Philadelphia Beat the Heat Toolkit

Posted on: 3/12/2021 - Updated on: 8/18/2022

Posted by

Kathryn Braddock


In spring 2016, the Office of Sustainability solicited feedback from Philadelphia residents and stakeholders as it updated the Greenworks plan. One theme residents consistently mentioned was that despite significant progress, not every neighborhood in Philadelphia enjoys the benefits of sustainability such as well- maintained parks and sidewalks, tree canopy, or access to healthy food.

To address residents’ concerns, Greenworks: A Vision for a Sustainable Philadelphia explicitly centers equity as an approach to work towards the eight Greenworks visions. As a companion effort to the report, OOS committed to use its data to identify disparities and to directly engage with communities not currently benefiting from sustainability work. Using equity as an approach means:

  • Acknowledging that environmental inequalities, like exposure to heat, often exist in majority low- income neighborhoods and neighborhoods of color in Philadelphia;
  • Working to understand how the City’s systems, policies, and procedures might create barriers that maintain these inequalities; and
  • Redirecting our resources towards dismantling these barriers.

OOS launched its community-driven, equity focused approach in 2018 with the Beat the Heat Initiative. Beat the Heat focuses on communities of color disproportionately exposed to environmental stressors, particularly extreme heat. The goal of this first effort was to work in one of Philadelphia’s hottest and most heat vulnerable neighborhoods—Hunting Park—to identify and acknowledge causes for heat disparities while also supporting community-driven decision-making about how to reduce these inequities.

Through funding from the Knight Foundation and Partners for Places, OOS worked with more than 30 government departments, community organizations, and stakeholders to convene Philadelphia’s first Heat Team. The Heat Team worked with residents and community leaders to launch the Beat the Heat pilot in Hunting Park in spring 2018.

There are ten steps to building a project to Beat the Heat:

  1. Background research
  2. Establish a heat team
  3. Hold stakeholder interviews
  4. Conduct a neighborhood survey
  5. Organize community events
  6. Appoint Beat the Heat ambassadors
  7. Create a Beat the Heat mobile station
  8. Hold a Beat the Heat design workshop
  9. Promote trees and neighborhood greening
  10. Build a heat relief network


City planners and managers, Community organizations and organizers

Managing Organizations

City of Philadelphia, Office of Sustainability