New NYC Initiative Is Planting Trees to Beat the Heat

In June earlier this Summer, the Mayor’s Office in NYC revealed their Cool Neighborhoods NYC plan– a new $106 million initiative aimed at mitigating the dire effects of rising temperatures caused by Climate Change. By painting roofs and planting trees throughout NYC, the Mayor’s office hopes to reduce the prevalence of death from extreme heat, particularly among older adults and communities of color (both of whom face a heightened risk).

With extreme heat now the leading cause of death among natural disasters (according to the project, extreme heat “contributes to more deaths than all other natural disasters combined”) and record-setting heat waves (remember when Arizona started to melt?), many cities are facing similar crises in large part because of their structure. The “Urban Heat Island Effect” describes the phenomena which cause cities to be “up to 22°F hotter than rural and suburban areas”: unlike non-urban areas, cities tend to have more “impervious surfaces, limited vegetation, and dense human activity,” all of which can contribute to higher temperatures. As New York is one of the largest and most compact cities in America, it is especially vulnerable to the effects of extreme heat.

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In order to address these urban liabilities, the Mayor’s Office has implemented a plan involving “planting trees, coating roofs with reflective paint, and working with residents to ensure they take proper steps to stay cool and check on each other.” While the strategy was specifically formulated to address the risk of heat-related death, this latest tree-planting adventure also helps support NYC’s effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 80% by 2050. (When Donald Trump withdrew from the Paris Climate Agreement earlier this year, Mayor Bill de Blasio affirmed that NYC would continue to honor the international pact.)

Photo: Deberarr

While trees may seem an unlikely source of immediate relief, trees and vegetation have been shown to constantly cool urban environments through a process known as evapotranspiration, which occurs when water moves from the roots to the leaves and then evaporates. Moreover, trees always provide shade, which can in turn lower nearby temperatures while offering local residents immediate respite from the heat.

By planting trees throughout NYC, the Cool Neighborhoods initiative also addresses how green spaces have historically been distributed in an inequitable manner throughout the city.

At a time when the federal government is otherwise denying the effects of Climate Change, NYC’s Cool Neighborhoods offers realizable, direct action. As de Blasio affirmed in the announcement of the new project, “New York City will continue to do all it can to preserve a livable planet and a resilient city.”

To learn more about Cool Neighborhoods NYC, check out their official report.

Looking for ways to beat the heat at home? Try making these five iced teas made from edible weeds in your own backyard.


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