NYC heat-mapping study finds higher times in lower-income neighborhoods


For example, during one data collection, neighborhoods around Central Park measured between 80 and 82 degrees, while parts of the Bronx and upper Manhattan were between 88 and 89 degrees at the same time.

Courtesy of Liv Yoon

Researchers from Columbia’s Climate School worked with volunteers this summer to document neighborhood temperatures.

Researchers from Columbia’s Climate School and local organizers recently revealed the results of a months-long effort to collect street-level data on temperatures in New York during the summer, bolstering earlier findings that some regions suffer disproportionately from hot weather.

The aim, according to the researchers, was to document how different neighborhoods are affected by the urban heat island effect – clusters of the city where average temperatures are higher due to infrastructure, lack of green spaces and other factors. The researchers collected data this summer in Manhattan north of 59th Street and parts of the Bronx. (An attempt to collect data in Brooklyn was canceled due to a lack of volunteers.)

The results showed that Inwood, Washington Heights and the South Bronx — neighborhoods populated mostly by people of color and low-income people — had higher temperatures on a given day and time than in more affluent Manhattan neighborhoods.

For example, during a 3-4 p.m. data collection, neighborhoods surrounding Central Park measured between 80 and 82 degrees, while parts of the Bronx and upper Manhattan were between 88 and 89 degrees at the same time. When temperatures dropped across the city in the evening, they rose about 4 degrees in those warmer neighborhoods, the data showed.

Areas with higher temperatures correspond to areas with less access to air conditioning and other resources, the researchers said.

The results are similar to previous heat island maps of the city, but the nature of the research has allowed for a more accurate presentation of how temperatures are felt in neighborhoods across the city, according to project organizers.

Lead researcher Liv Yoon explained that previous thermal mapping research used satellite imagery to capture average temperatures over a given block. Instead, his method relied on sensors and boot leather data collection techniques to track real-time temperature and humidity at street level. This resulted in data that more closely matches the conditions experienced by the community than what satellite imagery could capture.

Liz Donovan

Ashley Fontanilla of South Bronx Unite is participating in a heat mapping project.

“When you look on Google Maps and see that there are parks in those areas, what we don’t know from those maps is that some of those parks are just concrete slabs with a swing without trees. “, Yoon said.

On data collection days, teams of volunteers drove one of nine routes in the project area with a sensor attached to their vehicle. They would do the course at three preset times to show how the humidity and temperature varied throughout the day.

Yoon and his colleague, NASA scientist Christian Braneon, involved community members in their data collection – a method which Yoon says has helped engage residents by allowing them to actively document how they feel. summer heat in their neighborhoods.

“We say people can’t be what they can’t see,” said Melissa Barber, co-founder of South Bronx Unite, one of the groups that took part in the project. A key takeaway, she said, is the fact that the study was designed and led by people of color, from researchers to organizers to volunteer data collectors. “They were able to see people who are like them, leading this type of research, people from their community, really passionate about the issues in their community.

The study was carried out in partnership with the Columbia Climate School and funded by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). It’s part of a nationwide effort to collect data in at least three dozen cities.

Yoon also noted that she was surprised to find warmer pockets along a survey road in the Upper East Side, where the morning temperature was about as high as the temperature collected in the South. Bronx. Further analysis of overlapping disparities in the neighborhood may show that this area, which has a higher average income than other neighborhoods with such hotspots, is better able to handle the effects of heat, Yoon noted. .

“These hotspots in the SIU are probably less of a threat to the population given resources and access to air conditioning, more access to health care,” she said.

Yoon said she expects their findings to be featured in an online story map available in English and Spanish this spring, and hopes the data will inform a more equitable approach to climate change mitigation. . The mapping will include other markers of inequality, including lack of access to healthcare and air conditioning. It will also identify overlaps with communities in red — neighborhoods historically considered risky for mortgages and predominantly made up of people of color.

“Connecting the dots…may point out that the way to solve this problem is to go beyond temperature and humidity,” Yoon told City Limits. “Adaptation measures such as access to air conditioning and cooling centers are urgent and vital, but it cannot stop there. We also need to think about equitable reform more broadly.

Solutions to the heat island effect, such as adding vegetation and shade or painting roofs a lighter, more reflective color, should be prioritized in communities marginalized by race and class, Yoon said.

A city report released last summer found that more than 100 New Yorkers died from heat stress between 2010 and 2020, and 43% of those people were black. Previous research has also found that communities of color tend not to have access to natural shade, which can reduce temperatures by up to 20 to 45 degrees, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.

Another American Forests report, also released last summer, found that trees in New York and other cities across the country were more prominent in areas where high-income white residents lived than in neighborhoods with people of color. New York should add 1.5 million trees to provide equitable coverage across the city, according to the report.

“Climate change is not just about temperature, humidity and polar bears,” Yoon said. “It is a socio-political question. Racist policies matter in how climate change manifests in people’s lives. This is a social crisis, and we need to think more broadly and holistically.

Liz Donovan is a member of the Report for America body.


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