Philadelphia has released its first plan for dealing with the impact of climate change on its neighborhoods, focusing first on Hunting Park, a section of North Philly that can run 22 degrees warmer than some other areas of the city during a heat wave.

Hunting Park, about 1.7 square miles in size, shares a heat-island effect during warm weather with neighborhoods such as Cobbs Creek, Point Breeze, and Strawberry Mansion. A heat island is an area that is hotter than others because it has fewer trees, less green space, more exposed asphalt, and many black roofs, all of which decrease shade while increasing temperature, a phenomenon The Inquirer has reported on in depth.

Lower-income residents of color bear the brunt of this problem, a disparity the city acknowledges and says it wants to address.

“Our goal was to really hear from residents and how they cope with heat,” said Christine Knapp, director of the city’s Office of Sustainability. “This document contains everything we heard from them over a nine-month period. It’s what they see and would like to happen. So we can use this to work collaboratively with the city and other partners for a more resilient neighborhood.”

From the Beat the Heat Hunting Park plan by the Philadelphia Office of Sustainability.
Philadelphia Office of Sustainability
From the Beat the Heat Hunting Park plan by the Philadelphia Office of Sustainability.

The report contains recommendations on ways communities can deal with the heat. Some findings including:

  • Since 2010, Philadelphia has had its three hottest summers on record, with this summer not yet finished and included in the tally.
  • In the 20th century, the city experienced an average of four days per summer above 95 degrees. That could climb to an average of 52 days by 2100 based on projections.
  • Neighborhoods on the periphery of the city, such as Far Northeast and Chestnut Hill, can run 14 degrees, on average, cooler than neighborhoods clustered closer to the center of the city.
  • More than 75% of land cover in Hunting Park consists of buildings, roads, and paved surfaces compared with 52% of the city overall.
  • About 9% of Hunting Park is covered by tree canopy; about 19% of Philadelphia overall is covered.
  • The rate of asthma, made worse during high ozone days associated with heat, can be two or three times higher in Hunting Park and neighborhoods with similar demographics than elsewhere in the city.

For the plan, the city’s Office of Sustainability, the lead agency in the effort, set up a Beat the Heat team. The team spoke to 600 Hunting Park residents and conducted a survey. The survey, with 530 respondents, found that most residents (84%) had access to some air-conditioning at home, even if only for a room or two. Yet most say the homes were still too hot and that high heat is an important issue within the community.

From the Beat the Heat Hunting Park plan by the Philadelphia Office of Sustainability.
Philadelphia Office of Sustainability
From the Beat the Heat Hunting Park plan by the Philadelphia Office of Sustainability.

Though Hunting Park is named for an 87-acre park, many of its 30,000 residents do not go there even though it can be 6 to 12 degrees cooler than other parts of the community. Only one-quarter of residents said they are likely to go there because it is inconvenient or difficult to get to, because of traffic, and because it is poorly lit at night. In addition, many won’t use the neighborhood’s public pool because of overcrowding. Many people stay in their hot houses, unaware the city has designed cooling areas, such as public buildings.

Officials note that Hunting Park has a history associated with the practice of redlining — areas where banks, citing credit risks, would shun writing loans and mortgages. The practice helped concentrate poverty.

The city plans to launch a heat relief network this summer and begin to look at how climate change will impact other neighborhoods.

From the Beat the Heat Hunting Park plan by the Philadelphia Office of Sustainability.
Hunting Park Heat Plan
From the Beat the Heat Hunting Park plan by the Philadelphia Office of Sustainability.

For now, officials have identified sites to create a potential heat relief network that would include churches, libraries, schools, recreation centers, and other locations. It’s looking to increase the number of shaded bus shelters for residents awaiting transportation on hot days. And it plans to increase the number of trees planted, create more green spaces, and look to where roofs can be painted white or a lighter color to reflect the sun.

The plan makes a number of other recommendations that use existing programs, including improving access for residents to efficient air-conditioning units, establishing a “check-in” system for vulnerable residents during heat waves, creating a city heat website, offering free transportation on certain bus routes, and installing better lighting at Hunting Park.

The Knight Foundation and Partners for Places funded the plan.

Knapp said the plan can be used as a template for other neighborhoods in the future.