How Heat Response Spent the Summer

Heat waves, stifling humidity, and devastating rain events during the summer of 2021 underscored the urgent action needed to cool our communities and mitigate the dangerous effects of extreme heat. That’s why the artists, community members and activists that make up the Heat Response PHL team were busy creating, communicating, and coordinating solutions for extreme urban heat. Here’s a peek into how we spent our summer. 

Trust for Public Land Pennsylvania State Director Owen Franklin shared with  NBC10’s @ Issue how art can be used as a tool for accessing lived experiences with urban heat. Franklin noted some parts of the city can feel 10, 15, or even 20 degrees hotter than a neighborhood less than a mile away because of long-standing disinvestment in those communities, including a lack of tree canopy and unequal access to quality parks. By empowering engagement, Franklin said, Heat Response PHL is demonstrating how these communities can work together to generate action that addresses rising temperatures in their own neighborhoods. 

In Fairhill, Heat Response began distributing the bilingual, interactive ‘Seedlings’ coloring and activity book, which was designed by local artists and community members to help kids connect their real-life experiences with extreme heat to the climate crisis and help them brainstorm ways to cool their neighborhoods. Seedlings captured the attention of youth and adults, leading to a partnership with the city of Philadelphia’s Parks and Recreation Department to distribute the activity books to Philly youth. 

Distribution of Seedlings will continue at events around the city and a PDF version is available for download online.  Seedlings was featured as part of the Heat Response project in WHYY and the Inquirer

The ‘Treecycle’ — Trust for Public Land’s adult-sized tricycle with a built-in elm tree — began making appearances at community events in the three neighborhoods Heat Response PHL works with: Fairhill, Greys Ferry, and Southeast Philadelphia. Local artists and world-renowned environmental artist Eve Mosher designed the Treecycle to spark conversations about urban heat and provide educational resources such as the Seedlings coloring book across Philadelphia neighborhoods, providing a shady spot to connect with residents under its mobile tree canopy.

As temperatures continued to climb, the ‘Treecycle’ became the ‘Pop-cycle’ — Heat Response PHL’s twist on the classic ice cream truck. This vehicle traveled around neighborhoods to deliver “Mojito” flavored paletas — Mexican-style ice pops — made by chefs at Philabundance, to community members looking to beat the heat and enjoy a delicious summer treat. 

In Grays Ferry, local artist Jenna Robb advanced a cross-generational public art program. Following  several months of connecting students from the youth-focused non-profit Young Chances with local seniors via letters and postcards, the community collaboration continued throughout the summer with workshops focused on designing shade structures, mural painting planning meetings and outlining plans to add benches to Lanier Park. 

While hot summer days might be behind us, the Heat Response team will ensure that decision-makers understand cooler temperatures do not mean our work is done. Community engagement will remain at the core of this effort to effect change through art, no matter the weather forecast.