A Johns Hopkins climate scientist set out to study the heat island effect. Now, with millions in federal funding, he’s putting neighborhood concerns at the heart of a five-year, $25 million project on climate change.

Originally published in The Baltimore Banner.

For Ben Zaitchik, the moment had arrived. He’d been working at Johns Hopkins University for almost two years on a groundbreaking effort funded by the U.S. Department of Energy to define what it would take to make Baltimore climate-adaptive, resilient and just.

Now, he paced nervously in a spacious corridor at Morgan State University’s Center for Built Environment and Infrastructure Studies, not far from Johns Hopkins’ main campus, making sure that everything was in order for the focus group meeting he had been planning for weeks. The topic: the urban heat island effect, his research specialty.

The 30-odd invitees — a diverse group of neighborhood activists, academics and city officials — were members of his Baltimore Social-Environmental Collaborative, or BSEC for short. The group was his mechanism for putting neighborhood concerns at the heart of the five-year, $25 million project that is primarily a scientific endeavor, driven by data in four key areas related to climate change — urban heat, flooding, air pollution and decarbonization.

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