Extreme heat is a threat to communities of color. Let’s protect them. | Healthiest Community Health News

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Extreme heat is a threat to communities of color. Let’s protect them. | Healthiest Community Health News

As a youth pastor in Orlando, Florida, I worried at the start of every long summer how my flock would suffer.

It was our custom to worship in the lawn for a few Sundays during the summer days. We wanted our neighbors to see us and know that we are there to serve them. I remember summers when it was totally hot to gather outside – the heat made even the shaded areas unbearable. Until early July, kids won’t be riding bikes because of the heat. Our dear elders will suffer from asthma regularly. The heat disrupted community life, and the potential for death from extreme heat was a real threat.

When I traveled to white, wealthy communities, I began to ask myself why people there were more active. I could see that they had more trees, as well as less dark parking lots and other asphalt surfaces. And I could feel that these neighborhoods were cooler. Cooler, more shaded neighborhoods meant those communities could be outside – to exercise, to socialize, to live together – during the long summer.

I became outraged that my community was overheating because of specific policies that invested in wealthy neighborhoods but failed to invest in black and low-income neighborhoods. It angered me that the option of exercising and living outside was denied to myself in a way that was given to wealthy communities.

The bottom line is that those in power did not care about or choose to act on victims in communities of color and poorer neighborhoods – out of sight, out of mind. I began to think about how even the smallest of choices—such as what surfaces cities use on streets, parking lots or other structures—vary greatly between neighborhoods. And I knew better city policies could reduce heat and health disparities in neighborhoods.

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What I saw in Orlando 20 years ago is still happening in places like Baltimore and Birmingham, Alabama – and in almost every other city. In fact, it is only getting worse. We’ve already seen record-breaking heat this summer, and the climate crisis has shown us it’s our new normal if we don’t take action. If we want to keep healthy people in healthy communities, we have to prioritize policies that make all communities cooler, less polluted, and more shaded.

One such policy is to invest in which is called Smart Surface. Smart surfaces can be reflective – instead of trapping heat, they bounce it back into the atmosphere – or porous or green. They allow for better water management and help reduce the risk of flooding and mold. And they are better for the environment.

A recent report from the Smart Surfaces Coalition, to which I am affiliated, analyzed the impact of adopting smart surface strategies across the city in Baltimore and showed that they would yield environmental, economic and health benefits. According to the report, adopting these strategies will cool the city of Baltimore by 4.3 degrees at the peak of summer; Research also indicates that more extended tree cover can provide shade that feels about 10 degrees cooler. Furthermore, the report shows that the benefits of implementing these strategies citywide would outweigh the costs by more than $10 billion. Thousands of jobs would be created, and significant damage to tourism – an industry expected to suffer losses due to extreme heat – would be avoided.

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But more important than the financial and economic benefits is the transformative impact that these types of surfaces and strategies will have for our communities. By making nearly all surfaces reflective, porous and/or green, we can make communities – including those in which I have served as pastor – cooler, healthier and more livable, with people staying outside in the summer. and allows them to flourish, no matter where they live.

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