Let's Change The Weather

With the crashing thunder of Wagner's "The Ride of the Valkyrie" playing in their headsets, F-16 fighter pilots lift off the tarmac at Williams and Luke. As early-morning commuters look on, the jets swoop low over the Phoenix Civic Plaza and bomb the acres of concrete courtyard into rubble. Once their payloads have been dropped, the young top guns turn their attention and their cannons upon the miles of asphalt parking lots and the endless concrete sidewalks throughout the Valley.

At the Air Force bases, anxious commanders listen nervously to the radio chatter. In the war rooms cheers go up as the loudspeaker broadcasts one pilot's violent oath: "Eat lead, you concrete scumbag heat-sink."

If we can use the military to fight drugs, we can use the Air Force to fight the hideous summers of Phoenix. Instead of sending young trainees to bomb the desert outside of Gila Bend at the Barry Goldwater Gunnery Range we ought to target the paving in Phoenix.

Every summer we set new records here for high temperatures. Lately there has been an ominous shift in our climate. This year, for example, we rewrote the books by having 133 days in a row when the thermometer soared over 100 degrees. Robert Balling, a researcher at ASU's Laboratory of Climatology, claims this phenomenon is the result of Phoenix becoming a heat island. The asphalt, the concrete, the cement all absorb the sun's rays during the day and retain them until the evening when the heat is radiated back into the night air.

This is a terrible, two-edged sword.
Not only do we have more hot days than ever before, but now the evenings do not cool off. It is sheer hell.

The solution is to live like the rich.
Seriously, go look at where the well-to-do live in greater Phoenix and this is what you will see:

By day the developer churns up cotton fields and citrus groves, replacing them with asphalt roadways, cement sidewalks and stark homesites landscaped with a single, spindly toothpick of a green something or other. After a hard day of bulldozing, the developer returns to north Phoenix and Paradise Valley, where there are few sidewalks. Dirt roads and earthen footpaths are what the rich call home. Trees, too. It's a swell way to live.

Specifically, take a look at Central Avenue north of Bethany Home Road. The dirt footpaths are charmingly shaded by trees and used by pedestrians, joggers, equestrians and local swells throughout the sweltering summers. At three in the afternoon when Phoenix temperatures are peaking during August, even the asphalt roadway is bathed in shadow, making it pleasant to drive in this neighborhood.

Roger Schluntz, ASU professor of architecture, has calculated that 35 to 40 percent of Phoenix is given over to roadways, which include sidewalks and driveways.

Por que?
We don't need sidewalks.
A woman colleague said you'd never get ladies in their high heels to go along with dirt footpaths. Hey, listen, sweetheart. Save your high heels for the bedroom and your husband. I don't feel like living in a microwave four months out of the year so that you can wiggle when you walk.

Driveways and parking lots should be earthen or decomposed granite. And all parking lots should be covered.

Trees and canvas shade screens should be mandatory throughout the city.
New buildings should offer covered arcades like the Trammell Crow building across from Patriots Square. Developers that do this should be rewarded with more square footage.

All of these measures offer two advantages: Our days will have shade and the heat radiation at night will be reduced, making the evenings cooler.

You know, other cities do not take the attitude that there is nothing you can do about the weather. When a winter storm arrives back East, citizens assume that the city will plow the ice and snow away. It is a cost associated with living in New York or Buffalo or Boston. And when City Hall in Chicago was slow in clearing the streets, the folks threw the mayor out of office.

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Michael Lacey
Contact: Michael Lacey