Can you see into the future? How we are attempting to do just that in Phoenix

Second Nature

Written by Brian Grant, Arizona State University

Geographically, the Phoenix area is fortunate to have a limited vulnerability to hurricanes, earthquakes, tornadoes, etc.  Resilience to natural disasters has been overlooked in our desert city.  However, the campuses involved in the CRUX project understand the necessity of a resilience assessment and resilience planning and are signatories to the Climate Commitment.  While certain natural disasters may not be an imminent threat, we are increasingly vulnerable to climate stresses such as extreme heat, drought, flooding, and dust storms.  The first step in assessing our adaptive capacity and vulnerability to these climate stresses involved assembling campus-community task forces at each campus.   Reaching out to individuals who recognize and understand these impending conditions, as well as the capacity and drive to take action.  Each campus-community task force is dedicated to preparation and mitigation of climate impacts.  

Each campus-community task force is comprised of staff, faculty, and students from the respective campuses, as well as community leaders from organizations such as Habitat for Humanity and the City of Glendale.  We meet monthly, sometimes bi-monthly, and communicate regularly via email.  The task force members are responsible for much of the breadth of the resilience assessment, and, as a fellow in the CRUX program, I organize the efforts.  Our resilience planning is being guided by this campus-community model.

Under the guidance of staff from the University Sustainability Practices (USP) at ASU, we decided to pursue a back-casting method to our resilience assessment.  We kicked things off with a future visioning workshop that split our task force into two groups, having each envision a resilient campus.  With the help of Dr. Arnim Wiek from the School of Sustainability, I employed some specific strategies to get people thinking unconstrained and outside of the box.  The results were impressive.  The visions presented by each group were similar in some respects and very different in others.  For example, one group’s vision emphasized a campus integrated with its surrounding community, while the other group’s vision exhibited more green infrastructure.   I combined the two visions to create a shared vision that still serves as the foundation for our resilience work.  This workshop also reinforced our members’ existing enthusiasm for resilience work, which has helped ensure participation in the resilience assessment.

To begin working on the assessment, I utilized some existing resources and materials from Second Nature, USP, and Portland State University (PSU).  With these resources, input from USP staff, and feedback from the other CRUX fellows, I developed a resilience matrix to catalog our adaptive capacities and vulnerabilities.  The matrix is characterized by four sectors (infrastructure, environment, society and equity, and mission services) and four climate stresses (extreme heat and Urban Heat Island effect, changing precipitation patterns and drought, heavy monsoon floods and lightning, and increased wind and severe dust storms).  Within each sector, there are multiple planning areas (energy, water, buildings, etc.) that are subjected to the four climate stresses, and then indicators, measures, adaptive capacity, and vulnerability are identified.  The indicators and measures were heavily influenced by a master list created by the PSU cluster.  Once finalized, I took the resilience matrix to each task force and had them fill it out. This is time-consuming, so to make it more manageable, we focused on one sector each month.

The resilience matrix is essentially our resilience assessment in an excel spreadsheet.  Once completely filled out, which should be by the end of the year, completing the resilience assessment will be straightforward and very informative for our resilience planning.  We are on the right track to incorporate climate resilience into the fabric of each campus-community involved in the CRUX project.  

Keep an eye out for a follow-up blog post discussing community resilience, social inclusion, and fostering partnerships with related efforts in Phoenix.



Brian Grant is the CRUX Coordinator in Phoenix and a Master’s student at ASU’s School of Sustainability.  He is currently working with the University Sustainability Practices at ASU as the Climate Resilience Program Assistant and will be coordinating resilience efforts at each ASU campus.