When it comes to climate change and the urban heat island, local and national leaders often make the point to tackle these complex issues, but the local community can make a difference too.
That is exactly what is happening in one Phoenix neighborhood where residents have taken it upon themselves to make their area more heat resilient.
A bird’s-eye view of this south Phoenix neighborhood shows a vacant lot without much purpose.
“The vacant lot was used to congregate, maybe drink some beers and kind of get into some stuff because there weren’t a whole lot of other activity going on in this space,” says Darren Chapman who grew up in and lives in this area.
Chapman is the founder of Tiger Mountain Foundation, a non-profit that uses community gardens as a means of uplifting and revitalizing underserved communities.
“I got into trouble in these communities. As I sat in a cell, I thought to myself, if I ever get out of this cell I’m going back into my community and attempt to do something that could benefit myself first off, because I needed to get my life together, and then secondly, that just transposed into working more with others who were young like myself, sitting on that fence” Chapman says.
Chapman’s organization brought residents together to transform this vacant lot into an area that not only helps individuals overcoming adversity but benefits the entire neighborhood, helping to mitigate the heat.
It is part of a larger project led by The Nature Conservancy in which residents of three Valley communities developed a Heat Action Plan for their individual neighborhoods with the goal of making them more heat resilient.
“There’s actually neighborhoods that are as little as two miles apart and have a 13-degree difference in air temperature, and we saw that the hottest communities also had the lowest percentage of tree canopy cover and the highest percentage of child poverty. And so, we were able to engage with three neighborhoods that were disproportionately impacted by urban heat and worked with community-based organizations working in those communities,” says Anna Bettis with The Nature Conservancy.
Jessica Bueno is the Resident Services Coordinator with Phoenix Revitalization Corporation, an organization that works with the Central City South community, one of the neighborhoods involved in the Heat Action Planning project.
“In Central City South, where we’re focused, there was quite a few deaths happening, you know, it’s either due to old age, just health concerns, but also just the inadequate housing that still exists right now. You know, for example, some homes just don’t have AC units, they still have swamp coolers and just inadequate cooling systems” says Bueno.
Residents identified the heat challenges and hot spots in their neighborhoods and develop mitigation strategies. Strategies like the work done in the Lindo Park, Roesley Park neighborhood where trees and shrubs were planted in the vacant lot to make space not only more welcoming and useful, but also cooler.
It is a transformation inspired by and led by the community, and now The Nature Conservancy wants to expand on the idea by teaming up with Phoenix Revitalization Corporation to host the first-ever Urban Heat Leadership Academy this summer. The academy is meant to equip individuals to become advocates for their own neighborhoods.
“What we’re really trying to do is build the capacity of community residents that live in places that are the hottest so that they can, you know, understand the issues of heat, but also understand what skills and tools they need to be able to go out and advocate for change. So really empowering the people that are most affected by the problem, to really be active in the solution” says Bettis.
Because it is going to take everyone to build healthier and cooler communities.
The Urban Heat Leadership Academy is free and open to Maricopa County residents. It is a five-month virtual program, hosted in both English and Spanish.
The deadline to apply is July 2, 2021.
Visit www.nature.org/healthycitiesaz to learn more and to sign up.