Looking to the Future: Local communities celebrate regional resilience at the Maricopa Regional Resilience Celebration

As the threats of extreme heat, drought and climate change mount, stakeholders in Maricopa County are recognizing these challenges require a regional, coordinated response. On February 8, 2023, local leaders from regional and city governments and community-based organizations gathered at the Maricopa Regional Resilience Celebration to highlight critical voices that need to be centered in future climate efforts.

Hosted at the Nina Mason Pulliam Rio Salado Audubon Center, a 600-acre park along the Salt River, the convening honored community efforts towards transformational sustainability, tying back to the region’s historical roots in agriculture and Indigenous stewardship. The event started with a story from Martha Ludlow Martinez, a local storyteller from the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community. Her story set the tone for the rest of the evening, elevating the need for inclusivity of voices most affected by challenges. Chef Alyssa Dixon from the Gila River Indian Community provided food and beverages, including prickly pear lemonade, nopales (cactus) pico de gallo, mesquite fry bread and squash cake, highlighting indigenous ingredients and family recipes. Music was provided by the local Tempe band, Bohemian Insurgence. Community members from across the county gathered to enjoy the food, music and stories that can only be found in the Valley. 

Maricopa Regional Resilience Celebration Video

Photo by Arianna Grainey/City of Tempe

The program focused on the perspectives of high school students, indigenous artists, and community-based organizations that seek to serve their local populations. Each speaker highlighted recent work to elevate community voices and have more influence on local decision-making. Speakers were honest about the challenges of working with local governments and they called for more coordination, authenticity, and collaboration. The event marked the beginning of the type of work that needs to happen for people to be truly centered in community resilience and climate action, and signaled the need for local governments, Arizona State University, utilities and major environmental non-profits to deeply involve people in their work and not merely check boxes on community engagement.

Youth Speakers

Two youth speakers from regional sustainability programs, Shalae Clemens and Uriel Gutierrez shared their experiences in working with local governments on climate action. As a youth leader, McClintock High School senior Shalae, a member of the City of Tempe’s Mayor’s Youth Advisory Commission (MYAC), presented on developing a Neighborhood Justice Council (with support from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation) to engage and educate climate activists in high schools. Shalae talked about the group’s efforts to provide heat relief for people experiencing homelessness in Tempe. Shalae called on governments not to tokenize youth and to have reasonable and shared expectations for how high school students can contribute to local climate policy. 

Photo by Arianna Grainey/City of Tempe

Uriel then spoke about his experience with the City of Phoenix’s Student Council Sustainability Officers Initiative. The initiative is supported by the City of Phoenix to educate Phoenix youth about sustainability, as well as engage students in co-developing sustainability projects and events. One event included the “Fashion For the Future” competition which hosted weekly challenges and a fashion show.

Indigenous communities

Artists Thomas “Breeze” Marcus, Amy Davila, and Architect Selina Martinez shared their work to establish Hekiu, a collaborative of indigenous artists that seek to incorporate indigenous perspectives and design into cities in the Valley. Local artists engaged in a series of workshops to establish design principles for the built environment that reflects the region’s O’otham culture. The artists spoke about the need to celebrate the distinct territorial peoples from the four southern tribes to portray an accurate representation of the local indigenous cultures from the tribes within Maricopa County. This work is funded by a National Endowment for the Arts Our Town grant that supports the collaboration between the artists, the Indigenous Design Collaborative led by Wanda Dalla Costa, and the City of Tempe Arts and Culture Division and the Sustainability and Resilience Office.

Photo by Arianna Grainey/City of Tempe

Community-based organizations

With support from Vitalyst Health Foundation, Unlimited Potential and CHISPA AZ awarded four community-based organizations mini-grants to advance community health, advocacy, climate and environmental change, and social services. The recipients of these grants included Orchard Community Learning Center, Marina Thomas, Tiger Mountain Foundation, and Salud en Balance. With facilitation from Masavi Perea and Emma Viera, the four grant recipients discussed their projects’ local impact. 

The Orchard Community Learning Center designed an irrigation system to reduce water usage, and designed informational materials related to heat mitigation, biodiversity, food production, and plans for a cultural center.

Marina Thomas worked on two permaculture gardens to provide food for local families. 

Tiger Mountain Foundation worked on a variety of projects, including an edible landscape garden, tree planting for urban cooling, composting, planting of native and drought-resistant species, and pollinator gardens. 

Salud en Balance conducted 12 workshops to learn and share solutions to extreme heat mitigation.

Paving the way for resilience

The highlighted community efforts establish an opportunity for forward-thinking, community-informed collective action in the region. Closing reflections from the keynote speaker, Shalini Vajjhala, included a call to action for regional partners to thoughtfully engage with each other. Dr. Vajjhala, Founder and CEO of Re:Focus Partners, noted that there is an opportunity for resourcing community effort through federal funding from the infrastructure bill and the Inflation Reduction Act, specifically around the White House’s Justice40 Initiative. She encouraged participants to hold their heads up and keep hope that they will have the opportunity to take action in their own communities. 

The way forward requires thoughtful and strategic collaboration. Recognizing this, the Sustainable Cities Network is excited to launch the Federal Infrastructure Workgroup, which will put pen to paper and identify potential collaborations between municipal partners, community-based organizations, and local leaders to coordinate on incoming federal infrastructure funding. If you are interested in joining the workgroup, please email Director Anne Reichman at [email protected].

Overall, the event highlighted the potential for creating a local approach to people-centered community building and climate resilience. Youth, indigenous voices, and community-based organizations hold power and perspectives that deserve additional resources and support. Hopefully, the region will find ways to let people take the reins on their own projects and initiatives. Maricopa County has so much diversity and perspectives that make it special, and now it is up to all of us to ensure that more voices are heard and more power is given to the people with inspiring visions for the future.

Photo by Arianna Grainey/City of Tempe


We acknowledge the organization and stewardship of the City of Tempe, which remains a regional leader in sustainability and resiliency.

We thank the Elected Officials that joined us from the City of Tempe, the City of Phoenix, and the City of Scottsdale, as well as the community organizations that continue to support and advocate for their local communities.

The ASU Sustainable Cities Network (SCN) is an innovative education and outreach program within the Julie Ann Wrigley Global Future Laboratory, created to work with communities to strengthen sustainability in the region and across Arizona. Comprised of Arizona city, town, county and tribal community practitioners and leaders, SCN is a vehicle for sharing knowledge, identifying best practices, coordinating planning and actions, and fostering long-term partnerships. Created as a bridge between ASU research and local sustainability challenges, SCN participants and partners work together to streamline and green city operation and advance local and regional sustainability and resilience measures. Stay up to date by subscribing to our newsletter