A socio-ecological understanding of extreme heat vulnerability in Maricopa County, Arizona
This dissertation explores vulnerability to extreme heat hazards in the Maricopa County, Arizona metropolitan region. By engaging an interdisciplinary approach, I uncover the epidemiological, historical-geographical, and mitigation dimensions of human vulnerability to extreme heat in a rapidly urbanizing region characterized by an intense urban heat island and summertime heat waves. I first frame the overall research within global climate change and hazards vulnerability research literature, and then present three case studies. I conclude with a synthesis of the findings and lessons learned from my interdisciplinary approach using an urban political ecology framework. In the first case study I construct and map a predictive index of sensitivity to heat health risks for neighborhoods, compare predicted neighborhood sensitivity to heat-related hospitalization rates, and estimate relative risk of hospitalizations for neighborhoods. In the second case study, I unpack the history and geography of land use/land cover change, urban development and marginalization of minorities that created the metropolitan region's urban heat island and consequently, the present conditions of extreme heat exposure and vulnerability in the urban core. The third study uses computational microclimate modeling to evaluate the potential of a vegetation-based intervention for mitigating extreme heat in an urban core neighborhood. Several findings relevant to extreme heat vulnerability emerge from the case studies. First, two main socio-demographic groups are found to be at higher risk for heat illness: low-income minorities in sparsely-vegetated neighborhoods in the urban core, and the elderly and socially-isolated in the expansive suburban fringe of Maricopa County. The second case study reveals that current conditions of heat exposure in the region's urban heat island are the legacy of historical marginalization of minorities and large-scale land-use/land cover transformations of natural desert land covers into heat-retaining urban surfaces of the built environment. Third, summertime air temperature reductions in the range 0.9-1.9 °C and of up to 8.4 °C in surface temperatures in the urban core can be achieved through desert-adapted canopied vegetation, suggesting that, at the microscale, the urban heat island can be mitigated by creating vegetated park cool islands. A synthesis of the three case studies using the urban political ecology framework argues that climate changed-induced heat hazards in cities must be problematized within the socio-ecological transformations that produce and reproduce urban landscapes of risk. The interdisciplinary approach to heat hazards in this dissertation advances understanding of the social and ecological drivers of extreme heat by drawing on multiple theories and methods from sociology, urban and Marxist geography, microclimatology, spatial epidemiology, environmental history, political economy and urban political ecology.