TEMPE, AZ — Sprawling concrete across the Valley is a major contributor to our area being one of the hottest urban heat islands in the country.
The addition of vegetation, water features, or reflective surfaces are just a few solutions to cooling down our atmosphere during the summer months.
Just down the street from Sun Devil Stadium and right underneath ‘A’ Mountain, Tempe’s Transportation Center has been sustainably using energy since it was built in 2008.
The “Grand Central Station” of Tempe is the city’s first green building. Commuters can gather below to catch a ride across town.
On the roof of the building is part of what makes the building so sustainable. The entire roof is a green space chock-full of native Arizona plants.
Instead of a traditional concrete slab that can collect and omit heat after sundown, the green space with several feet of soil underneath actually helps cool the inside of the building.
This is Tempe’s small way to try to cool down the heat island we live in.
"A lot of the water we're using here is recycled,” Eric Iwersen is the Tempe Transit Manager with a focus on sustainability.
"Anytime we can remove that man-made surface that is a lot more of heat gain, and replace it with something to replace that heat, or absorbing it and processing it to cool it, it's going to be a better choice,” he said.
The rooftop garden, the awning that provides shade along the side of the building, and the water harvesting system are all part of a green building code the City of Tempe offers developers looking to come to town.
Those are also some solutions to cooling a heat island.
"We call these park cooling islands,” said Jennifer Vanos, Assistant Professor at ASU’s School of Sustainability.
She says reflective materials for surfaces or roofs, extensive vegetation, or misters are common solutions to cooling our concrete jungle in the desert.
The cost to keep plants and trees alive combined with maintenance are key reasons why you don't see more of these cool solutions.
These can be adopted to keep your own house cool.
As for keeping yourself from being alone on a heat island, Vanos says the best solution is water on your skin.
"Knowing the environmental context of the desert and taking advantage of the high evaporative capacity of the air to cool us down indoors or outdoors, can go a long way to keeping your core temp down and keeping you from getting sick,” she said.