Two volunteers in Phoenix wearing masks and kneeling to plant a small shrub.
Planting urban trees Through heat action plans, coupled with TNC research, some of the hardest hit communities are planting the right trees, in the right places, to alleviate urban heat. © Ivan Martinez/TNC

Stories in Arizona

Addressing Heat and Air Quality in Phoenix

Equitably building cool, healthy and climate-resilient cities.

In Phoenix, urban heat is impacting health, safety, comfort and economic development, and this is projected to worsen over time. The number of days above 110°F are expected to more than double by 2060. In 2019, the American Lung Association rated Phoenix the seventh most ozone-polluted metropolitan area in the country. With 60 percent of Arizona’s population concentrated around Phoenix, this constitutes a major public health concern—but one with solutions.

“The Nature Conservancy's Healthy Cities Program is working on solutions to extreme heat in a couple of ways. One example is by engaging with residents to identify locations that could benefit from nature-based solutions to cool, such as trees,” says Anna Bettis, Healthy Cities Program manager. “Another example is by working with residents to increase their capacity to advocate for solutions in their neighborhoods.”

Darren Chapman of the TigerMountain Foundation works to plant trees in Phoenix in partnership with TNC as part of the Heat Action Planning processes. © Ivan Martinez/TNC

Community Matters

"I think one of the biggest feathers in my cap ever in my life has been the fact that I could actually work in the community where I grew up. So often when, as a young guy, people would say, you know what, man, I'm going to do well, and I'm going to leave the hood. Right. But in this particular case, we're going to do well, and we're go...

"I think one of the biggest feathers in my cap ever in my life has been the fact that I could actually work in the community where I grew up. So often when, as a young guy, people would say, you know what, man, I'm going to do well, and I'm going to leave the hood. Right. But in this particular case, we're going to do well, and we're going to stay right here. We're going to keep this project going. We're going to keep it maintained and we're going to keep it looking beautiful for the next generation. So that is important."

—Darren Chapman, TigerMountain Foundation

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Empowering Communities: Urban Heat Leadership Academy

The first-of-its-kind Urban Heat Leadership Academy equips residents from the Phoenix Metro Area with the knowledge, resources and skills to advocate for more trees, cool walkable corridors and the use of rainwater for trees and vegetation in their communities.

Phoenix is the hottest metropolitan area in the country. Rising urban heat affects us all, but underserved communities are impacted the most. On some days, there are neighborhoods that are as much as 13 degrees Fahrenheit hotter than others. The hottest neighborhoods also have the least number of trees and the highest child poverty. Often residents in these neighborhoods may not be aware of the role that nature can play in reducing heat and improving quality of life. They may not have access to the resources needed to advocate for solutions or may not feel empowered to bring about change. 

In this program, participants work with renowned experts to learn about sustainability challenges related to urban heat, air quality and water and get hands-on experience implementing solutions. They are also given the tools they need to mobilize their communities and make Phoenix cooler, greener and healthier.

Black community members in Phoenix with shovels planting trees.
Greening Phoenix TigerMountain Foundation and other community partners participated in a community greening at Spaces of Opportunity in South Phoenix. © Ivan Martinez/TNC
A cluster of trees in black plastic pots, surrounded by dry desert soil.
The right trees Through heat action plans, coupled with TNC research, some of the hardest hit communities are planting the right trees, in the right places, to alleviate urban heat. © Ivan Martinez/TNC
Greening Phoenix TigerMountain Foundation and other community partners participated in a community greening at Spaces of Opportunity in South Phoenix. © Ivan Martinez/TNC
The right trees Through heat action plans, coupled with TNC research, some of the hardest hit communities are planting the right trees, in the right places, to alleviate urban heat. © Ivan Martinez/TNC

Engaging Neighbors in Heat Action Planning

TNC and partners led the Nature’s Cooling Systems Project, which included a participatory Heat Action Planning process in three metro-Phoenix neighborhoods disproportionally impacted by heat. The goals were to identify both mitigation and adaptation strategies to reduce heat and improve thermal comfort and quality of life for residents.

This collaborative effort was in partnership with Maricopa County Department of Public Health, Arizona State University’s Urban Climate Research Center and Urban Resilience to Extremes Sustainability Research Network, Central Arizona Conservation Alliance, Center for Whole Communities, Phoenix Revitalization Corporation, RAILMesa and Puente Movement.

Collectively the group launched a two-year participatory Heat Action Planning process in the Edison-Eastlake Community, Mesa Care Neighborhood and Lindo Park-Roesley Park Neighborhood.

Residents identified hot spots in their neighborhoods, areas where residents have experienced particular difficulty with the heat. They also brought forth ideas to increase their thermal comfort and safety during extreme heat days: adding shade to pedestrian corridors, redesigning bus stops to include relief from heat, and using water sustainably for cooling purposes.

But the effort is not just to identify ideas, but to help communities implement solutions.

The complete Heat Action Planning Guide, as well as the neighborhood specific reports can be downloaded below.

Report cover showing trees and people in Phoenix.

Heat Action Planning Guide

Download the full Heat Action Planning Guide for Neighborhoods of Greater Phoenix.

DOWNLOAD Executive Summary

Making Phoenix Cooler, Greener and Healthier

Increasing tree and shade canopy cover by planting the right tree, in the right place, and with the right water can reduce temperatures substantially. Not only are trees a cost-effective solution in mitigating heat, they provide valuable benefits including improving air quality, sequestering carbon, reducing storm water runoff, providing habitats for wildlife and promoting greater physical activity.

Here are some of the green interventions that The Nature Conservancy has worked with partners on over the past few years:

After: the same house with new trees and gravel.
Before: a house surrounded by weeds and few trees.
Edison-Eastlake TNC, Trueform Architects and Smiling Dog Landscapes collaborated to plant trees, vegetation and install an irrigation system for maximum rainwater results. © TNC
A man poses with a large plant in a black plastic pot that he's preparing to plant in the ground.
Lindo Park-Roesley Park TNC and partners planted desert-adapted trees and vegetation to transform the landscape and use rainwater more effectively in a 16,000-square-foot area of an urban garden. © TNC
A line of trees waiting to be planted along a roadside concrete barrier.
Rio Salado Volunteers from American Express in Phoenix helped with a planned tree planting along the Rio Salado Preserve. © TNC