Building Heat Resilience in Southwestern Virginia through Education
Of all weather-related disasters, heat waves cause the most deaths every year in the United States and climate change is already increasing their frequency, duration, and intensity. In urban areas, heat exposure and risk are highly related to the built environment and the everyday lived experiences of urban residents.
Of all weather-related disasters, heat waves cause the most deaths every year in the United States and climate change is already increasing their frequency, duration, and intensity. In urban areas, heat exposure and risk are highly related to the built environment and the everyday lived experiences of urban residents. Building heat resilience -- the capacity for communities to adapt to and cope with higher temperatures and heat waves -- therefore necessitates a comprehensive and place-based approach that includes education about the factors affecting risk and vulnerability, consequences of heat on health and livability, as well as potential long-term and short-term actions that residents can take to reduce risk and vulnerability. In this project, we will promote environmental literacy and strengthen climate resilience in Southwest Virginia by building a cross-sector urban heat resilience environmental literacy network that includes: the public education system, students and families, community health professionals, and City government. The project is led by Carilion Clinic in partnership with Virginia Tech, Virginia Clinicians for Climate Action, and Roanoke City Government. Through these partnerships, we will build resilience pathways for dealing with long-term higher temperatures and emergency heatwaves using combined urban planning and public health approaches. We will extend and expand Virginia Tech's previous engagement with Roanoke youth (2-week summer STEM and Heat Resilience summer school program for middle school students) to involve the community more broadly to co-produce neighborhood-specific heat mitigation plans that address resident concerns in Roanoke and improve environmental literacy around the problem of urban heat as both an acute and chronic issue. We will work with teachers and administrators in the Roanoke City Public School system to institutionalize the STEM/urban planning-based curriculum we develop so that more children can benefit from it. Using youth education as an entry to engage the broader community, we will also host a family-based STEM-Urban Planning Family Summit, which will inform residents about urban planning processes and how changes to urban landscapes can make neighborhoods cooler, more comfortable, and more resilient to rising temperatures. We will also build capacity among health professionals and integrate them into community planning by: educating and enlisting the support of health professionals and Carilion's community outreach network to work with community groups and families; engaging three Carilion clinicians to participate in an eight-hour educational training to learn more about impacts of climate and health in the region and provide tools for educating other clinicians and community; and training Carilion's 37 Community Health Educators and Community Health Workers and developing community education/outreach materials on climate change impacts on health with a focus on heat illness. The urban planning and public health components to increasing heat resilience will come together in a culminating Heat Resilience Fair, at which participants in our program (students, families, residents, clinicians, health workers, and City government officials) will present ideas and solicit feedback from the broader community. The solicited ideas will be incorporated into the City's planning processes, enabling formalization of long-term goals for public health and the built environment with respect to rising temperatures.
Climate Resilience and Community-driven Action With a Hyperlocalized Public Forum
The Science Museum of Virginia will build upon its community science experience and its role as a trusted source of climate science information to lead “Climate Resilience and Community-driven Action with a Hyperlocalized Public Forum in Richmond, VA” in partnership with Virginia Community Voice, Groundwork RVA, Happily Natural Day, and Southside ReLeaf - local nonprofits with proven track records of effecting change through community engagement and urban greening initiatives. This project supports Richmond’s work to heal social, racial, and environmental injustices by increasing community resilience to climate change through placemaking. Richmond served as both the Capital of the Confederacy and the United States’ second largest trading port for enslaved persons during the 19th century. In the 1930s and 1940s, redlining - the systematic denial of access to home loans, mortgage insurance, or credit based on an applicant’s race or ethnicity - effectively segregated people of color into less desirable urban neighborhoods. Research conducted both in Richmond and nationwide demonstrates that, today, formerly redlined neighborhoods tend to be significantly hotter, more prone to flooding, and experience poorer air quality than non-redlined areas. These neighborhoods also tend to be home to individuals - mostly Black and brown - with the fewest resources to adapt to the health and financial impacts of human-caused climate change, which continues to intensify each year. Richmond’s mayor and Office of Sustainability support this project, which will align community vision with existing planning efforts that seek to build a Richmond that is “a sustainable and resilient city with healthy air, clean water, and a flourishing ecosystem that nurtures healthy communities, increases resiliency to the effects of a changing climate through adaptation and mitigation, develops the built environment to enhance natural assets, and ensures all people have access to nature and healthy communities.” Because resiliency is a process, youth and adults participating in this project will explore hazards (specifically flooding and extreme heat); assess their vulnerability and risks (determine how climate change is currently harming, or will most likely harm, neighborhoods); investigate options (by determining which resilience-building strategies are most effective for each community and vision); prioritize and plan local resilience-building strategies (ensuring that residents’ vision can be realized); and take action by implementing and sustaining projects in the community with project partners. Strategies may include placemaking through planting trees, building permeable pathways, constructing shade structures, and creating community gardens to provide shade, fresh food, and neighborhood gathering spaces, as well as rainwater harvesting and bioretention rain gardens to mitigate stormwater issues. This project is unique because it will actively support nonprofits that engage historically underserved people whose voice is commonly left out of City planning efforts, increase their environmental literacy, and provide resources needed to enact their vision. RK&A will evaluate the project, which will build upon evaluation data from the Science Museum’s previous NOAA ELP-funded project - “Learn, Prepare, Act - Resilient Citizens Make Resilient Communities” - and a NOAA-funded project by the Museum of Science Boston - “Citizen Science, Civics, and Resilient Communities: Increasing Resilience Through Citizen-Created Data, Local Knowledge and Community Values.”