Beating the Heat

Nov. 11, 2019

Even for Phoenix, temperatures in its Edison Eastlake neighborhood are hot—and in fact, are among the hottest in Maricopa County. On average, the mercury hits 105°F during the summer at this public housing site adjacent to downtown Phoenix, and even reaches 130°F on occasion, taking the concept of an urban heat island to new extremes.

Phoenix, Ariz.
© Mithun

On top of that, the neighborhood has lower vehicle ownership than other areas of Phoenix, so residents rely on walking, biking or taking public transportation and are out in the heat for extended durations.

As part of the plan to incorporate 1,161 units of mixed-income housing (including a one-for-one replacement of existing public housing units) Mithun developed new housing prototypes that maximize shade and ventilation and incorporate cool building materials to mitigate extreme heat. Now in the first phase of implementation (an affordable apartment building), the project’s housing design strategies include courtyard housing to maximize shade, single-loaded apartments with open breezeways, and operable windows on both sides of apartments to facilitate cross ventilation. Planned public spaces incorporate shade from additional trees, new sidewalks are 75% shaded and cool paving technologies were implemented for paths and sidewalks. The plan proposes pilot-tests of emerging strategies like a natural cooling tower.

The site plan maximizes green space while supporting water efficiency with drought-tolerant and native plants that provide cool islands, supplemented by strategic lawn areas. In addition, emergency preparedness is incorporated in the plan’s heat resilience approach, and backup water supply and generators are included in common facilities. Finally, community meeting places, including a central festival street and cultural corridor, are provided in each block, creating safe spaces for coordination and helping less-mobile residents in case of a disaster.

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