We know it’s still cold outside but at the Office of Sustainability we’re evaluating what went well last summer and what we can do to prepare for next summer. Here are a few ways we helped residents beat the heat in summer 2020.

Through the Philadelphia Office of Sustainability’s Beat the Heat initiative, the City works to develop heat relief resources for the North Philadelphia neighborhood through collaboration between residents, community organizations, faith-based groups, and government agencies. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Beat the Heat changed course from its plans to develop community cooling centers last summer to help residents stay cool at home.

In the summertime, some Philadelphia neighborhoods can be as much as 22 degrees warmer than others, and low-income residents and residents of color are more likely to live in these hotter neighborhoods. Common reasons why some neighborhoods are hotter than others include lower tree canopy and fewer green spaces, more exposed asphalt and dark surfaces (including black roofs), and a history of racist policies like red-lining and disinvestment.

In 2018, Philadelphia’s Office of Sustainability launched a community-driven, equity focused approach to community climate planning with the Beat the Heat Hunting Park Initiative. The goal of this first effort was to work in one of Philadelphia’s hottest and most heat vulnerable neighborhoods—Hunting Park—to identify and acknowledge causes for heat disparities while also supporting community-driven decision-making about how to reduce these inequities.

Hunting Park residents informed the creation of the City’s first community-driven resilience plan, Beat the Heat Hunting Park: A Community Heat Relief Plan, in 2018. The Office of Sustainability teamed up with residents and community organizations like Esperanza, Hunting Park Neighborhood Advisory Committee, Hunting Park United, and North10 Philadelphia to create the plan through a neighborhood heat survey, stakeholder interviews, a heat intervention design workshop, summer events, and meetings. 

One of the plan’s key recommendations was to create a community-based heat relief network, a system of cooling centers and other resources. Community leaders fundraised and collaborated to implement the network, but due to the COVID-19 pandemic, this phase of the Beat the Heat initiative had to change course. Rather than developing community cooling centers, the focus shifted to helping residents stay cool at home during the summer of 2020.

Beat the Heat’s 2020 accomplishments included: 

  • Holding 17 weekly Steering Committee meetings, which convene community organizations and neighbors that make decisions for Beat the Heat
  • Distributed 400 heat kits with cooling resources
  • Gave 100 masks out to community members
  • Collected 500 heat surveys from residents to inform decisions for Beat the Heat
  • Distributed 100 fans and 20 air conditioning units to residents. These items were delivered using a community-driven, neighbor-to-neighbor referral system, as no one knows their community better than neighbors!
  • Paid community members who made decisions about Beat the Heat and shared information and surveys with community members
  • Hosted recurring and special events with community partners including Esperanza, the Lenfest Center, One Hope Community Church, the Hunting Park Community Garden, Esperanza Health, HPUnited, Hunting Park NAC/CRC, The NET Center, and more
  • Strengthened partnerships between City agencies, local organizations, and Hunting Park neighbors