September 21, 2009
by Shaun McKinnon
The Arizona Republic
Heat discriminates. Phoenix's sweltering summer inflicts the most misery and illness in poor neighborhoods, a new study shows, and among people least able to protect themselves from the elements. Conditions in those neighborhoods, with their sparse landscaping, high-density housing and converging freeways, create pockets of extreme heat that persist day and night. Inside, homeowners sometimes can't afford to turn up - or even turn on - the air-conditioner.
Wealthier homeowners, meanwhile, often in neighborhoods just blocks away, maintain lush yards and trees that help cool the air more quickly at night, shortening the hours of the hottest heat waves. They can buy further relief with a nudge of the thermostat.
The disparities present threats more serious than just discomfort on a hot day, according to the study, produced by Arizona State University researchers. Prolonged exposure to heat can cause illness or even death. The densely developed nature of the hottest areas also means more of the people most vulnerable - the elderly, children, the homebound - live in the neighborhoods where the risk is greatest.
That link between money and the ability to cope with extreme weather emerged clearly in the research. Among the startling revelations: For every $10,000 an area's income rises, the average outside temperature drops one-half degree Fahrenheit.