PHOENIX – Reggie Carrillo knows firsthand that how hot it gets in your neighborhood depends on where you live.
The environmental activist and educator lives in a predominantly Mexican neighborhood in south-central Phoenix, where segregation once forced black and Hispanic people to live south of the railroad tracks. More than half a century later, the historic lack of investment means fewer trees and subsequent temperatures 13 degrees F (7 C) hotter than wealthier, greener areas just a few miles away.
“To understand climate change, to understand the urban heat island effect, you have to understand history,” said Carrillo, who wants to share that knowledge with his neighbors and help cool the community.
Carrillo tapped into one of several nonprofit initiatives emerging in the United States to educate and engage residents about climate heat, which disproportionately affects low-income neighborhoods of color.
Among the most ambitious – an Academy of urban heating launched last year by the nonprofit Phoenix Revitalization Corporation and The Nature Conservancy. Better known for preserving natural areas, the non-profit global conservation organization is now more active in cities such as planting hundreds of trees and overseeing community gardens in the South River area of Atlanta.
The course, held most Saturday mornings with experts on various aspects of climate change, teaches residents like Carrillo not only why their communities are getting so hot, but how to organize and advocate for cooler, greener, healthier neighborhoods. Other topics discussed include water, air quality, and environmental equity for the black, Latino, and indigenous poor.
As climate change leads to more intense, frequent, and longer-lasting heat waves in the United States and around the world, historically temperate and even cold areas are struggling to cope with the effects of high temperatures.
Grey, cold and rainy most of the year, in the Pacific Northwest, fried with triple digit temperatures during the unusual heat wave last summer that caused many deaths. Temperatures in Oregon and Washington state climbed back into the 90s this summer, suggesting global warming has created a new normal for hot weather in the region.
In Philadelphia, where temperatures typically drop to 20 to 30 degrees (-7 to -1 C) in the winter, summers are increasingly hot, with more summer days exceeding 90 degrees (over 32 C).
National non-profit organization Trust for Public Land recently completed a two-year initiative that used public art to raise awareness of the growing dangers of urban heat and ignite a conversation about extreme temperatures in low-income communities of color in this northeastern city.
They distributed Seedlings coloring books designed by local artists with messages in English and Spanish in the predominantly Latino neighborhood of Fairhill, and organized community art workshops to design shadow structures and murals in racially diverse Grays Ferry.
Environmental Protection Agency the recently recognized Philadelphia Heat Response Project and similar initiatives are now held or offered in various locations across the United States, including the Harlem area of New York, Miami, Seattle, and Ventura County, California.
Owen Franklin, director of the Public Lands Foundation in Pennsylvania, said the Philadelphia project sparked conversations about crowded, aging neighborhoods that are 20 degrees (11 C) hotter than nearby because they don’t have parks or enough canopy. trees. .
“We have a lot to learn, and not just the people who live in these neighborhoods,” Franklin said, noting that organizers have learned from community members that they often sleep with their windows closed on hot summer nights because of concerns about crime.
“The rest of us need to know how people feel so we can deal with the problem,” he said.
In Phoenix, Carrillo, along with several other graduates of the five-month academy, is designing a “cool corridor,” a walking path that will be lined with Sonoran desert plants such as mesquite trees, cacti and creosote, which can be purchased with a conservation grant and planted this fall. The team is also planning relevant public meetings with local residents.
“We want people to have their voice heard about what their neighborhoods look like,” Carrillo said.
The academy ran its first course last year with about 40 area residents joining weekly online meetings to hear expert explanations on things like transpiration, a process that allows the plants to cool the surrounding areasand the effects of extreme heat on people.
“We’re trying to help people work toward solutions that will cool their neighborhoods in the long term,” said Anna Bettis, director of The Nature Conservancy’s Healthy Cities Program in Arizona. “Shadow is a resource. If you just look around, you can see how unevenly it is distributed in some areas.”
And it’s not just in places more used to extreme temperatures, such as Maricopa County in Phoenix, where the mercury reached 115 degrees F (46.1 C) in July and 339 people died of heat-related causes last year. the heat
The Atlanta Conservancy has planted 300 trees and oversees eight community gardens along the city’s South River, Bettis said.
Carrillo discussed his team’s plans in the cool hallway with a few attendees at an informal event hosted in late September by Arizona State University’s student design class at Academia del Pueblo, a K-8 charter school in his neighborhood.
“We don’t have proper sidewalks here, and many of our students have to walk five or more blocks without shade in temperatures over 100 degrees (37.7 C), said Teresa Silva, who teaches at the school. “We don’t have transportation, and their parents often work multiple jobs and can’t pick them up.”
Neighbor Carlos Ramirez stopped by with his 13-year-old son, Alexis, to learn how ASU students are studying ways to improve shade in the area.
“It can get hot in here,” the elder Ramirez allowed. “It would be nice to have more trees.”
In another area of Phoenix with sparse shade, Thermal Academy graduate Curtis Merritt, a Navy SEAL, is working with his team to plant up to a dozen fig, apple, pear and citrus trees in an area considered a food desert without adequate access to whole foods. .
The public school’s student body in the rundown Merritt neighborhood north of Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport is working-class and about 80 percent Latino, and the local Prentice Park has become home to many homeless people in recent years.
“What’s great about this project is that I’m not only helping to cool my neighborhood by educating and engaging,” Merritt said. “Someday, with these trees, I’ll be able to feed my neighbors, too.”
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