The City of Phoenix’s Cool Urban Spaces Report (2014) investigated the impact of the Phoenix Cool Roofs and Tree and Shade Master Plan initiatives on the city. The study evaluated how these heat mitigation efforts affect microclimates and human thermal comfort in the Phoenix metropolitan area. These findings are especially relevant as rapid and extensive urbanization has led to an urban heat island (UHI) effect that has increased steadily at approximately 0.9°F per decade. The city’s questions guiding this research were: 1. What are the cooling benefits achieved by increasing tree canopy from 10% (current) to 25% (2030 goal) and/or implementing cool roofs under existing conditions and projected warming? 2. What is the diurnal thermal benefit of tree canopy shade for a typical heat wave day during pre-monsoon summer?
The impacts of cool roofs and trees on near-ground air temperatures were modeled through 54 scenarios for a typical residential neighborhood in Phoenix. We ran the model for a combination of three tree-planting scenarios (no trees, current canopy cover and 2030 canopy goal) and three landscaping scenarios (mesic, oasis and xeric) with regular roofs and cool roofs under current climate conditions and two climate change projections. Two significant results of the tree and shade initiative are: 1. Increasing tree canopy cover to 25% leads to an additional temperature reduction of 4.3°F, which is a total cooling benefit of 7.9°F as compared to a bare neighborhood, and 2. Switching landscaping from xeric to oasis, i.e., adding grass patches to residential backyards, reduces average neighborhood temperatures by 0.4°F to 0.5°F.
The scenario with the lowest air temperatures is the residential neighborhood with mesic landscaping, 25% tree canopy cover and cool roofs under current climate conditions with an average neighborhood temperature of 99.5°F. In contrast, the xeric neighborhood with no tree cover and regular roofs under the high-emissions climate change scenario is the hottest. This indicates that the combination of increased tree canopy cover and cool roofs does lower temperatures as well as reduce the demand for air conditioning, thereby reducing anthropogenic heat. However, trees and cool roofs are only part of the solution and need to be included in a broader, more comprehensive mitigation and adaptation plan.
Across all climate and tree scenarios, the effect of cool roofs alone on local daytime temperatures is relatively low. Air temperature reduction only amounts to 0.5°F in the neighborhood. Regarding the city’s cool roofs initiative, results show little benefit for extending this project to commercial and residential properties based on its cooling impacts alone. Our research thus far indicates that there is no simple solution to mitigating the UHI, but a complex balance of strategies will be necessary so that efforts to lower the daytime temperatures do not increase nighttime temperatures or shift UHI impacts to more vulnerable populations.