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ASU helps Phoenix refine its first HeatReady program

March 27, 2018

City's proposal to help local governments prepare for the dangers of urban heat made it a finalist in the 2018 Mayors Challenge

Phoenix was recently named as a finalist in Bloomberg Philanthropies’ 2018 Mayors Challenge on the strength of its proposal for a first-of-its-kind "HeatReady" program.

The program is expected to help the city of Phoenix and other local governments holistically manage how they identify, prepare for, mitigate, track and respond to the dangers of urban heat during the hot summer months.

Phoenix and 34 other Mayors Challenge finalist cities are now in the process of testing and refining their proposals, with a winner being announced in October. The winning city will be awarded $5 million to implement a scaled-up version of its solution; four other cities will receive $1 million each.

Assisting in the HeatReady endeavor is David Hondula, an assistant professor in the School of Geographical Sciences and Urban Planning and a member of ASU’s Urban Climate Research CenterThe Urban Climate Research Center employs a collaborative social/physical science framework to address critical issues in the urban atmospheric environment. It is affiliated with the School of Geographical Sciences and Urban Planning and the Julie Ann Wrigley Global Institute of Sustainability.. He told ASU Now the danger of urban heat is more than physical; it could possibly “constrain economic opportunities when it comes to the long-term prosperity for the city.”

Man in glasses and maroon and gold tie

David Hondula

Question: HeatReady is a new idea. Does Phoenix not have any heat policies already in place?

Answer: It’s a good question and one that is asked a lot. There are many successful initiatives that the city has undertaken both itself and collaboratively with other cities and health authorities. It is very possible through this process we will discover Phoenix is very “heat ready,” but also learn new ways to combat heat in the city. We think the Bloomberg project will give us an opportunity to think systematically about all of those strategies and understand and measure where we are in our heat preparedness. There’s not an existing tool, framework or mechanism by which we can evaluate where we are and can identify where our opportunities are for improvement.

Q: What role will ASU play in this project?

A: ASU and the city of Phoenix will be working together on developing what we are currently calling the framework for the HeatReady program. We’re imagining a program that would be similar in ways to the StormReady program the National Weather Service operates.

The StormReady program targets readiness for flash floods, storms, hurricanes and other rapid-onset events. When cities participate in StormReady, they complete an application collaboratively with the National Weather Service office to ensure the lines of communication are open during weather warnings to ensure that emergency operation centers are identified, points of contact are documented and certain infrastructure and equipment are available. Once the city completes this application and it is reviewed by the National Weather Service, they can become certified as StormReady. We are imagining a similar program for community heat readiness and preparedness. ASU students, faculty and staff from many different schools will be involved in helping craft this program — we have an incredible network of people who study and are passionate about developing solutions for urban heat.  

Q: What are some of the obvious (and not-so-obvious) dangers of urban heat?

A: Heat is an immediate health threat to residents and visitors of Phoenix and the other cities in Maricopa County, and throughout much of the Southwest. Sadly, we have upwards of a hundred people who die of heat-related causes in an average year, and thousands of cases of heat-related illness. In 2016 the Maricopa County Department of Health reported a record number of 150 heat-related deaths, well above the previous high of 107.

Long-term impacts and not-so-obvious dangers of urban heat that are of concern include respiratory and cardiovascular disease. But I think even more interesting from a health perspective is the potential reduction of physical activity in the warm season. If we do not successfully address the heat challenge, it could constrain economic opportunities when it comes to the long-term prosperity for the city. If there is a perception that Phoenix is too hot of a place to live or conduct productive business, that might jeopardize some investments in our region. Fortunately, our current indicators don’t suggest that’s the case whatsoever. Phoenix is booming and thriving, and there are many construction projects and other exciting developments all around. We want to stay on top of the heat challenge so that our growth and economic stability continue.

Q: What are some things in the proposal that can mitigate heat?

A: In terms of mitigation, we are thinking about both keeping the city cool and making sure people have access to the right resources to cope with heat in their daily lives. The city of Phoenix and other Valley cities have fairly aggressive greening goals that could have an impact in reducing the air temperature in the city but, even more importantly, improve the thermal experience as people go through their day-to-day lives. Phoenix is seeking to double its tree canopy. We’ve found that additional vegetation in the urban environment will help keep air temperatures down slightly, but the real benefit of those trees is more shade people can use as they are walking around. The city is also looking at different strategies for the materials for our buildings, our roads, our parking lots and other surfaces, experimenting with materials that are more reflective and help stop heat from being trapped near the surface.

The other side of the challenge is adapting to heat, especially in terms of the actions that happen at the personal and household scale. We know that residents want more information about how to use the thermostat most effectively, for example. We also want to be sure that residents and visitors are aware of public resources including cooling centers and energy assistance programs — and to be sure that those programs are operating as effectively as possible. Public participation in building our adaptation strategies is essential, and many ASU researchers are involved in efforts to understand the community voice and community needs.

Q: Even if Phoenix does not win the grant, will ASU continue to work with Phoenix on these strategies?

A: We are very motivated to continue building the concept of a HeatReady program for Phoenix regardless of the outcome of the Bloomberg project. Of course, we’re going to try our best to win. We think the ball is rolling and cannot be stopped.  

Top photo by ASU Now

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ASU Gospel Choir director breaks down barriers around musical cultures

ASU Gospel Choir director makes flourishing ensemble inclusive of everybody.
March 27, 2018

Professor to talk about growing the ensemble to be inclusive at TEDxASU talk

When Jason Thompson was growing up in North Carolina, he was immersed in all types of music in his church and at school. But when he decided to major in music in college, the curriculum was focused on Western classical music and didn’t include much gospel, pop or other genres.

“I felt like because that was excluded, a part of me was excluded — what I had known,” he said.

Now an assistant professor in the School of MusicThe School of Music is part of the Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts. at Arizona State University, Thompson is passionate about valuing all genres. As director of the ASU Gospel Choir, he has grown the ensembleThe Gospel Choir, one of seven vocal ensembles at ASU open to non-music majors, is a three-credit course for undergraduates and graduate students that’s also open to members of the community. from a dozen students to 125 singers in three years.

“Typically in schools of music, there are certain boundaries placed around what gets to count and what doesn’t get to count,” he said.

“Gospel choirs have always been a part of universities, usually student-run, but my Gospel Choir gets to count. Here, students can take it as part of their ensemble requirement, and it’s very meaningful that it’s not just an add-on but curricular inclusion for their degree.”

Thompson will discuss the choir and his passion for breaking down musical silos as part of his TEDxASUTEDxASU is a student-run event that’s based on the enormously popular California-based TED Talks. The March 31 event will feature nine speakers and a symposium. talk this Saturday.

Here, he answered some questions from ASU Now.

Question: What will you talk about in the TEDxASU talk?

Answer: It’s (the overall event) called “Boundless,” and I kept thinking about boundaries. There are all these boundaries I’m having to navigate: a religious context in a public university, or people who are like, “I don’t sing gospel. How can I do this?”

The gist of it was in my own background. It was the idea that there was a musical buffet. You could go to my church and see anthems — my grandmother loves those — or hymns or spirituals or contemporary music. And in my school, there was pop music and musical theater.

When I came to the university to study music, that wasn’t the case. Everything was built around Western classical music. I love Western classical music. There’s beauty in that. But what I found limiting was that it really didn’t account for the rich diversity of music-making happening across contexts. What got me there was not necessarily present or valued in the academic space.

I taught in public schools for 10 years, and I realized the beauty and necessity of cross-cultural music-making. I was teaching these students who were just like me then.

So my talk is called “The Gospel of Musical Inclusion.”

The Gospel Choir is the centerpiece of the talk because there’s so much happening, but I’m talking about “gospel” not necessarily in religion or music. I’m talking about “gospel” as in “truth.” The truth of musical inclusion.

Q: How do you make the choir inclusive?

A: You would think a place like a gospel choir could be exclusionary. But it’s not. It’s really inclusionary, where I recognize that some people take gospel choir as a way to identify with their own personal belief system or faith system. But there are other people who are taking it because they just love the music. Other people take it because they love the social aspects. There also are people taking it for the recreational aspect because you’re moving. It’s interesting that we don’t privilege one way to be in the ensemble.

They sing religious texts. I have two Jewish students, and I talked to them about, "How do you make sense of this aspect of singing a particular text when your own belief system may run counter to that?" And both said, "I just love the music." They see that the text is another way to draw upon their ability as a performer.

I want them to know what they’re getting into so I do talk about religious context. I may bring in Scripture if we’re talking about David’s lamenting. I’ll say, "This is what’s going on in David’s life,” as a way to bring it back to the music. As a performer, they can draw on that knowledge to inform their musical performance.

What I don’t do is say, "If you’ve had a bad day, you need to turn it over to God.”

Q: Is there a hesitancy among the white members of the choir to sing gospel music?

A: I give them the green light to embody the style. I have them listening to things. We talk about the concepts of cross-gospel context. I try to give them as much knowledge as I can about the different schools of thought.

I’m upfront about it. You will always have a select few people who say, "You shouldn’t do this." I don’t necessarily address those. That’s going to be the case regardless of whether we do it right or do it wrong. So I say, let’s do what we can.

And this year, I have this returning group of students, so the newbies see the veteran students. They see people like them who are already engaged and they think, "This is OK."

When we do a Facebook Live rehearsal, there are people commenting, "I’m so glad that people are singing gospel across contexts."

I think part of it is that there is a level of competence. It’s not like we’re doing something without thinking how we do it. When we sing or people watch our videos, they realize there’s a sense of informed knowledge and that the students aren’t making a mockery of this musical culture.

Our last concert this semester will be at a church. We did it last year, and it was beautiful to see. There were so many races and cultures represented, and so many people were supporters.

Q: The Gospel Choir is flourishing. What’s next for it?

A: I would love for us to have more of a community-engagement piece. Right now most of what we do is performance-based. I would love to say, "How can we use our ensemble and music-making for the greater good?" I’ve been figuring out what that might be.

Personally, I want to do more research on the choir. One of my students has been developing a project about how students navigate these boundaries to get to a place where they feel, “OK, I’m competent in this cultural area where I wasn’t at first.”

I’m also interested in some of the attitudinal things. It would be interesting to see the influence that participation has on the sense of community, which is so important for first-generation college students who are looking for something to be a part of.

I get all these anecdotal comments about what effect Gospel Choir has on their sense of community and identity.

It’s a home away from home for them.

Thompson will participate in the TEDxASU talk at 4 p.m. Saturday, March 31. 

The ASU Gospel Choir will perform in “Berlioz Symphonie Fantastique” with the ASU Symphony Orchestra at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday at Tempe Center for the Arts and at 7:30 p.m. Monday, April 2, at Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts. The Gospel Choir also will participate in the Spark After Dark Cypher Ritmo, a free event combining music, dance, art and food at 8 p.m. Saturday, April 21, at the Mesa Arts Center.

Top photo: Jason Thompson, by Tim Trumble  

Mary Beth Faller

Reporter , ASU News