Uncovering JAPA

Shifting Social Consequences of Climate Change

The potential future effects of climate change will continue to be catastrophic for all of us and generations to come. We are already experiencing many effects of climate change, like sea level rise and increases in the intensity and frequency of wildfires. In order to prepare cities for this imminent threat, planners could use projections to better understand how climate change will affect their city. How could planners think proactively to implement climate adaptation strategies now to cope with climate change projections?

In the article published in the Journal of the American Planning Association (Vol. 87, No. 1), "Planning for Climate Change: Implications of High Temperatures and Extreme Heat for Los Angeles County (CA)," authors Sungyop Kim, Fengpeng Sun, and Clara Irazábal analyzed high-resolution surface temperature data to consider how projections could inform plan-making in the present to prepare for the future. Los Angeles County was used as a case study to demonstrate the potential for the practical application in urban planning. The article also strongly emphasizes the importance of place in creating climate adaptation plans.

Many current mitigation strategies focus on the reduction of greenhouse gases (GHG), like the City of Los Angeles' Sustainable City pLAn. This plan emphasizes the use of more renewable energy sources to reduce GHG. Other plans focus on green infrastructure, like reducing impervious pavement, and planting more trees. However, the authors argue that these strategies do not fully cover planning issues and climate change in depth, nor do these plans take into full account how climate change will affect particular cities.

Increases in heat are one of the most critical effects of climate change. Temperatures are expected to rise about 2.5°F to 4.5°F globally by the middle of the 21st century (35). Exposure to heat can have detrimental effects on health, and extreme heat has been cited as a public health issue. The potential global, or even national effects of climate change are generally understood. However, using high-resolution climate change projections could allow for detailed, micro-scale planning strategies. This information could offer planners the opportunity to create targeted climate adaptation strategies for their particular city, for their neighborhood, block by block.

Figure 2. Projected number of extreme heat days in mid-century (2041-2060) and 2017 ASC 5-year census block group-level demographic characteristics and household income in Los Angeles County (CA).

Figure 2. Projected number of extreme heat days in mid-century (2041-2060) and 2017 ASC 5-year census block group-level demographic characteristics and household income in Los Angeles County (CA).

For this study, Los Angeles County was chosen because it is a large metropolitan area, and has diverse geographies. In Los Angeles County, climate-change projections show that higher temperatures are expected inland. However, contrary to other studies that show that minority communities are more vulnerable to extreme heat, a majority of the Black population in Los Angeles County, as shown in Figure 2, is in an area that is projected to experience fewer high heat days. High-resolution climate change projections could offer specific data that goes against knowledge gathered from other studies. This particular finding highlights how important it is to plan climate strategies that address the particular conditions of a certain place. While this study showed that the Black population in Los Angeles County is in an area that is projected to experience less high heat days, there are other minority communities across the country that are vulnerable to heat.

This is related to another important factor for planners to consider, discussed at the end of this article. It is possible that the Black population in Los Angeles County could be priced out of their communities because they live in an area that is not projected to experience as many high heat days as other areas. Essentially, this would be climate gentrification: the value of properties rising in areas that are expected to be more accommodating to the effects of climate change.

Gaining knowledge about climate change projections, using that data, and understanding how those projections will affect the residents of their city is crucial for planners. As interdisciplinary practitioners, planners can take these considerations and include them in specified climate adaptation strategies to protect urban environments and existing communities of residents.

The Journal of the American Planning Association is the quarterly journal of record for the planning profession. For full access to the JAPA archive, APA members may purchase a discounted subscription for $48/year, or a digital-only subscription for $36/year.

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About the author
Laier-Rayshon Smith is a dual Master in Urban Planning and Master in Design Studies candidate at Harvard University.

June 24, 2021

By Laier-Rayshon Smith