The Beat the Heat initiative is a partnership of the city of Philadelphia, PA Interfaith Power and Light, Esperanza Inc, and numerous other Hunting Park individuals and community organizations, including the Climate Witness Project. The partnership has been working to design and implement a neighborhood-based heat relief network. A recent heat study showed Hunting Park (and several other historically disinvested communities in Philadelphia) to be, on average, 22 F hotter than the cooler parts of the city during summer heat waves. Excessive heat is one of the biggest health risks (and biggest killers) associated with climate change, and it is increasing.
The partnership's goal this past summer was to build a network of cooling centers (at churches, rec centers, and other community spaces) that could be activated during heat emergencies and made open to residents. The cooling centers would be indoor spaces with air conditioning that would provide food and activities for families. COVID-19 made this unfeasible due to health risks. However, the steering committee continued to meet all summer, run heat surveys at food distribution sites, and deliver heat kits to neighborhood residents.
Through our dialog, we have gotten agreements from a number of community partners to be cooling centers once we are able to do so. We are well poised for the summer of 2021.
Another exciting development is that Drexel University received some grant money to do heat mitigation work in the city, and because we already had a community initiative going in Hunting Park, they decided to join up with us. Together we helped them think through how to do their strategy in our neighborhood and in the end we settled on a block, in dialog with their block captain, that has become this summer's site. Their block has 3 heat mitigation strategies set up in 3 separate sections. One section has trees that were already there a bunch of added greenery, one has shade structures, and one has misting stations and pavement wetting. The pavement wetting section has hydrochromatic paintings on it, done by local residents, which show up when the pavement gets wet. They have hired several "civilian scientists" who will maintain the sections and take temperature readings at regular intervals. The set up is just on the verge of completion and they are hoping to get some good readings for the month of September, which can still see a lot of heat here in Philadelphia.
As we anticipate a hot and, hopefully, COVID-minimal summer of 2021, we expect the work we have put in this summer to be able to expand significantly and develop into a model that can be shared with other low income urban communities dealing with excessive heat.