Phoenix struggles as temperatures rise globally

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Phoenix sits in a semi-desert environment that’s no stranger to 120-degree days in the summer, but some experts wonder if it might soon become too hot to live in the nation’s fifth-largest city.

Aaron Betsky, Dean of the Frank Lloyd Wright School of Architecture, says people have to start asking how sustainable desert cities really are. There has been a focus on living on the land, but now gears have to shift toward thinking about how to live with the land.

Architects now look toward developing buildings that are sustainable for extremely high temperatures and creating communities that use the landscape in an intelligent way. It starts, Betsky says, with building where nature has already provided us shelter, such as on the sides of mountains and in areas that stay shady.

“We just have to figure out how to use the tech,” Betsky says. “We have to figure out how to learn from other cultures to make an urban environment that’s truly sustainable, truly open to all and that’s as beautiful as the desert around us.”

Betsky says he feels confident on the future of the city’s environment, and we’re not as doomed as it may seem.

TED SIMONS: THE CITY OF PHOENIX WAS NAMED AFTER THE MYTHICAL PHOENIX BIRD, WHICH RISES FROM THE ASHES OF ITS PAST. IT'S AN APT NAME FOR A CITY THAT ROSE FROM THE ASHES OF THE HOHOKAM CIVILIZATION, BUT COULD CLIMATE CHANGE, ALONG WITH A LACK OF WATER, SEND THE AREA BACK TO THE ASHES? THAT QUESTION WAS RECENTLY CONSIDERED BY AARON BETSKY, PRESIDENT OF THE SCHOOL OF ARCHITECTURE AT TALIESIN. WELCOME TO "ARIZONA HORIZON." GOOD TO HAVE YOU HERE

AARON BETSKY: THANK YOU. HAPPY TO BE HERE.

TED SIMONS: ARE WE DOOMED TO RETURN TO THE DIRT?

AARON BETSKY: THAT'S A GOOD QUESTION. THINGS ARE CERTAINLY GOING TO BE DIFFICULT. PEOPLE COMPLAIN ABOUT TRIPLE DIGIT TEMPERATURES BUT YOU GO INTO AIR CONDITIONING, AND EVERYTHING IS OKAY. WHAT IF WE ARE TALKING ABOUT TEMPERATURES REGULARLY GO TO 120 OR 130? WHAT DO WE DO WHEN THE WATER REALLY STARTS TO RUN OUT? THESE ARE BIG TICKET QUESTIONS.

TED SIMONS: I WAS GOING TO SAY, WHAT DO WE DO? AIR CONDITIONING ONLY TAKES YOU SO FAR. WATER, YOU NEED IT. IT CAN'T TAKE YOU ANYWHERE IF YOU DON’T HAVE IT.

AARON BETSKY: I THINK THERE IS STUFF WE CAN DO. AT A CERTAIN POINT, YOU HAVE TO WONDER HOW SUSTAINABLE DESERT CITIES ARE. BUT THERE IS, IN THE MEAN TIME, A LOT WE CAN DO AND WE CAN LEARN A LOT FROM CIVILIZATIONS THAT LIVE IN DESERT, NOT JUST IN SEMIDESERTS THE WAY WE DO. FOR MILLENIA, WE CAN LEARN HOW WE CAN CREATE BUILDINGS THAT ARE MUCH MORE SUSTAINABLE THAT ALLOW US TO TEMPER THIS VERY HARSH CLIMATE. WE CAN ALSO CREATE COMMUNITIES WHERE WE DON'T HAVE TO LOCK OURSELVES INTO AIR CONDITIONED BUBBLES TO GET FROM ONE PLACE TO ANOTHER AND WE CAN USE OUR LANDSCAPE IN A MUCH MORE INTELLIGENT WAY THE HOHOKAM DID.

TED SIMONS: THE IDEA OF THESE BUILDINGS, NET ZERO ENERGY POSITIVE, WE HAVE THOSE, DON'T WE?

AARON BETSKY: YES, WE DO. THAT'S WHY I SAY WE HAVE THE BUILDING BLOCKS. WE JUST NEED TO DEVELOP THEM FURTHER. IT IS, BY NOW, ABSOLUTELY POSSIBLE TO HAVE NOT JUST NET ZERO BUT NET POSITIVE BUILDINGS.

TED SIMONS: AS FAR AS THE COMMUNITES ARE CONCERNED, IT SOUNDS LIKE YOU ARE TALKING ABOUT NUBS OF HUBS IN CERTAIN AREAS. THE IDEA IS TO CONNECT THOSE WITH AS LITTLE PROBLEM AS POSSIBLE BUT KEEP ALL THE ACTION AND THE INTEREST, INFRASTRUCTURE IN THE AREAS, THESE LITTLE NUBS?

AARON BETSKY: ABSOLUTELY. THEY ARE CALLED STIMS BY THE CRITIC AND PROFESSOR LARS LERA. WHAT HE SAYS IS YOU HAVE THESE PLACES WHERE PEOPLE COME TOGETHER FOR WHATEVER REASON, SPORTS, FOOD, WHATEVER IT MIGHT BE, SCHOOL, PLACE OF BUSINESS. YOU CAPITALIZE THAT AND CONCENTRATE THERE. YOU DON'T CONNECT THEM WITH JUST THE VERY HEAVY THINGS LIKE LIGHT RAIL WHICH WE DO NEED, BUT YOU NEED A WHOLE OTHER LEVEL OF CONNECTION. WE NEED TO LOOK AT THINGS LIKE THE MINIVANS THAT TAKE YOU TO YOUR CAR RENTAL PLACE FROM THE AIRPORT. WE NEED TO LOOK AT WAYS PEOPLE GET AROUND EASILY THAT ARE ONE STEP FROM A CAR BUT DON'T PUT YOU IN THESE BIG BUSSES AND TRAINS.

TED SIMONS: AND YOU ALSO MENTIONED THAT YOU MUST MAKE THESE STIMS MORE APPROPRIATE TO THE DESERT, YOU DON’T JUST BUILD THEM ON THE LAND, BUT WITH THE LAND. TALK ABOUT THAT.

AARON BETSKY: FOR TOO LONG, WE HAVE SEEN THIS AS JUST AN EMPTY TERRAIN, GRATED AND BLATED. NOW WE HAVE TO THINK ABOUT HOW WE CAN USE THE ACTUAL TERRAIN, HOW WE CAN WORK WITH THE REPAIRIAN STRUCTURE, WITH WHERE THE WATER FLOWS, HOW WE CAN WORK WITH THE PLACES NATURE TELLS US ARE GOOD BECAUSE THEY ARE SHADED, HOW WE CAN CREATE PLACES THAT USE WHERE NATURE HAS PROVIDED US A PLACE FOR SHELTER AND EXPAND UPON THAT.

TED SIMONS: YOU MENTIONED TO LOOK AT ANCIENT CIVILIZATIONS, SPANISH MISSIONS I THINK YOU BROUGHT UP AS AN EXAMPLE, THE OLD SPANISH MISSIONS. WHAT IS GOING ON THERE?

AARON BETSKY: ABSOLUTELY. AT THE SCHOOL OF ARCHITECTURE AT TALIESIN, WE ARE IN A SET OF BUILDINGS DESIGNED BY FRANK LLOYD WRIGHT. HE WAS VERY CONSCIOUS OF THE DESERT. HE CHOSE A SITE THAT ALLOWED HIM TO GET MORE WIND, MORE WATER. HE DESIGNED BUILDINGS IN SUCH A WAY THAT THEY MITIGATE… MAKE THE CLIMATES SO THEY WERE NOT SO HARSH. WHERE DID HE LEARN THAT? BY A LARGE EXTENT, FROM LOOKING AT WHAT NATIVE AMERICANS DID AS WELL LOOKING AT OTHER CULTURES. THE SPANISH, WHEN THEY CAME HERE, ALSO LOOKED AT THE CLIMATE AND SAID IF WE CREATE THESE WALLED COMPOUNDS AND WE CULTIVATE AN AREA WITHIN THAT, IF WE CREATE A LOT OF MASS THAT DRINKS UP THAT SUN, IF WE CREATE COMMUNITIES WHERE WE CAN LIVE TOGETHER, THEN WE HAVE A CHANCE IN THIS CLIMATE.

TED SIMONS: DRINKING UP THE SUN IS EASY. DRINKING WATER THAT ISN'T THERE IS A WHOLE OTHER THING. IS THERE A PLAN B IF LAKE MEADE, COLORADO RIVER, THE ROCKY MOUNTAIN SNOW MOUND DIMINISHES SERIOUSLY?

AARON BETSKY: IT'S GOING TO BE DIFFICULT. THERE IS A LOT OF WATER UNDERGROUND, BUT THOSE AQUIFERS ARE ALSO BEING OVERUSED TO THE POINT IT WILL CREATE A LARGE PROBLEM. AND WE ARE NOT TALKING ABOUT SOMETHING THAT’S GOING TO HAPPEN DURING OUR GRANDCHILDREN'S DAYS, IT WILL BE 15 YEARS FROM NOW IF PREDICTIONS ARE RIGHT. THERE WILL BE A REAL STRUGGLE FOR WATER RIGHTS. I STARTED WITH A BOOK CALLED "THE WATER KNIFE." WHO IMAGINES A PHOENIX, NOT TOO FAR FROM NOW, WHERE LAS VEGAS AND PHOENIX ARE LITERALLY AT WAR OVER WATER RIGHTS. WE DON’T WANT TO GET THERE.

TED SIMONS: I ACTUALLY READ MUCH OF THAT BOOK. WE TALKED ABOUT THAT BOOK ON THE AIR. WE'LL CLOSE IT OUT WITH THE IDEA. WE HAVE HEARD JEREMIAH ALONG THESE LINES BEFORE THAT PHOENIX SHOULDN'T BE HERE, IT’S SUSTAINABLE, CERTAINLY NOT THE SIZE IT IS. WE HAVE HEARD THESE DOOMSDAY PREDICTIONS AS OLD AS TIME. HOW DO YOU GET PEOPLE TO PAY ATTENTION?

AARON BETSKY: WHAT I WANT TO MAKE CLEAR IS THAT I’M NOT A DISTOPIAN. I DON'T THINK WE ARE DOOMED. I THINK PHOENIX IS HERE FOR A REASON. THERE WAS ALWAYS WATER HERE. THERE ARE NINE RIVERS HERE. THIS IS A PLACE THAT CAN WORK. IT IS DENSER THAN A LOT OF CITIES ON THE EAST COAST. WE HAVE A LOT OF TECHNOLOGY THAT WILL ALLOW US TO WORK IN INTELLIGENT WAYS. WE HAVE TO FIGURE OUT HOW TO USE THE TECHNOLOGY WE HAVE, HOW TO LEARN FROM OTHER CULTURES, TO MAKE AN URBAN ENVIRONMENT THAT'S TRULY SUSTAINABLE, THAT’S TRULY OPEN TO ALL, AND THAT'S BEAUTIFUL AS THE DESERT AROUND US.

TED SIMONS: TECHNOLOGY REQUIRES MATERIAL, MATERIAL OFTEN REQUIRES EXTRACTION. THAT'S A WHOLE OTHER JEREMIAH DOWN THE WAY?

AARON BETSKY: NO, I THINK TALK ABOUT TALIESIN WHERE WE ARE. TALIESIN WAS BUILT OUT OF ROCKS ON THE SITE AND THEN TENTS OVER THEM. THERE'S A GREAT MODEL FOR HOW WE COULD LIVE.

TED SIMONS: ALRIGHT. VERY INTERESTING STUFF. GOOD TO HAVE YOU HERE. THANKS FOR JOINING US.

AARON BETSKY: NICE TO BE HERE.

TED SIMONS: THURSDAY ON "ARIZONA HORIZON," STATE ATTORNEY GENERAL MARK BRNOVICH RESPONDS TO THE RESULTS OF A UNIVERSITY COST STUDY. AND SUPERINTENDENT OF PUBLIC INSTRUCTION DIANE DOUGLAS TALKS ABOUT HER PLAN FOR A STATE EDUCATION TAX. THAT'S THURSDAY ON "ARIZONA HORIZON." THAT'S IT FOR NOW. I'M TED SIMONS. THANKS FOR JOINING US. YOU HAVE A GREAT EVENING.

Aaron Betsky: Dean, Frank Lloyd Wright School of Architecture

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