Cool Neighborhoods NYC is a strategy developed by the Mayor’s Office of Resiliency to provide and target additional funding and to coordinate multiple extreme heat mitigation and adaptation projects. The objective of Cool Neighborhoods NYC is to “help keep New Yorkers safe during hot weather, mitigate urban heat island effect drivers and protect against the worst impacts of rising temperatures from climate change.”
Although in a temperate climate zone, New York City’s average temperature is expected to increase by almost 6°F by 2050, and there are already 450 heat-related emergency department visits, 150 heat-related hospital admissions, and 13 heatstroke deaths in the city on average each year. On top of this background temperature increase from climate change, the urban heat island effect makes New York City about 3°F warmer than its less urban surroundings.
Rising temperatures continue to threaten the health of all New Yorkers, but particularly older adults, those without access to air conditioning, and those with a variety of health conditions. — Bill De Blasio, Mayor, New York City Cool Neighborhoods NYC
The additional degrees are a significant concern for the 10 percent of New Yorkers without home air conditioning and for residents in public housing where only half of households self-report having AC. However, this number may be artificially low because, per HUD regulations, the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) charges a monthly fee for each voluntarily reported AC unit. NYCHA’s development-specific AC counts have historically found an average of 1.5 AC units per apartment. Because 95 percent of NYCHA households do not pay their own electric bills, cost of electricity is likely not a determining factor in AC adoption.
Despite the complexities of quantifying AC use in public housing, the strategies established by Cool Neighborhoods NYC target the city’s communities that are most vulnerable to heat. The NYC Mayor’s Office of Resiliency uses the results of an intensive heat vulnerability mapping collaboration between the NYC Department of Health and Mental Hygiene and Columbia University to direct cool design interventions and tailor heat resilience social programs.
Extreme Heat Resilience Strategies
Cool Neighborhoods NYC establishes temperature mitigation and adaptation strategies in three areas: the built environment; public education and outreach; and data collection and monitoring. Beyond the 2007 Million TreesNYC initiative, NYC is dedicating over $100 million through Cool Neighborhoods NYC for targeted tree planting along streets, in parks, and in forests through 2021. Many of the trees will be planted in the South Bronx, Northern Manhattan, and Central Brooklyn neighborhoods, which have comparatively little vegetation coverage and the highest levels of heat vulnerability.
NYC is also targeting its cool roof programs to heat-vulnerable neighborhoods, leveraging its green infrastructure programs, improving cooling center signage, enacting policy to require green roofs in buildings, and monitoring summer temperatures in several communities with high heat vulnerability to understand variability at the neighborhood level.
We are bringing health and climate data into urban planning and policymaking to achieve environmental equity goals. –Kizzy Charles-Guzman, Deputy Director, Mayor’s Office of Resiliency
In an effort to reach homebound residents, those with preexisting medical conditions, and seniors who are typically at higher risk during extreme heat events, NYC is partnering with home care agencies and community health organizations to train attendants on how to recognize and treat heat stress. NYC has also formed partnerships with three community organizations, funding them to implement a pilot Be a Buddy initiative in which participants are trained to assist at-risk adults, to identify potentially isolated New Yorkers, and to proactively communicate heat-related health messages and warnings.
As of April 2019, NYC has installed more than 10 million square feet of reflective, cool roofs. The city estimates that cool roofs can lower building AC costs by 10 to 30 percent and reduce indoor air temperatures by up to 30 percent during the summer. In addition, NYC hires 70 local job seekers per year to install the reflective rooftop coatings and provides the employees with training and the opportunity to obtain industry-relevant certifications. The new Be a Buddy pilot to assist at-risk adults also launched in 2018 and street tree plantings in many heat-vulnerable NYC neighborhoods are ongoing.
Interagency coordination is key to the establishment and implementation of Cool Neighborhoods NYC. “What’s innovative about our work,” says Mayor’s Office of Resiliency deputy director Kizzy Charles-Guzman, “is that we took data that already existed in various agencies and brought it together in a way that hadn’t been done before in our sustainability planning.
Charles-Guzman’s recommendation to other cities that want to address temperature risks: mayoral offices must gather and analyze agency data and commit to developing and implementing an integrative, community-specific approach.