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Old trees, heavy rain and high heat are climate concerns for Harrisburg neighbors

  • Rachel McDevitt
Shirley Blanton, Claude Phipps, Ronald Johnson and Loretta Barbee-Dare participated in a discussion on climate change, led by Rachel McDevitt, in Allison Hill on Jan. 26, 2024.

Scott Blanchard / StateImpact Pennsylvania

Shirley Blanton, Claude Phipps, Ronald Johnson and Loretta Barbee-Dare participated in a discussion on climate change, led by Rachel McDevitt, in Allison Hill on Jan. 26, 2024.

This story was produced for Climate Solutions, a collaboration focused on helping Central Pennsylvania move toward climate literacy, resilience and adaptation. StateImpact Pennsylvania convened the collaboration, and WITF is a partner. Climate Solutions’ funding partner is the Solutions Journalism Network.

Extreme heat and heavy rainstorms are two examples of severe weather that are more common in Pennsylvania because of climate change.

People are already noticing the effects.

StateImpact Pennsylvania met with four neighbors in Harrisburg’s Allison Hill to learn about those effects. Shirley Blanton, Loretta Barbee-Dare, Ron Johnson and Claude Phipps spoke for about an hour at Wildheart Ministries, a nonprofit that organizes neighborhood cleanups. (Disclosure: Participants received a $50 stipend to participate in the listening session.)

They said they are seeing old, unmaintained trees threaten homes and property during storms. A loss of other trees is exposing the area to more pollution and heat. Stormwater is washing hillsides away. And neighbors said it can be hard to get city officials to respond to long-term community needs, especially as administrations change.

Below are highlights taken from the conversation.


Shirley Blanton: “Our trees are so old. We did have a storm last summer and we had two on my block that went down and almost went into somebody’s house. We need the trees and I understand that, but we need a way to (maintain) whatever we do replant. Because, some of those trees, one good storm, it’s gonna be in your house.”

Scott Blanchard / StateImpact Pennsylvania

Loretta Barbee-Dare speaks at a listening session in Allison Hill on Jan. 26, 2024.

Loretta Barbee-Dare: “I live in Summit Terrace. I guess I’ve lived there almost 40 years, and since I’ve lived there, there was always this big green space that was there. Fruit trees, different types of hardwoods and softwoods. And recently, just a few years ago, the trees were cut down. I’ve noticed since the trees were gone, it’s just drier. It just seemed like that canopy of trees that used to be there kept that area cooler. We are in the city, so yeah, you’re going to have exhaust and dust, but it seemed like it was there as our little buffer.”

Health effects:

Ron Johnson: “I can say, because of me dealing with sickle cell disease, the poor blood, and I know that all throughout South Central Pennsylvania, we’ve had more clients because of the too much heat. We’re not allowed to be out in the sun because of the type of medications that we have to take, in fear of us getting dehydrated. Or if we get the days and days on top of days of rain, you know, most of us don’t do anything but just lay, because we’re in so much pain that it just hurts to move.”

Heavy rains:

Claude Phipps: “The weather pattern in the last five years has produced a sizable amount of rain. And from the stormwater runoff, it was to the point of where, if you had a surfboard, you could surf from the upper part of Market Street down to Cameron Street. The issue (came) to the point where the winds came through and damaged property. I had neighbors who had the backs of their houses caved in because of trees collapsing on their property, collapsing on their cars.”

Scott Blanchard / StateImpact Pennsylvania

Claude Phipps speaks at a listening session in Allison Hill on Jan. 26, 2024.

“Eight years ago, we had a whole side of a mountain collapse and took businesses out. And I’m looking at Sylvan Terrace. I look at that as the climate change, storm water runoff, heavy rains, it washes all that stuff down where you used to have a backyard, now you have a half of backyard.”

Loretta Barbee-Dare: “That’s the thing, water will take the path of least resistance. That’s why when they built over Cameron Street, they wonder why it still floods when it rains. You built over Paxton Creek. It would be great if we had a community of people that could get together right now and start envisioning what’s this going to look like in another 50 years.”

Engagement from elected leaders and the community:

Shirley Blanton: “We paid a lot of money for surveys and things like that. I mean, hundreds of thousands of dollars. They have them, and then five years later, nothing’s happened, and things have changed, administration changes, and nothing gets done.”

Scott Blanchard / StateImpact Pennsylvania

Shirley Blanton speaks at a listening session in Allison Hill on Jan. 26, 2024.

Ron Johnson: “I think the other part of that, too, is engaging the residents of Harrisburg, because they’ve been disappointed so much by going to the city leadership, elected leadership – who was supposed to be our voice – but they go on around us and not listen to us. And I often tell my community, you’re paying a lot of money to live here. Don’t you think you deserve to live a lot better?”

Discussion takeaways:

Claude Phipps: “The theme I’ve got out of this is that there’s a lot of goodwill and I think as a community we need to sit back and regather our forces and our goodwill, take the politics out it, take your personal wants out of it, do some sacrificing, but come up with your two, three common themes. And that’s what you take the city council on a yearly basis, saying here’s what we want to see city council focus on this year. We’re speaking for all of the community next year. And it can evolve, it can evolve, it can evolve. But what I’ve heard tonight is commonality and I think the want for re-engagement and commonality.”

Scott Blanchard / StateImpact Pennsylvania

Ronald Johnson speaks at a listening session in Allison Hill on Jan. 26, 2024.

Ron Johnson: “It’s strengthening my resolve to do what I was intentionally wanting to do anyway. And the first thing we focusing on is safety, because I started off as a block captain. Next thing you know I’m speaking for people over there on Herr Street, uptown, off the South Side and it just grows. And I know that that is my general calling. And my thing is to get them to buy in and to see that they deserve so much better than what’s being displayed.”

Loretta Barbee-Dare: “We can do things in our own neighborhood. And I think that spirit of ‘you haven’t given up, so you can’t afford to give up’ is what I’m going to be taking away.”

Scott Blanchard / StateImpact Pennsylvania

Shirley Blanton, Claude Phipps, and Ronald Johnson listen during a discussion on climate change in Allison Hill on Jan. 26, 2024.

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