Reflecting on “Heat Week”


By Joshua Baker

In thinking about this past week’s heat wave, I can’t help but reflect on my experience with Portland’s “Heat Week,” events earlier this summer. This was a week of events to commemorate the 2021 Heat Dome in Portland. I attended the 350PDX Pedalpalooza Ride as well as the Action Night Picnic. I would consider myself an avid biker, yet I have never been on a group bike ride. I was beyond excited to experience one of my favorite activities through the lens of shade inequality in Portland.

The bike ride began in Lent, a neighborhood in SE Portland that was severely impacted by last year’s heat dome. The bike ride took us from Lents Park to Colonel Summers Park in the Buckman neighborhood, where a final picnic took place. Prior to our ride, an organizer from the Forest Defense team at 350PDX spoke on the importance of tree coverage, and encouraged us to observe the change of shade, while we biked from Lent to Buckman. Vivek Shandas, a PSU professor of climate adaptation, discussed his project which allows citizens to track temperatures while they bike. He brought with him five small fans, each connected to a sensor that would track the difference in temperature as we biked between the two parks. These temperatures would indicate the disparities between the two neighborhoods in terms of tree coverage and implications of extreme heat. If you would like to read more about Professor Shandas’s research, I highly recommend reading an interview that discusses his suggestions for ways cities could adapt to increased temperatures at this link

As we took off, the energy was high in the group as 30 to 40 bike riders swarmed the streets of Portland. We received endless (positive) honks from cars and cheers from people on the street. Everyone in the group was so friendly, and I chatted with many people while we biked. There were families, kids, adults, teenagers; all community members in support of equal access to shade and tree coverage.

Although we did not bike through the Lloyd neighborhood, I could not help but think about how parts of the Lloyd have a limited amount of tree coverage and are actually considered heat islands. A heat island is an urban or metropolitan area that is warmer than the rural surrounding areas. Often heat islands occur when urban areas replace natural land cover (such as tree canopy) with concentrations of pavement, buildings, and other surfaces that absorb and retain heat. This effect increases energy costs (e.g., for air conditioning), air pollution levels, and heat-related illness and mortality. Thinking about Lloyd, both of the census tracts that incorporate the neighborhood have a much lower tree canopy than the Portland metro area as a whole: Overall, according to Metro, 29.7% of the Portland metro area is tree canopy. Meanwhile in the Lloyd area, the west census tract has a tree canopy percentage of just 10.5% and the  east tract’s tree canopy percentage is estimated to be22.7% (with much of that concentrated north of the Lloyd in the Irvington area).

Explore the details of this map at this link.

Climate change will likely lead to more frequent, more severe, and longer heat waves during summer months (like what we just had a the end of July). And the effects of these heat waves will be felt even more stongly in areas that are heat islands. Like the Lents area, we know that Lloyd needs to become more climate resilient in the coming years. That’s why we’re developing a Climate Change Resilience Assessment report for Lloyd. Check out the full report here and stay tuned for the more detailed steps on what the neighborhood can take to become more resilient to the increased temperature, increased precipitation, and wildfire smoke.