Preparing for a Warmer Wetter Philadelphia

The Hunting Park neighborhood faces some of the most extreme heat throughout the City of Philadelphia despite various tree planting efforts over the years. In 2018, Esperanza and the City’s Office of Sustainability partnered and kicked off the Beat the Heat Hunting Park project.

In the initial pilot of this work, community residents were surveyed about their experience i­n dealing with extreme heat, challenges they faced, and worked alongside stakeholders to give input about ways to help reduce the effects. The Beat the Heat work continues today, with a variety of different initiatives launching this summer that help mitigate the extreme heat residents face.

One of the projects is an expansion of a pilot project that began with a local community leader and Drexel University as partners. The goal was to bring a structure to the block that could absorb some of the heat through plants, but also provided a shaded area with umbrellas where residents could sit and socialize to beat the heat. Planter boxes with sitting structures were installed throughout the block, resulting in an aesthetically pleasing but functional tool for residents to use.

While we are still measuring the full cooling effect the planters have on the block level, the project has expanded, and 100 residents received planters throughout five blocks in the Hunting Park neighborhood. Most recently, residents have been hired to measure heat throughout the selected blocks and the surrounding areas and began collecting data since the installations at the end of June. The goal is to gather all the data by the end of the summer to measure the full impact of the planters.

This project, however, does more than just bring beautiful planters to the neighborhood. It also allows for an opportunity to engage residents on the importance of expanding the tree canopy coverage and tree education, using the structures as one example of how shaded areas can help folks cool off.

Throughout this engagement for planter sign-ups, Esperanza has built relationships with various community members, registered residents for Street Trees, recruited ambassadors to help connect people to resources, and more. In the initial surveys completed by the Beat the Heat project, residents reported that much of their information comes from block captains and community members. And while the ultimate goal is to reduce extreme heat in the neighborhood, this project also created an opportunity for residents to engage with one another, a factor we know is important for perceptions of a safe and healthy community.

Since the expansion of the project and the final installations, interests have spiked throughout the neighborhood for other blocks. We hope to continue this partnership with Drexel University and replicate the project throughout the greater Hunting Park area.

By Jasmin Velez, community outreach coordinator, Esperanza

Jasmin Velez will be among the panelists at the next Academy Town Square entitled “Preparing for a Warmer, Wetter Philadelphia,” at 7 p.m. Thursday, July 29. She will be joined by NBC 10 Meteorologist Glenn “Hurricane” Schwartz; Julia Rockwell, manager of the Climate Change Adaptation Program, Philadelphia Water Department; and Mark Sabaj, collection manager of fishes at the Academy. The event is free and available on Zoom. To register, visit the Academy Town Square page here.

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