Poorer neighborhoods are hotter than wealthier ones.
That is the overall result of the New York component of a national project to map urban heat islands. Scientists have long known that urban areas generate heat, but have not yet been able to map it street by street.
On a hot summer day in New York City last July, volunteers swarmed into cars with sensors to track heat and humidity. They traveled from the crowded tenements and truck-lined streets of the South Bronx to the open avenues of Manhattan’s Upper East Side.
The heat trackers told an impressive story. On an afternoon in July, there was at least 7 degrees difference between the South Bronx, one of the poorest neighborhoods in New York City, and the Upper East Side of Manhattan, one of the richest. The difference between the South Bronx and Central Park was even bigger: almost 10 degrees.
This type of heat mapping is becoming increasingly important as climate change causes global temperatures to rise and more people to move to urban areas. According to the United Nations, the proportion of city dwellers will increase from 55% today to 68% by 2050. In addition, as temperatures rise, the overall differences between the hottest and coolest areas increase, exacerbating the class and race divide.
“We get extremely granular data. Street level data. What currently exists is satellite data of where the total of New York City’s streets are, “said Dr. Liv Yoon, researcher at Columbia University’s Earth Institute.
The data can help communities target their financial resources to lower temperatures by building more rooms, adding lighter roofs, leaving more space between buildings and opening more cooling centers during heat waves.
“We want to empower the local citizens and scientists who have participated so that they own the data, because we often hear them go to the authorities and say, ‘We have this problem, but they are often answered with’ You ‘when faced with anecdotes and emotions cannot come to us. We need hard data, “said Yoon.
Melissa Barber, a native of the Bronx and founder of an activist organization United the South Bronx, has fought for everything from community gardens to redesigning the Bronx waterfront to cool the area. Now she’s working with Yoon, using heat mapping to plead with local officials and property developers to switch.
“As community members who actually fight for justice, social justice and environmental justice, we can now say:“ There is current data that says: ‘We breathe a different air.’ There is current data that says, ‘We see and feel heat differently than anywhere else,’ ”said Barber.
“Areas outlined in historic red certainly have less infrastructure that is conducive to cooling. They have fewer green spaces,” said Yoon, who spoke with CNBC, one of the very few community gardens in the South Bronx – a garden that Barber helped design.
Barber says data will give it more power to transform real estate development in poorer parts of New York City.
“We really need to think about how we shape communities. When we talk about historical injustice and this redlining – there were no parks in this plan. There was no water included in this planning buffers that actually allow us to experience the climate differently did not exist and do not exist for many of our urban communities, “said Barber.
The temperature sensors were provided by Oregon-based CAPA Strategies, a climate data and analysis company that works with the federal government, local communities, and nonprofits.
“It really matters because heat is one of the most insidious killers in cities. It kills more people than any other natural hazard,” said Vivek Shandas, a consultant at CAPA.
Shandas notes that climate change is increasing the stakes and exacerbating the effects of the heat on the local economy, which is now stalling more often due to deadly heat.
“We see a greater heat intensity. We see these heat waves last longer and we see heat waves coming through more often, but we still use a single number to tell us what the temperature is a city or region for, “added Shandas.
New York is one of 12 cities participating in this year’s mapping campaign in partnership with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.