The New York City mayor's office recently announced an initiative of over $100 million to help the city beat the summer's scorching heat. The initiative will focus primarily on the parts of the city most affected by urban heat island effect--a phenomenon that causes heat to become trapped in certain urban areas, leading to dangerously high summer temperatures. The announcement followed on the heels of a three day heat wave in what is slated to be one of the hottest summers on record.
Using the city's Heat Vulnerability index, certain neighborhoods, including the Bronx, Central Brooklyn, and Northern Manhattan, have already been pinpointed as being at the highest risk for heat-related health problems. These neighborhoods typically have a higher number of people living without air conditioning, as well as more closely-clustered buildings made from heat-absorbing materials, such as concrete. Approximately $82 million of the initiative's funds will be designated to improvements in these neighborhoods, leading the project to be dubbed "Cool Neighborhoods NYC."
Heat-busting projects will take place throughout these particularly heat-sensitive locales, such as tree planting, as trees provide cooling shade and lower air temperature through evapotranspiration, and even rooftop gardens, as rooftop gardens naturally block sunlight which would otherwise be absorbed into buildings. Certain buildings throughout the city will also have their roofs painted white, to reflect more heat.
Ben Orlove, a senior research scientist at the International Research Institute for Climate and Society, praised the Cool Neighborhoods NYC initiative for its "multiple approaches to reducing the heat island effect and looking to reduce the vulnerability of people who are most affected by heat waves."
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio pulled no punches in explaining his commitment to the initiative, and his belief in its importance, saying, "Climate change is a dagger aimed at the heart of our city, and extreme heat is the edge of the knife. This is a question of equity; hotter summers, exacerbated by climate change, are a threat that falls disproportionately on communities of color and the elderly."
In addition to reducing heat and educating professionals, such as home health aides, about how to respond to heat-related health crises, Cool Neighborhoods NYC will also help the city in other ways, particularly with its tree-planting projects. Trees help strengthen loose soil, which prevents erosion and can help to reduce flooding.
Reduced flooding means less likelihood of untreated sewage making its way into New York rivers. Trees also help reduce air pollution by cleaning particulates from the air. Such pollution reduction is desperately needed in certain parts of the city, where neighborhoods stand close to highways and other large roads. In certain parts of the Bronx, childhood rates of asthma are some of the highest in the United States due to air pollution.
But one of the most important and far-reaching aspects of Cool Neighborhoods NYC may come in the form of its influence. It isn't difficult to imagine that a successful heat-busting initiative in a well-known city, like New York, could lead other cities struggling with the urban heat island effect to take up similar projects. That is the hope of many involved in the New York City initiative, including Orlove.
"City governments are increasingly networked, so a successful tree program in New York encourages tree programs elsewhere, because New York is such an iconic and densely populated city. Demonstrating achievability here really does send a message.", Orlove stated.