24 Hours In One City Park: How Urban Greenspace Provides A Climate Oasis : Short Wave It's easy to take city parks for granted, or to think of them as separate from nature and from the Earth's changing climate. But the place where many of us come face-to-face with climate change is our local park. On today's episode, Ryan Kellman and Rebecca Hersher from NPR's Climate Desk team up with Short Wave producer Margaret Cirino to spend 24 hours in Philadelphia's Fairmount Park.

One Park. 24 Hours.

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EMILY KWONG, BYLINE: You're listening to SHORT WAVE from NPR.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: How are you doing?


I'm good. How are you?

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: Oh, I thought you wanted my autograph.

HERSHER: So a few weeks ago, I spent the day in Philadelphia, like, literally one day. That was the assignment, spend 24 hours in Fairmount Park in Philadelphia and record everything that happens.

I'm standing outside the Philadelphia Museum of Art on those steps where Rocky was filmed, that iconic scene, except I haven't seen the movie. And it's really, really hot out. It's so hot. I'm sweating. Yeah, 24 hours.

To be clear, this was not my idea.


Yeah. I'm sorry. It was my idea sort of, mine and Rebecca's.

HERSHER: Yeah. I'm Rebecca Hersher. I'm a reporter on the NPR team that covers climate change.

KELLMAN: And I'm Ryan Kellman. I'm a producer and photographer on that team.

MARGARET CIRINO, BYLINE: I'm Margaret Cirino, a producer on SHORT WAVE.

HERSHER: And we asked you, Margaret, to join us because we needed your help because we were trying to capture something that's just - it's really big. It's really hard to capture, what climate change feels like.

KELLMAN: Yeah. This all started with a pretty simple idea. You know, most people in the U.S. live in cities. Actually, at least 80% of the U.S. population lives in urban areas. And they rely on city parks for their connection to nature.

HERSHER: Which means that city parks are one of the places where most Americans actually feel climate change happening.

KELLMAN: Yeah. I think it's really easy to take city parks for granted because they feel so ordinary. They don't feel like they're on the front lines of climate change. And when we do that, I think we lose sight of the way most of us actually experience climate change.


KELLMAN: Because global warming is happening everywhere and to everyone. It's happening right outside our windows, not just in far off locales.

HERSHER: Yes. And what is right outside your window?

CIRINO: Your local park. I get it.


HERSHER: You get it.



HERSHER: Yeah. We wanted to zoom all the way in on one city park on a hot summer day. And we chose this park in Philadelphia.

CIRINO: And we spent 24 hours there with just our audio recorders.


UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #3: And it's hairy. And so you have to...


UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #5: I got chicken liver. I got worms.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #6: That's an egg-eating one.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #7: An egg-eating dinosaur? How did you know that.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #8: You got to come off.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #9: I'm here. I see him.

CIRINO: So that's it. Today on the show, 24 hours in the life of one city park - the good, the bad, the weird and the surprising. You're listening to SHORT WAVE, the daily science podcast from NPR.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #10: Look out. Look out.


HERSHER: OK. So we started at noon on Friday. And a couple of things to know about Fairmount Park in Philadelphia - first of all, it is gigantic, one of the biggest city parks in the U.S.

KELLMAN: Second, we went on a super-hot day, like, over 90 degrees, August. So we were a little worried that nobody actually would be there because, you know, it was super-hot. But we were wrong.

BRANDO: Rebecca, I'm Brando (ph).

HERSHER: Nice to meet you.

BRANDO: Brando from the abando (ph), 215.

HERSHER: Do you come here often?

BRANDO: Yeah. I go to Paine's skate park. And when it's too hot, I just come down here and chill out, jump in the fountain. It's great.

HERSHER: What do you like about it?

BRANDO: The fountain?


BRANDO: Oh, I love this fountain, man. It's really, like, just chill. But, like, on the weekends, you know, be careful. It's Philly.


BRANDO: Oh, no.


CIRINO: Can I ask y'all for directions?

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #11: Directions to where?

CIRINO: I'm just trying to get to...


HERSHER: You're already lost? How did you ever get lost?

CIRINO: You know what, Rebecca? Hush.

HERSHER: (Laughter).

CIRINO: No, I'm actually glad I got a little lost there because I started talking to this couple for directions. And they were super nice even though I kind of got in their business a bit, like, asking what they were up to.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #12: I will tell her what it really is, what we really doing that you really see.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #11: Does it matter? Is it uncensored? Or...

KWONG: No, I mean...


KWONG: No, like, be straight...

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #11: Yeah, be straight up.

CIRINO: Yeah, like, that's so valid.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #11: Well, you know, we chilling, trying to talk and, you know, smoke some good weed...

CIRINO: OK, cool.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #11: ...Enjoy the nature. There's people that are dead that can't do this...

CIRINO: Yeah, that's so true.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #11: ...So - locked up. But yeah, man, you know, take it all in. You know what I'm saying? Philly's ugly, but it's beautiful, too. So...



UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #13: Five, six, seven, eight.

ZEMELA: So I am Zemela (ph). I'm the owner of Zem Soul. So I'm just selling food. I got some fish, chicken wings, jerk. Real good. Real good.

UNIDENTIFIED CHILD: Excuse me. Do you think you could jump up there and get my ball?


KELLMAN: So by this time, it's about 7 p.m. and still pretty hot out. We wanted to go to a more tree-y place.

CIRINO: Tree-y.

KELLMAN: Does that makes sense?


KELLMAN: Tree-y - 'cause green spaces, tree-filled places are a lot cooler than spaces that have a lot of pavement and buildings.

HERSHER: Yeah. Yeah, like, we know this from our reporting. It can be five, even 10 degrees cooler in some cases, which is a huge difference. And climate scientists and urban planners will tell you that's one reason that everyone who lives in a city should really have access to green space, especially as heat waves get more common with climate change.

KELLMAN: So we went to a bit of a more lush part of the park between a river and a busy road just to see who was out. It was definitely a lot cooler. And the first person I interviewed had a lot to say about the ecology of the park in his own particular way.

JOHN BARRY: OK, I'll tell you my name. My name is Jack, but my real name is John Barry Blores (ph).

KELLMAN: John Barry Blores?


KELLMAN: OK. All right, John Barry. Hit me.

JOHN BARRY: There's always trees in the park. You know, if there were no trees, there wouldn't be any air. And also, like...

CIRINO: Not to be dramatic, but I am in love with John Barry.


KELLMAN: Yeah, yeah, yeah. Me too. That's fair. We talked for a long time.

CIRINO: Oh, my God.

JOHN BARRY: And my house is nearby a park.

CIRINO: Had to just pull that out.

HERSHER: There were a lot of people in this area just hanging out as the sun set.


JELANI: Well, my name is Jelani (ph). Right now we are looking at the water. We are on the edge of the school. Cool River. It's like a getaway out of the city, even with all the hustle and bustle of gentrification, school, crime, bills and just life in general, you know? Yup.

HERSHER: What do you think about when you look out at this river?

JELANI: I think about my family. I think about peace. I think about the light at the end of the tunnel. I think about people that I've lost and things that I plan on gaining.


UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #14: Look out. Look out here. Right side.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #15: Hey, bro. Hey, bro.

KELLMAN: OK, so now the sun had gone down. The streetlights were on.

HERSHER: Yeah. And I was deep in the park at this point. There wasn't really anyone around. And I found some grass, and I just lay down.

KELLMAN: Lucky you.

HERSHER: That's a fox.

CIRINO: Wait. Rebecca, you saw a fox?

HERSHER: Yeah, it was pretty cool. It was, like, silhouetted by the moon. Or maybe it was a streetlight. And also, a reminder that a lot of animals live in city parks. Like in the 24 hours that we were in Fairmount Park, I saw two foxes, actually, a bunch of cottontail rabbits, a Cooper's hawk, multiple types of ducks. It felt like a wild place, not just a human place.


CIRINO: Although, you know, even after midnight, there were a lot of people still out and about. There was a wedding party that had just wrapped up. People were on dates.

HERSHER: Yeah, yeah. But if you wanted it, you can definitely still find places in the park to be totally alone.


HERSHER: So take a moment. Listen to these animals communicating with each other, calling out for mates, marking territory. This is the sound of nature in the city. One really surprising thing that I heard - flying squirrels. They live in this park. They're nocturnal. And they chirp at night.


KELLMAN: OK. So we didn't actually sleep in the park. We left for a few hours, maybe 1:30 to 4:30.

HERSHER: Yeah, not very long to sleep. But one thing I noticed was that in those few short hours, the animal sounds in the park changed dramatically. For one thing, the speed of the cricket's call increases when it's warmer. And we arrived back in the park right at sunrise when it was warming up.

(Yawning). I'm really tired.

CIRINO: You know who is wide awake at the 6 a.m. hour in Fairmount Park?

HERSHER: Not me, obviously.

CIRINO: So true.

HERSHER: That tape is so embarrassing.

CIRINO: I actually meant, like, rowers, like, people in boats.

KELLMAN: Oh, sure.

CIRINO: They see it all at the crack of dawn out on the water.

Are you about to launch your boat?

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #16: I am. I've never gotten into this part, so we're going to try.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #17: Coolest thing we've seen this early in the morning.

KELLMAN: Besides dead bodies (laughter)?

CIRINO: How many of those have you found?



KELLMAN: Well, two in 25 years is not bad.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #18: Some guys leave balls around. And as a matter of fact, these two I just hit I just found.

KELLMAN: There's one over there.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #18: No, that's not a ball.

KELLMAN: No, that's not it? All right. Wow, you got to have a good eye.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #18: There's one right here.


UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #18: I think this is the best feature of this entire city, the parks. And in the city, you have so many rowhouses. Everybody's. On top of each other. So you come here, and you destress, you know?

CIRINO: So by mid-morning, I was greeting the sun, as I do. Hello, Sun. And it was getting kind of muggy again. The park was, like, filling up with people doing Saturday stuff, you know, riding bikes, walking dogs. There was a softball team practicing for something called the Gay World Series.

HERSHER: Yeah. And right near where they were practicing, the guys from a local social lodge were setting up for a huge cookout.

CIRINO: Oh, that sounds good.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #19: I know. (Inaudible).

KELLMAN: Parks are social places, and that's one of the coolest things about them. Studies actually show that being outside can help relieve feelings of sadness, stress and isolation.

HERSHER: Is there something about being outside specifically, like, being in nature that, like, changes the way you relate to other people?

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #20: The air. Just breathing the air.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #21: The air, the sun...




UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #21: You know, especially for the last two years for me in particular because I've been working from home since the pandemic. So it's nice to be able to get outside and actually see people rather than just see them on Zoom or hear them over the phone.



HERSHER: It's nice that there's so much access to water in the parks.


UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #23: Well, we're lucky 'cause we live out here. You see that tunnel right there? We live on the right side in a tent.

HERSHER: Oh, how is that for you?

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #22: It's very nice.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #23: It's great because we're under the bridge, so we're, like, protected from water. And it's cool. So protected from the heat. And then we have occasional - well, you see, we have...


UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #23: Sometimes, we come home, and we find people smoking meth in our area.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #22: Getting high.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #23: Yeah, sometimes, we find that, but mostly, we've not really been robbed. For the most part, nobody really bothers us. And for the most part - and we have another friend that lives on the other...


KELLMAN: OK, folks. So our 24 hours in Fairmount Park is coming to an end, sadly. So what do you say? Let's take a moment to reflect on what we learned from our time in the park.

CIRINO: I think for me, my big takeaway is that you can actually have really interesting conversations with people you don't know. You just need the spaces to have them.

KELLMAN: Totally.

HERSHER: For me, honestly, my big takeaway is just that animals are out there living their animal lives in the city. Like, these are legitimately wild spaces. Parks are nature, and humans are a part of that nature. These are our little oases for those of us who live in urban areas.

KELLMAN: Yes to all of that. Parks are really important places. And as the world gets hotter, they're only going to become more important.



HERSHER: Yes, so true.

CIRINO: Very true.

HERSHER: OK. And with that, we have not fully finished our journey...


HERSHER: ...For it is time to return to where we began. It's going on noon, and we need to go to the Museum of Art, the steps at the southern end of the park where Margaret started her journey on Friday.

KELLMAN: Yeah, yeah - otherwise known as the Rocky Steps.

CIRINO: Also, it's literally the hottest part of the whole park. There's, like, no trees anywhere.

Ryan, are we going to run up these steps?

KELLMAN: I mean, we're here. Feels like somebody has to run up the steps.

CIRINO: You said somebody, not yourself.

KELLMAN: It is very high. All these people have Italian ice, and I don't.

CIRINO: I'll run up the steps with you.

KELLMAN: What if we don't go up there, and we just stop at this little ice cream stand instead?

CIRINO: OK, you ready? Set, go.


CIRINO: This is producer Margaret Cirino back at high noon once again. And it's Saturday now.


KELLMAN: To learn more about our reporting on climate change in city parks, check out the link in the show notes.

HERSHER: You'll see beautiful photos that Ryan took in city parks...

KELLMAN: Thank you.

HERSHER: ...All over the country and learn more facts about how your local city park helps fight climate change.

CIRINO: This episode was produced by me, Margaret Cirino.

HERSHER: And me, Rebecca Hersher.

KELLMAN: And me, Ryan Kellman.

CIRINO: It was edited by Gabriel Spitzer, fact-checked by Rebecca Ramirez, and the audio engineer was Gilly Moon. Gisele Grayson is our senior supervising editor. Our senior director of programming is Beth Donovan. And the senior vice president of programming is Anya Grundmann. Special thanks to Emily Kwong, Daniel Wood and Neela Banerjee. You're listening to SHORT WAVE, the daily science podcast from NPR.

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