NSF IMEE STVI: Collaborative Research: Prioritizing Cooling Infrastructure Investments for Vulnerable Southwest Populations

Project: Research project

Project Details


PROJECT SUMMARY Collaborative Research: Prioritizing Cooling Infrastructure Investments for Vulnerable Southwest Populations The Southwest is expected to experience more heat days and water shortages in the future which has magnified the need to characterize the climate change vulnerability of population subgroups as a function of both socio-demographic and built environment characteristics. Social vulnerability has provided valuable insight into the socio-demographic factors of communities that puts them at risk during extreme heat events, and little is known about how infrastructure systems may contribute to vulnerability. Building construction practices, home air conditioning, electricity generation and transmission, urban trees, and cooling centers can each contribute to a communitys heat-related vulnerability. This project will develop methods for joining social and built environment vulnerability into a single framework, and will create a prioritization framework for investments in cooling infrastructure to maximize the reduction in vulnerability across Southwest cities. Goals: The vulnerability to heat of urban Southwest populations is a combination of social and built environment (infrastructure) factors. To date, heat vulnerability research has largely been focused on social factors (including age, chronic disease, poverty level, and English proficiency, among others) and few studies have considered how infrastructure enables or restricts access to cooling. Building materials, home air conditioning, electricity generation and transmission, passive cooling through tree canopy coverage, and cooling centers can provide protection from heat at different costs. New methods are needed for i) categorizing and quantifying the significance of infrastructure systems in providing protection from heat, and ii) joining social and infrastructure vulnerability to heat indices into a single framework that will allow city agencies to prioritize investments. This project will do just this, using Los Angeles and Maricopa (Phoenix metro area) counties. Objectives and Approach: The proposed integrated social and infrastructure vulnerability framework will provide a means for estimating the additional risk to heat that results from built environment characteristics, and will identify efficient cooling infrastructure investment strategies for cities. The project will focus on two urban areas that are highly vulnerable to heat, with large socio-economic disparities, immigrant communities, linguistic isolation, and poor access to water, as well as very different infrastructure (Los Angeles grew largely between 1960-1980 and Phoenix from 1990 on). (a) Environmental, social, and infrastructure vulnerability indices will be developed. The infrastructure indices will include building materials, home air conditioning, electricity generation and transmission, tree canopy coverage, and cooling centers, at a census tract resolution. (b) The environmental, social, and infrastructure indices will be joined to create a socio-technical vulnerability index (STVI). (c) The STVI will weigh the infrastructure vulnerability indexes against the social and each other to account for the relative impacts of infrastructure services on morbidity and mortality outcomes, using two approaches for weight estimation: regression and stochastic assessment. The use of two approaches will provide the research team with an opportunity to i) assess the feasibility of developing infrastructure index weightings from existing urban built environment and morbidity/mortality data and ii) develop novel stochastic weighting methods for cities when low quality data exist to assess the likelihood that one infrastructure characteristics is more or less significant than another. (d) The weighted STVI index will be used to develop a framework for assessing how cities should prioritize infrastructure investments by considering building weatherization, air conditioning rebates, rooftop solar, tree planting, and cooling center placement. (e) The STVI and prioritization strategies for Los Angeles and Maricopa will be compared to understand the socio-demographic and built environment differences between each county and identify the key drivers that other heat-impacted cities should focus on. Broader Impacts: The STVI framework proposed here will serve as a unifying architecture to bring together cutting edge research from various disciplines and addresses a major gap in our understanding of how socially vulnerable communities are and will be further impacted by the built environment. The presentation of the STVI framework to decision makers in both counties, and the incorporation into an interactive map-based website ensures transparency in the methodology as well as broad and easy dissemination of the work to other researchers. Additionally, the project will educate a future generation of professionals in multidisciplinary thinking including engineering, medicine, social sciences, and public health.
Effective start/end date9/1/138/31/17


  • National Science Foundation (NSF): $178,000.00

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