The Phoenix Experiment

Tim Egan on a city in the desert:

Is there a similar point at which the city becomes imperiled? The skeptics say: No, we can engineer our way around it. Look at the ballpark where the Diamondbacks play baseball: It has a retractable roof, which is closed while the stadium is cooled by industrial-strength air-conditioning and then opened in the evening.

Or behold the great veins of the Central Arizona Project, bringing water from the Colorado River to fountains in Scottsdale. The fast-evaporating water courses through the city as it bakes, making it livable.

To their credit, residents are using less water, deploying the sun to power air-conditioning, putting in desert landscaping — cacti and stones, not bluegrass and ponds. I do not doubt that innovation will continue to make it easier to defy the heat. But it’s one thing to bring runoff from the Rocky Mountains to the desert floor. It’s another to bring alpine air to streets and parks and backyards, unless you put a dome over the whole city.

Wallace Stegner always said it was his hope that the West could build cities to match the setting. He never predicted that the setting would be the problem.

(Hat tip Belshaw)