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City releases plan to combat increasingly hot summers

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Many lower income neighborhoods face the highest temperatures

An aerial view of the cityscape of Philadelphia. There is a skyline in the distance with various tall city buildings. There is a river and trees in the foreground.

As Philly faces record-breaking high temperatures this summer, city officials have unveiled a program to combat the heat.

The Heat Relief Plan, which Mayor Jim Kenney debuted Wednesday, is informed by a 2018 Beat the Heat pilot program in Hunting Park. Over the course of last summer, officials collaborated with Hunting Park residents and community groups to see how people in the area cope with the heat, what tools they use to stay cool, how the city could help make the neighborhood cooler, and how best to inform residents about heat relief. The community expressed desires to see more trees planted in the area, cooling centers, gardens, and green roofs.

Hunting Park residents also expressed just how serious a problem high heat is in their community. Though 84 percent of community members surveyed said they had air conditioning in their home, 77 percent still said they were too hot inside their homes.

“Though not always obvious, surface temperature varies throughout the city. The hottest neighborhoods tend to be predominantly low income Black and Latinx communities. Extreme heat is not just an environmental issue, but it is an issue of equity and social justice as well,” Kenney said in a statement on the findings from the pilot program.

With resident feedback, officials divided the Heat Relief Plan into three main sections: staying cool inside, staying cool outside, and more gardening and tree planting.

Moving forward, the city plans to undertake several projects, including green stormwater infrastructure, tree plantings, and launching a Hunting Park Heat Relief network.

The 50-page plan includes recommendations for helping residents stay cool at home, like increasing access to air conditioning, and creating a pilot program for checking in on vulnerable residents during a heatwave. Suggestions for helping residents stay cool in public include more covered bus shelters and community cooling events (where people can access shade and water). Finally, greening suggestions include planting trees on the hottest city blocks and creating more gardens in vacant lots.

It also comes with a 10-step heat relief toolkit so communities can undertake cooling efforts themselves.