Community leaders and city officials gathered on the West Side Monday to launch their campaign to measure heat across the city this summer.
Chicago is the latest city to participate in the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Heat Watch program that aims to map temperature disparities and increase public awareness.
The goal of the campaign is to recruit around 150 local volunteers to collect temperature and humidity measurements on a designated “camp day” to be decided by climate experts this summer.
Pastor Reshorna Fitzpatrick of Stone Temple Baptist Church, where Monday’s news conference was held, said the 1995 heat wave that killed an estimated 740 people in Chicago often comes to mind. “We can do something about it,” she said.
“We have the technology. We have the people. Now we need the community to come together and be a part of what we’re doing,” Fitzpatrick said.
Communities like the one the North Lawndale church serves are often left out of this kind of involvement, Fitzpatrick said.
“I want to be front and center,” he said. “And I want my community to take advantage of the things that will help them live vibrant lives in their communities. That’s why we partner. I think this is going to have a great lasting effect for generations.”
Windsor Park Lutheran Church is another partner in the Heat Watch campaign. Church ownership team leader Alvyn Walker said at the launch that the campaign is about communities working with communities, not outsiders unfamiliar with the people.
“We are trying to provide opportunities for people in the community to establish a means by which they provide solutions to the problems that they have,” Walker said.
A new Tribune investigation found heat disparities by race, ethnicity and health insurance coverage. There were more refreshing amenities like parks, bus shelters, and trees in areas with more white residents compared to areas with more Latino residents, for example.
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“We know that there are historical events and policies that have made these disparities more pronounced,” said Kyra Woods, environment and climate policy advisor for the city of Chicago.
This campaign is the first step to combat vulnerability to heat, which directly involves the people most affected, he said.
Those who brave the intense heat each summer are some of the best people to work on a campaign like this, Woods said.
“In Chicago, sometimes you’re used to it and you don’t realize, ‘Yeah, this is hard.’ You know, you just think it’s what you have to do,” she said.
The campaign website, where volunteers can sign up, also allows residents to suggest hot areas in their neighborhoods to avoid. The presentations will also be used to guide the driving routes of the volunteers and their temperature sensors on the day of the campaign.
The resulting map and data will be used by the city and other stakeholders to determine which areas need the most resources.
“I look forward to the honest conversation about how we can improve and how we can really meet the needs of others,” Woods said.