Heat Response PHL: Here’s what we’ve been up to this fall

The Heat Response team has spent the last few months meeting with community members in Fairhill, Grays Ferry and Southeast Philadelphia, and deepening relationships with Philadelphia leaders who understand that we must address the impact of extreme heat on the city’s underserved communities.

It’s been a busy time, including community workshops held by our neighborhood artists, webinars with elected officials, and media outreach to announce the project and bring light to the solutions Heat Response seeks to broker in three communities and indeed, city-wide.

City Councilwoman Katherine Gilmore Richardson recently underscored the importance of neighborhood green space in the face of extreme urban heat, explaining during a recent Trust for Public Land virtual event that parks, playgrounds and other green spaces “aren’t just nice-to have amenities, [they] are must-haves.”

Her comments came during a Sept. 23 event webinar that included Trust for Public Land Pennsylvania State Director Owen Franklin, Heat Response artist advisor Eve Mosher and Fairhill community leader Charito Morales, who discussed how art can be a powerful tool for underserved communities to express extreme urban heat’s impact on their lives.

Morales shared her story and detailed her community’s struggle with urban heat. The pandemic has exacerbated the impact, she explained, with closings of local pools and indoor air-conditioned cooling zones forcing residents to look for shade in public parks for protection from some of the highest temperatures in Philadelphia history.

But in Fairhill, and other Philadelphia communities like Grays Ferry and Southeast Philadelphia, green space is lacking.

With little existing green space, temperatures in these neighborhoods can be up to 8 degrees higher than other sections of Philadelphia. Redlining has worsened the temperature disparity, with wealthier neighborhoods typically enjoying access to more green space and parks – and the lower temperatures those amenities bring. Considering the health complications brought on by extreme urban heat, it’s clear that, as Gilmore Richardson described, “this is a life or death issue.”

The gravity of extreme urban heat and the urgent need for more parks, playgrounds and green space in Fairhill, Grays Ferry and Southeast Philadelphia becomes more clear as artists continue to engage with community members. Heat Response will continue to work with neighbors to ensure their experiences are amplified so to help inform decisions by policymakers and service providers.

See what local media are writing about the project: