Urban Heat Stress Vulnerability in the U.S. Southwest: The Role of Sociotechnical Systems
Heat vulnerability of urban populations is becoming a major issue of concern with climate change, particularly in the cities of the Southwest United States. In this article we discuss the importance of understanding coupled social and technical systems, how they constitute one another, and how they form the conditions and circumstances in which people experience heat. We discuss the particular situation of Los Angeles and Maricopa Counties, their urban form and the electric grid. We show how vulnerable populations are created by virtue of the age and construction of buildings, the morphology of roads and distribution of buildings on the landscape. Further, the regulatory infrastructure of electricity generation and distribution also contributes to creating differential vulnerability. We contribute to a better understanding of the importance of sociotechnical systems. Social infrastructure includes codes, conventions, rules and regulations; technical systems are the hard systems of pipes, wires, buildings, roads, and power plants. These interact to create lock-in that is an obstacle to addressing issues such as urban heat stress in a novel and equitable manner.