Innovating to Lower LA’s Temperature, One City Neighborhood at a Time

Photos by Alive! and Public Works/StreetsLA

 

Keeping It Cool

Street Services’ Cool Neighborhoods LA team — Cool Pavement and Urban Forestry crews – is innovating to lower LA’s temperature.

At one of the newly planted trees in South LA are (clockwise, from top left): Jose Gonzalez, Tree Surgeon Supervisor III, 22 years of City service, Club Member; Samuel Varo, Tree Surgeon Assistant, 2 years, Club Member; Rudy Villafana, Tree Surgeon Assistant, 5 years, Club Member; and Josue Ocampo, Tree Surgeon, 5 years, Club Member.

As the globe’s temperatures rise  (according to experts), LA’s Public Works is innovating to cool off LA neighborhoods, one street and grove at a time.

The second phase of Cool Neighborhoods LA, restarted last October, is bringing the project to an additional eight neighborhoods.

Cool Neighborhoods LA – comprised of the Cool Team (transformative repaving and urban forestry) – is an initiative bringing 200 blocks of cool pavement and nearly 2,000 new trees to eight neighborhoods across Los Angeles’ hottest residential areas.

“The skyrocketing temperatures on our streets is an equity issue that puts local communities on the front line of the climate crisis,” Mayor Garcetti said at the time. “Our hottest and most vulnerable neighborhoods are our top priority when it comes to climate action, and this program is about taking action in ways that will make a direct impact on people’s daily lives.”

Cool Neighborhoods LA began in 2019. It combines several cooling strategies to help lower temperatures and add shade in L.A.’s hottest and most vulnerable communities. The new iteration of the program brings more than 60 lane miles of cool pavement and nearly 2,000 trees to eight neighborhoods, including Pico Union; Westlake South; North Hollywood; Canoga Park; Sylmar; Vermont Square; South Central; and Boyle Heights.

Research has shown that cool pavement reduces ambient temperatures by reflecting more sunlight and absorbing less heat during the day. Studies have also shown that cool pavement has the greatest impact when paired with new trees.

The first phase of Cool Streets LA was designed to advance the goals of Mayor Garcetti’s Green New Deal by piloting 10 cool streets projects by 2025. The cooling impacts in Cool Neighborhoods LA will enable the City to meet a number of additional goals, such as: reducing urban/rural temperature differential by at least 1.7 degrees by 2025 and 3 degrees by 2035; increasing tree canopy in areas of greatest need by at least 50 percent by 2028; and installing cool pavement material on 250 lane miles of the City’s streets.

Mayor Garcetti also helped spearhead an ordinance that requires all new roofs built after 2020 to be cool roofs, which help lower the ambient temperature of city streets.

From left: Craig Shaw, General Superintendent II, Director of Customer Affairs, 33 years of City service, Club Member; Greg Spotts, Chief Sustainability Officer, 13 years; Nikki Ezhari, Project Coordinator, 14 years, Club Member; and James Hawkins, Supervisor II, 32 years, Club Member.

Paving the Way

The progress the project has already achieved is clear to see, even from space. Space Station thermal cameras gazing down on LA can see the temperature differences between the streets that have the new pavement and tree canopies, and those that do not. It’s not just the streets that are cooler, it’s entire neighborhoods.

White pavement materials replace traditional asphalt. “We’ve built our cities like ovens,” Greg Spotts, Club Member, Chief Sustainability Officer and Executive Officer, StreetsLA, was quoted as saying. “We’ve largely been using the same materials we have been using since World War II. We need a large-scale change.”

Cool Neighborhoods LA is that change. While limited to repaving of streets at this point, even that can help cool entire neighborhoods. White surfaces can keep a neighborhood cooler. The correct materials, and strategic placement, are critical to the project’s success; the City uses data sets and geothermal mapping to know precisely where to place the white pavement and new trees for maximum effectiveness.

With Club CEO Robert Larios (center) are (from left) Jose Gonzalez, Tree Surgeon Supervisor III, 22 years of City service, Club Member; and Jesus Vieyra, Maintenance/Construction Helper, 2 years.

LA is the first jurisdiction in California and perhaps in the country to install cool pavement coating on a public street, Spotts said. And creating sustainable tree canopies is a big part of the solution, too; the Green New Deal hopes to increase the canopy by 50 percent by 2028.

Cool Neighborhoods LA is about three principles at once: sustainability, equity and workforce development. The Urban Cooling Committee within StreetsLA brings together engineers, landscape architects and pavement and tree specialists to find the best approach for solutions that no individual discipline can create on its own. That’s the classic STEM approach to problem solving – thinking between the silos.

LA’s Cool Neighborhoods LA project is partnering with Phoenix, Tucson, Philadelphia and other cities to exchange data and best practices.

“This innovative program is a great example of how the City and StreetsLA can reduce the urban heat island effect in Los Angeles, using a holistic approach that integrates new pavement technology, greening that broadens the tree canopy overhead, and more bus shelters and shade structures,” said StreetsLA Executive Director Keith Mozee at a press conference that brought Cool Neighborhood teams to South LA.

In the end, he said, “Cool Neighborhoods LA is about people. Our folks deserve it.”

On these pages, Alive! shows you the Cool Neighborhoods LA team installing its innovative project on the streets of LA, keeping us all a little cooler in the process.

Some information in this article came from the Solutions Journalism Network.


“This innovative program [Cool Neighborhoods LA] is a great example of how the City and StreetsLA can reduce the urban heat island effect in Los Angeles”

— Keith Mozee, Executive Director, StreetsLA

 



BEHIND THE SCENES

Club Director of Marketing Summy Lam (foreground) photographs members of Public Works/Street Services’ Cool Neighborhoods team, from left: Craig Shaw, General Superintendent II, Director of Customer Affairs, 33 years of City service, Club Member; Greg Spotts, Chief Sustainability Officer, 13 years; Nikki Ezhari, Project Coordinator, 14 years, Club Member; and James Hawkins, Supervisor II, 32 years, Club Member.

 

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