Climate leaders in Los Angeles just announced what may seem like an impossible task. Rather than pursuing the typical laundry list of climate solutions, Mayor Eric Garcetti and his team are starting with a bold goal—lowering the city’s temperature. Over the next 20 years, the city aims to cut temperatures by 3 degrees. But can one city alone really slash temperatures?
The ambitious goal is addressing a phenomenon known as the urban heat island effect. Simply put, city infrastructure—streets, buildings, sidewalks—soak up heat and then radiate that energy, creating a landscape with warmer day and nighttime temperatures. In Los Angeles, the effect is particularly potent, and temperatures can be as much as 19 degrees higher in the city than in surrounding areas.
These hot zones aren’t just uncomfortable—they are also costly. Residents, business owners and industry have to spend more money on air conditioning. Increased city temperatures can additionally pose significant threats to those without access to air conditioning—including young, elderly, and working-class residents. These vulnerable populations are particularly susceptible to warmer environments, making the temperature-reduction plan a potential life-saver.
While the challenge of decreasing temperatures locally as the planet warms is a big one, there are several simple, proven, low-cost solutions available. Planting trees and increasing urban canopy helps purify air, shades city streets and buildings, and decreases the amount of sunlight absorbed in urban areas. Likewise, drought-tolerant and native plants and landscaping are better suited to sustain healthy soil, which, city-wide, could reduce nighttime temperatures by over 5 degrees.
In addition to such simple, known solutions, the Mayor’s office brought together university scientists and municipal workers to work on a robust plan to tackle the causes and consequences of the urban heat island effect. The research collective has already begun to identify innovative new approaches, ranging from more reflective materials for constructing streets and sidewalks, to “cool roofs” that could reduce the city’s temperatures by 2 degrees alone.
The work of the research coalition and the city may be beyond what is possible for every city. However, their ambitious goals will identify what is possible, successful, and feasible for other cities to replicate.
As with any action, the first step is always the most difficult. Climate leaders in Los Angeles have already began their path towards cooler communities, and your city can be next. To get started, tune in to our free webinar on how to most effectively communicate with residents in your city about the challenges and opportunities of climate action. Inspired by your leadership, residents and city leaders can begin to pursue a cooler, cleaner, healthier climate.
Stuart Wood is a writer at Path to Positive Communities and an adjunct professor of political science and environmental politics. He has a Ph.D. in Political Science from Claremont Graduate University. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.