This summer, Phoenix, Arizona, became the first city in the country to publicly fund an office dedicated to tackling the issue of extreme heat. It’s part of a growing awareness among government officials that heat’s dangers need to be dealt with more strategically as the world grows warmer. In Phoenix, the nation’s third-fastest-warming city, the number of heat-related deaths has continued to climb. Now, David Hondula, an associate professor and researcher at Arizona State University, will lead the city’s heat strategy as director of the newly formed Office of Heat Response and Mitigation.

Hondula is optimistic that the new office can reduce the number of heat-related deaths and help create a city that is cooler and more comfortable for its residents. High Country News recently spoke with Hondula to better understand just what his office will be doing, and how it plans to direct resources to neighborhoods disproportionately impacted by heat. This conversation has been edited for length and clarity.

Q. What did Phoenix do to address extreme heat before creating this office? 

There has been a really, really wide and arguably impressive portfolio of activity happening inside City Hall. But what Phoenix and our region in general have come to realize is that the lack of accountability means that there’s no guarantee that all of those initiatives (tree planting, cool pavements, cooling centers and wellness checks, among others) are working together, are talking to one another and are not in conflict. Cities across the United States have been throwing a lot of strategies haphazardly at extreme heat, and even defining the problem itself is a challenge that we haven’t resolved. Those are concerns that have been articulated in this region now many years — enough to push Phoenix over the edge to say: “If this is a problem that we are really serious about tackling, it should be somebody’s job.”

Read the full article about addressing extreme heat in Phoenix by Jessica Kutz at Grist.