Image by Ben Huff for Untapped Cities

It’s been a hot start to the summer here in New York City—so it’s fitting that Mayor Bill de Blasio recently announced the launch of an initiative to fight extreme heat. The $106 million resiliency initiative, Cool Neighborhoods NYC, aims to mitigate the public health threat posed by the urban heat island effect during the summer. It will both build on existing heat-mitigation initiatives like NYC °CoolRoofs while adding new programs to decrease temperatures in vulnerable neighborhoods to improve quality of life.

In case you didn’t know, the urban heat island effect refers to the disproportionately warm temperatures of metropolitan areas compared to surrounding rural areas as a result of human activity. The dark asphalt and concrete surfaces of New York City absorb heat, making the city especially unbearable during the summer. This heat is not only discomforting, but causes dehydration, heat stroke, and other heat-related illnesses.

Cool Neighborhoods NYC aims to decrease temperatures in neighborhoods most vulnerable to heat-related health risks, as defined by the City’s Heat Vulnerability Index. Thus, about 80% of the investment will be used to plant trees in the neighborhoods of the South Bronx, Central Brooklyn, and Northern Manhattan.

Identified neighborhoods vulnerable to heat-related illnesses based on the Heat Vulnerability Index. Image via Cool Neighborhoods NYC

The City will also prioritize 2.7 million square feet of rooftops (as identified by a CoolRoofs study) to fit with trees and paint white, which will help reflect solar waves and reduce heat in buildings. This was the goal of the 2010 CoolRoofs initiative that sought to paint 6 million square feet of New York City’s roofs white.

Views from a CoolRoof

Additionally, $16 million of the investment will go towards planting trees in parks, with another $7 million allocated for reforestation initiatives in all five boroughs. The rest of the money will be spent on initiatives like education for home health aides and a pilot program to identify residents with heat stroke risks. One initiative is Be a Buddy NYC, which uses partnerships with community-based organizations to protect at-risk New Yorkers from heat-related health threats. Furthermore, Cool Neighborhoods NYC will use partnerships with health reporters and meteorologists to improve how news outlets inform New Yorkers about heat safety.

This is an important component, as there are about 13 annual deaths from heat stroke, 115 heat-related deaths, and 450 emergency room visits for heat-related sickness in New York, according to a press release.

Cool Neighborhoods NYC will be led by the Mayor’s Office of Recovery & Resiliency, which is responsible for protecting New York City from the impacts of climate change. The initiative thus points to the increasingly imperative need to address rising temperatures associated with climate change.

Thermal imagery of New York City shows how some areas experience higher temperatures than others. Image via Cool Neighborhoods NYC.

In fact, according to the press release, the New York City Panel on Climate Change (NPPC) predicts that by the 2050s, average city temperatures will rise by as much as a 5.7°F, and the number of days above 90°F will double. The NPPC also projects that New York City heat waves will increase in both intensity and duration. In the press release, Mayor de Blasio stressed the severity of this issue, saying, “Climate change is a dagger aimed at the heart of our city, and extreme heat is the edge of the knife.

It’s also important to note that the effects of climate change disproportionately impact already-disadvantaged populations, such as the elderly, low-income, and communities of color—which is why Mayor de Blasio called New York City’s extreme summer heat “a question of equity.”

Next, learn about the NYC °CoolRoofs initiative and how the steam system works in NYC to both heat and cool parts of Manhattan.