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Household accessibility to heat refuges: Residential air conditioning, public cooled space, and walkability


Access to air conditioned space is critical for protecting urban populations from the adverse effects of heat exposure. Yet there remains fairly limited knowledge of the penetration of private (home air conditioning) and distribution of public (cooling centers and commercial space) cooled space across cities. Furthermore, the deployment of government-sponsored cooling centers is likely to be inadequately informed with respect to the location of existing cooling resources (residential air conditioning and air conditioned public space), raising questions of the equitability of access to heat refuges. We explore the distribution of private and public cooling resources and access inequities at the household level in two major US urban areas: Los Angeles County, California and Maricopa County, Arizona (whose county seat is Phoenix). We evaluate the presence of in-home air conditioning and develop a walking-based accessibility measure to air conditioned public space using a combined cumulative opportunities-gravity approach. We find significant variations in the distribution of residential air conditioning across both regions which are largely attributable to building age and inter/intra-regional climate differences. There are also regional disparities in walkable access to public cooled space. At average walking speeds, we find that official cooling centers are only accessible to a small fraction of households (3% in Los Angeles, 2% in Maricopa) while a significantly higher number of households (80% in Los Angeles, 39% in Maricopa) have access to at least one other type of public cooling resource such as a library or commercial establishment. Aggregated to a neighborhood level, we find that there are areas within each region where access to cooled space (either public or private) is limited which may increase heat-related health risks.

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