By Currie Engel, Houston Chronicle
Rachel Powers lured her 18-year-old son out the door before sunrise Friday morning with promises of fresh doughnuts and environmental activism.
Together, the executive director of the Citizens’ Environmental Coalition and her son hopped into Powers’ blue bumper-sticker-bedecked Nissan LEAF, and drove a zig-zagging pre-planned route through Woodland Heights, Greater Heights and Northside Village. While they drove, a small blue rod attached to the window collected thousands of temperature, humidity and location datapoints. They took two more recordings on the same route by the end of the day.
This summer, Houston joins 13 other cities in a massive, community-driven, heat mapping project. More than 80 volunteers like Powers and her son, dubbed “street scientists” by the organizing groups, covered roughly 300 square miles in 32 different polygon-shaped areas.
The project, which is taking place when Houston and Harris County are usually at their hottest, will give scientists, public health officials and community leaders the data necessary to try to cool Houston down. Local leaders hope the heat maps will help direct policy and planning within neighborhoods for things like cooling center locations, greenspace, green rooftops and tree planting.
Continuously rising temperatures within cities like Houston can usher in a host of health and environmental problems, and may disproportionately affect lower-income neighborhoods that tend to have less green infrastructure.