Blame us, too, for city warming

first_imgFifty years ago, the Canoga Park weather station recorded an average July temperature of 73.9 degrees, dramatically lower than the 81.3 degrees recorded this month. And a half-century ago, fewer than 800,000 people lived in the San Fernando Valley. There was one shopping center, the then-posh Panorama Mall. Golfers could tee off at 10 courses, and the Ventura Freeway would not cross the Valley floor for four more years. Today, more than 1.8 million people call the area home. Ten malls, some spanning multiple city blocks, draw thousands of shoppers annually. Eight freeways crisscross the landscape, and if residents want to blow off some steam from sitting on those roadways, they can pick from 20 golf courses. And all that development makes for the hot, humid mess lurking outside your front door. “Success breeds failure; success breeds problems,” said Joel Kotkin, an urban-planning expert and longtime Valley resident. “That old, desert feeling is less and less there. “There’s no question that all the desert metropolises – Los Angeles, Vegas, Phoenix – have all become more humid. We get the weird rains in May and June that we never used to get.” Not so long ago, back when the Valley still had large rural stretches, the native brush would absorb heat during the day and release it at night. Not so with paved ground and even vast grassy areas. Patzert noted that golf courses absorb water during the day, then release hot moisture back into the air in the evening – creating conditions that make people feel they’re being smothered by a wet blanket. Asphalt and concrete retain the heat that native vegetation and dry chaparral once sent back into the atmosphere. While Daniel Hinerfeld, a spokesman for the Natural Resources Defense Council, conceded that the freeway system and roads provide a critical part of urban infrastructure, he said they also have significant downsides. “We humans are always realizing the unintended consequences of what we do,” he said. “All that pavement makes it really hot when there’s a heat wave. I just got back from New York, and it’s brutal when you’re surrounded by concrete, asphalt and steel. You step out onto the sidewalk, and it feels like a blast furnace. L.A.’s becoming just like that.” But it doesn’t have to be, said Tarzana-based environmental architect Jim Heimler. Strategic replanting of native vegetation, adding “green roofs” – soil and greenery atop buildings – and greater reliance on mass transit would help, as would building communities around neighborhood necessities. If residents could walk to the supermarket, he figures, there’d be less need for vast, heat-stoking parking lots. And if they left the car at home, there’d be fewer greenhouse gases pitching in to global warming. While runaway development for the past 60 years contributed to the problem, Heimler said a little care for the future could help return some cool to the city. “Do we want the city to look good in 50, 100 years, or do we just think, `I live here now; I’m not going to be alive later; why worry about it?”‘ he said. “(Building out the Valley) all happened so fast, people didn’t think about it. But once you get big enough, you can plan for the future, and we’re definitely big enough now. We’re behind the times and need to play catch-up.” That doesn’t necessarily mean getting rid of urban necessities, either. The Los Angeles Unified School District now demands more environmentally friendly buildings and has begun adding green space to its old, blacktop-covered campuses. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa aims to plant a million trees throughout the city to provide shade and oxygen. We’re never going to kick our mall habit or get rid of the 101 Freeway in favor of native brush, said Laurie Kaufman, director of communications for TreePeople, an environmental advocacy group pushing for strategic tree planting. However, changing the ways we use them could make urban life a little more bearable. “It’s not about sacrificing; it’s about changing our behavior,” she said. “Can you carpool? Can you compress three trips into one? It’s recycling, reusing, a lot of the basics. It’s noticing our natural environment.” [email protected] (818) 713-3738160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set! AD Quality Auto 360p 720p 1080p Top articles1/5READ MOREPhotos: At LA County Jail, Archbishop José H. Gomez celebrates Christmas Mass with inmates“Hotter and more brutal summers are in our future,” said William Patzert, a climatologist with the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena. “Everything’s pointing in the wrong way. It’s like the Pogo saying: “We’ve seen the enemy and they is us.” And if he’s right, we’re about to make it even worse. The city of Los Angeles announced $50 million in affordable-housing grants earlier this year. Developer AEG is erecting a multibillion-dollar project downtown that aims to rival New York’s Times Square. Plans are in the works to create an immense mixed-use project in North Hollywood, and crews furiously labor to make over Westfield Topanga in Canoga Park at a cost of more than $500 million. “I don’t think there’s anything they have to do to mitigate heat,” Patzert said of the developers. “Just look at Disney Hall: That doesn’t just attract it, it sends extra heat all throughout the neighborhood. … It’s like a big griddle in the middle of the neighborhood, just baking there in the sun.” The malls, the ample parking, the lush golf courses: All the things we love are responsible for our sweltering misery. Los Angeles is a city awash in comforts, with its sprawling air-conditioned shopping centers, abundance of cars and vast number of recreation areas. But as Angelenos wilt after weeks of 100-plus temperatures, urban, climatology, environmental and architectural experts concur that the very things we turn to when the temperature climbs are the same ones that push it upward. It’s not just high ocean temperatures. Not moisture blown up from the south. Not even the suddenly sexy global warming. It’s also urban warming – and it’s getting worse. last_img