professor of Urban Planning V. Kelly Turner joined the America Adapts Podcast and the Smart Community Podcast to discuss ways to build heat resilient cities and address heat inequity. According to Turner, heat governance is in its infancy. “We don’t have institutions that are responsible for regulating heat at the local, state or federal level,” she said. Turner explained that there is a difference between the acute problem of extreme heat risk and the chronic problem of the urban heat island effect. “Not all urban heat is extreme, and not all extreme heat is urban, and you can’t necessarily solve both at the same time,” she said. Turner also discussed the tradeoffs of different heat interventions such as cool pavement, which effectively combats the urban heat island effect but is “not a substitute for shade.” She recommended engaging with communities to learn how people experience heat in order to make cities better places for people to live.

Turner on Challenges of Regulating Urban Heat

Assistant Professor of Urban Planning V. Kelly Turner joined the Talking Headways podcast to discuss different ways to regulate urban heat. The regional urban heat island effect is a climate phenomenon affecting urban areas with buildings and pavement that absorb and radiate heat, making these regions hotter than surrounding areas. However, Turner noted that thermal images that show land surface temperature can be misleading because they don’t illustrate how people are actually exposed to heat. “When I see interventions being proposed like tree-planting programs, I think we need to be careful and say, yeah, we might be providing shade that will be good for pedestrian thermal comfort — shade’s super important — but we’re not addressing the urban heat island,” Turner said. “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.” 

Listen to the Talking Headways podcast

Turner on Increasing Opportunities for Shade

Assistant Professor of Urban Planning V. Kelly Turner was featured in a National Geographic article about the importance of shade in cities like Los Angeles that are growing hotter due to climate change. Urban design in Los Angeles has prioritized access to the sun, with many city codes determining how much shadow buildings can cast. However, climate change has increased the frequency and severity of heat waves, increasing the risk of heat-related death and illness. Furthermore, predominantly Black and brown neighborhoods have fewer parks and trees and less access to shade than white neighborhoods. While asphalt and concrete absorb and release captured heat, contributing to the urban heat island effect, planting trees and creating shade can keep buildings cooler, lowering the risk of heat-related illness. “The really simple thing, if you care about making people more comfortable, is just to offer more opportunities for shade,” Turner said.

It’s Time to Protect Cities From Extreme Heat, Turner Writes

Assistant Professor of Urban Planning V. Kelly Turner wrote a Next City op-ed about the need for federal regulations to address extreme heat in urban areas. The urban heat island effect makes cities warmer than surrounding rural areas by up to 22 degrees. “Cities are hotter because of how we build them, and they can be cooler if we build them differently,” she explained. Heat waves have become more frequent and severe, and Turner noted that they disproportionately affect low-income communities and communities of color and reduce educational achievement for Black and Hispanic students. Turner proposed a Cool Communities Act that would regulate the production of urban heat by setting standards for building materials and rules for land use. For example, cool roofs that reflect sunlight instead of absorbing it can be up to 50 degrees cooler than standard roofs. “We may not be able to change the weather,” Turner wrote. “But we can turn down the heat through sensible cool communities standards.”

Climate Research Brightens an Elementary School Campus

The research of Urban Planning Assistant Professor V. Kelly Turner has helped to create a colorful gift for the children of Fernangeles Elementary School. A new mural melding art with science, and reflecting inspiration from youth in the community, was installed on the school’s Sun Valley campus this spring. Called “Beat the Heat,” the mural depicts a park with shade trees and a large purple paleta melting under a bright sun — all painted with a solar reflective coating that reduces surface temperatures up to 30%. Turner conducts research into the effectiveness of this coating as a climate change intervention that cities can use to combat the “urban heat island effect.” At Fernangeles Elementary, schoolchildren watched as Turner “took the temperature of the building” with a thermal camera that demonstrated the effect of the cooling paint. Turner then used the camera to measure the heat signatures of walls, the ground and a picnic table on campus, giving the students a real-world lesson in climate science. Artist Kristy Sandoval designed and painted the mural based on ideas conceived by youth from the environmental justice nonprofit Pacoima Beautiful. Mural collaborators include Dora Frietze-Armenta, Yesenia Cruz, Nicole Martinez, Diego Ortiz and Veronica Padilla of Pacoima Beautiful; Fernangeles Elementary Assistant Principal Carolina Gonzales; art historian Lizy Dastin; and Creative Paving Solutions, which manufactured the solar-reflective paint. The mural is the second spearheaded by Turner as part of a “green intervention” aimed at starting a conversation about climate change. The first, a massive rendering of the Greek god Zeus, was installed in South Los Angeles in 2019.

At left, artist Kristy Sandoval paints the image she designed with inspiration from youth who were asked how they like to keep cool. At right, an infrared image shot by Urban Planning Assistant Professor V. Kelly Turner shows hotter surfaces, including a metal bench, in yellow and cooler surfaces in purple.


Turner on Promise of Tree Planting to Cool Cities

Assistant Professor of Urban Planning V. Kelly Turner spoke to Popular Science about local government campaigns to plant trees to mitigate rising urban temperatures. In Los Angeles, for example, Mayor Eric Garcetti’s “Green New Deal” from 2019 calls for the planting and maintenance of 90,000 trees by this year. Turner said the effectiveness of this type of climate intervention depends on many factors. “I think that there’s typically this sort of blind faith that we place in trees, that they will provide all of these wonderful social benefits,” she said. “But the environmental benefits that trees provide are entirely context-dependent.” It takes years for trees to mature into full-fledged shade-providers, so there is much to learn about the success of this type of  initiative. In the future, Turner said, cities will need to ask not only if they hit a numerical goal for planting trees but how well those trees brought about the cooling benefits that the community needs.

New Book by Turner Focuses on Urban Sustainability

A new book by Assistant Professor of Urban Planning V. Kelly Turner highlights contributions to urban sustainability scholarship made by geographers in the 21st century. Co-edited by Turner and Professor David Kaplan of Kent State University and published by Routledge in December, “Geographic Perspectives on Urban Sustainability” delves into issues of transportation, green infrastructure and gentrification and analyzes the intersections of social theory, spatial science and geography. Exponential and uneven growth of urban areas and the growing threat of climate change have prompted concerns that current urbanization patterns are unsustainable. Experts in the field have recognized the need for increased scholarship on urban sustainability, including human-environment interactions and emerging urbanization patterns. Through chapters originally published in the journal Urban Geography, Turner and Kaplan raise questions of urban resilience, environmental justice, political ecology and planning from a geographic perspective. “Contributions [to the field of urbanization science] should embrace systems thinking, empirically connect social constructs to biophysical patterns and processes, and use the city as a laboratory to generate new theories,” they write. The book is a resource for scholars, students and policymakers interested in urban and city planning, political ecology and sustainable urbanism.