By Mary O’KEEFE
According to the California Dept. of Housing and Community Development (HCD), there is not enough housing being built in the state.
“During the last 10 years, housing production averaged fewer than 80,000 new homes each year, and ongoing production continues to fall far below the projected need of 180,000 additional homes annually … California is home to 12% of the nation’s population, but a disproportionate 22% of the nation’s homeless population,” according to HCD.
Housing is a huge issue, one that is far beyond my pay grade; however, what I do know is that a knee jerk reaction can cause situations without consideration of the future.
Our climate is changing – no doubt, no debate. We are getting warmer, our storms are more intense, our world is changing … so why aren’t we adding those facts to the housing discussion?
Arizona seems to be taking global warming very seriously, which is easy to understand as Arizonans are so concerned about the temperature. In July, Phoenix set record temperatures 31 days straight of highs at or above 110 degrees Fahrenheit. This far outpaced the record set back in 1974 with 18 straight days of those high temperatures. Phoenix, like several other cities around the country, is looking at how to cool its surroundings and the interiors of its buildings so less air conditioning is used.
According to a study by Arizona State University and the City of Phoenix, urban heat was made worse when traditional black asphalt is used. Applying a reflective gray-colored emulsion material to the streets over the black asphalt brought down surface temperatures by 10 to 12 degrees. It did take drivers and residents some time to get used to the change.
The coating used in the study is called CoolSeal by GuardTop, a California-based company. According to its website, CoolSeal is designed to reflect the sun’s energy to produce cooler surface temperatures through increased reflectivity. It also states CoolSeal lasts longer than conventional sealcoats, which translates to lower maintenance lifecycle costs.
This new lighter reflective color makes sense because, according to reports, black asphalt absorbs sunlight and releases it slowly.
Air conditioning bills are high everywhere during the summer but just about everywhere in Phoenix the air is blasting cold just to give desert dwellers the illusion they are not in the desert. Buy there are some important changes being made as more people recognize that the record-breaking heat is here to stay, and temperatures will more than likely increase as the Earth warms.
About 10 years ago architect Marlene Imirzian designed a building on the campus of Paradise Valley Community College in North Phoenix that others should look to when designing housing. According to a report by National Public Radio (NPR), the “modern-looking structure” is topped with a larger overhanging roof of copper that casts a shadow on the life-science college building; no windows are exposed to direct light.
“That’s the key in a hot climate – you need to find a way that the heat is stopped before it comes through the glass,” Imirzian was quoted in the NPR report.
Notably absent in the design of the building was the use of asphalt and excessive use of pavement. She used natural materials like gravel to prevent the heat from reflecting off the ground. She also included trees around the building to cast shadows and provide protection from the sun.
“Their roots are fed from an underground cistern that collects rainwater off the building’s roof,” stated NPR.
Really, we have to learn from the past going forward. Before incorporating a “modern lifestyle” people used to build their homes – in fact, entire towns – by using materials they found within that particular environment. But as modern conveniences made it easier to adapt the environment to buildings rather than buildings to the environment – like a desert to an oasis – it ignored the effects these would have on the natural surroundings.
One great local example of how natural material was used is our own Crescenta Valley stone houses. Unfortunately many of them have been torn down so more “modern” structures could be built without any thought as to why the original structures were made of stone in the first place.
La Crescenta is affectionately called “Rock Crescenta” because you cannot dig into the ground without hitting rocks – lots and lots of rocks. Instead of plowing all of them out, builders of the past used these rocks to create unusual and creative houses and buildings. One of these buildings that still stands is St. Luke’s of the Mountain Episcopal Church on the corner of Rosemont Avenue and Foothill Boulevard. The church was built in 1924, as was the former Fire Station 19, now the Fire House youth center, which is part of the St. Luke’s property. These buildings were built of stones from the surrounding area. In fact, as the story goes, S. Seymour Thomas, an American artist who made La Crescenta his home, worked with the community to build the Episcopal church. He sat across the street from where the church is now and painted his design of a stone church. He, along with others, gathered rocks and boulders from the surrounding area – mostly from Angeles National Forest – and used them to build the church.
Due to the walls of the church and the youth center being made of natural stone, they are thick and offer amazing insulation to keep the buildings cool in the summer and warm in the winter. These buildings still need air conditioning and heating for our modern expectations but the natural sustainable insulation is appreciated as the utilities are used at a moderate level even on the hottest, or coldest, days.
These historical lessons may be the only way to move forward though our resources are dwindling. When I see buildings being developed I realize this housing is needed but I also see lots of windows facing the rising and setting sun, balconies that cannot be used during the day because there are no awnings and trees and natural vegetation being incorporated into the design as an afterthought. So it seems, as my great grandma used to say, we are “robbing Peter to pay Paul.” We are creating more housing but at a cost to our environment by putting a strain on our resources. We don’t need to stop building; what we need is to change the way we look at new development.
Fall in Southern California is like none other because we never know what the weather will bring. There are times when October sees cooler and almost crisp temperatures, then goes up to the high 80s … all of that can happen within a few hours. So get ready for our roller coaster fall weather to continue.
Today, Thursday, we will see temperatures with highs in the low 80s and lows in the 60s. There may be wind gusts up to 20 mph. Friday the high is expected to be in the upper 70s and the lows in the mid 50s. Then on Saturday and Sunday we are back up in the 80s.
There does not appear to be any rain in the next seven days, according to NOAA.