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Heat Waves, Flash Floods & the Climate Crisis
September 22, 2020 | |

The Climate Safe Neighborhoods Partnership is Expanding
as The Impacts of the Climate Crisis Continue to Grow

With support from The Kresge Foundation and The JPB Foundation, Groundwork USA’s Climate Safe Neighborhoods partnership is expanding to four new cities this year – Cincinnati, OH; Lawrence, MA; Yonkers, NY; and San Diego, CA. Through this partnership, Groundwork Trusts are working together to explore the relationship between historical race-based housing segregation and the current and predicted impacts of the climate crisis – and advocate for a more resilient future.

Does housing discrimination really have anything to do with the climate crisis?

If you live in a community with plenty of pavement and a shortage of trees, the answer is very likely yes. Formerly redlined neighborhoods – those deemed too risky for investment by federal housing policies in the 1930’s – were zoned for pavement and industry instead of trees, parks, and green spaces. Today, research shows that those same communities average 5 degrees hotter than their wealthier neighbors. Some have recorded a temperature difference of 15 or more.

That’s bad under any circumstance – but this July was the second hottest month in human history. The pandemic and faltering economy only compounded the impacts of this crisis. For many, this was a summer of soaring electricity bills and heat-related illnesses without the relief of air-conditioned offices, stores, pools, and movie theaters. Unfortunately, this crisis is deadly and shows no signs of relenting.

Today, most formerly redlined communities continue to struggle with poverty and remain predominately inhabited by communities of color. Already wrestling with the legacy of discrimination and divestment, these communities shouldn’t have to disproportionately pay the social, economic, and health consequences of rising temperatures and increased flooding. Through Groundwork USA’s Climate Safe Neighborhoods Partnership, Groundwork Trusts across the country are proving that with intentional and equitable local action, it doesn’t have to be this way. It is possible to change systems and make our communities more resilient to the climate crisis’s worst impacts.

“We didn’t get here by accident, and we’re not going to get it fixed by accident.” Cate Mingoya, Groundwork USA

During the first two years of this project, five Groundwork Trust worked with residents to map city-level historical housing data with modern-day risk of extreme heat and flooding to understand which neighborhoods were most vulnerable. Using this data, they partnered with residents and stakeholders to organize, mobilize, and advocate solutions that increase climate resilience. Our goals during this stage were two-fold:

  • We wanted the communities most at risk of heat and flooding to receive the infrastructure they deserve to become cooler and dryer
  • We wanted this to happen by changing the decision-making power structures within communities by empowering residents with the knowledge of how to influence budget cycles and municipal planning processes.

Groundwork Trusts engaged over 2,000 community members and built diverse coalitions that continue to bring together residents, neighborhood associations, community organizations, businesses, housing authorities, municipal leaders, and so many others around the shared goal climate resilience. The five pilot communities achieved significant policy and budgetary wins – paving the way for investments in green infrastructure where it’s needed most.

  • In Elizabeth, NJ, the Climate Safe Elizabeth Taskforce successfully advocated for a resident role in a municipal planning process. Through their advocacy, the plan now sets green infrastructure requirements in the most climate-vulnerable neighborhood, and the city masterplan acknowledges how systemic racism shaped the city.
  • In Denver, CO, the climate safe neighborhoods team created a role for residents in a planning process for greenspace funding and secured at least $10,000 for green infrastructure and 3000 trees in the historically redlined neighborhood of Globeville.
  • In Richmond, VA, the new master plan now includes language prioritizing investments in low-income communities with disproportionately high heat.

But, we know that there is so much work to be done.

The urgency of our actions needs to match the urgency of this crisis. That’s why we’re expanding this partnership to new cities and looking to solve even more complex challenges. How do we ensure that governments follow through on the implementation of projects, that plans translate into funding, or that the residents living in the community get to enjoy the benefits of their action and aren’t displaced at the community improves? Trees need time to grow, and budget processes move slow – how can we provide short term relief to match the urgency our neighborhoods are feeling today? Groundwork Trusts in all eight communities will be tackling these questions and implementing demonstration projects as we seek to ensure that our communities get the protection from the extreme heat and flooding that is so desperately needed.

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