By Anne Barnard, Corey Kilgannon, Jazmine Hughes and Emma Goldberg
May 28, 2022
...Inconveniently located pools may not sound like an urgent problem, but climate change raises the stakes. The city’s climate panel expects 57 days annually of at least 90-degree heat by 2050. Heat sends hundreds of New Yorkers to emergency rooms each year, killing some 350. Between 2000 and 2012, city data show, about half of those who died of heat-related causes were Black; half were from poor areas. Many who die fall ill at home.
As New York grew, poorer people — including waves of immigrants as well as Black Americans migrating north — ended up in less desirable, cheaper areas, places that tended to be hotter, lower-lying, landlocked, flood-prone or swampy. Racist redlining, zoning and spending policies brought more blacktop and pollution and fewer green spaces. Poor and Black and Latino New Yorkers are more likely to have health conditions that are exacerbated by heat, like asthma, heart disease and obesity.
On satellite maps, areas like Jamaica Estates — a district of large villas on shaded lawns in Queens that contrasts with neighboring streets of narrow rowhouses and few trees — stand out as green blotches in a sea of gray. Surface temperatures on the same day sometimes differ by 20 degrees or more between neighborhoods, or even blocks. In the Bronx, vegetation covers 63 percent of wealthy Riverdale; several neighborhoods to the south, in low-income Mott Haven, only 18 percent is green.
Trees cool the air as water evaporates from leaves. Simply seeing them, studies show, improves mental health, and shady streets invite exercise and social connection.
Experts are calling for speedier, wider coordinated action to save lives and shore up the city’s future. An environmental and civic coalition, Forests for All, is pushing for a comprehensive plan for a canopy of trees to cover 30 percent of the city by 2035, up from 22 percent, mainly by adding trees where there are fewest.
“The urban forest is a critical resource, locally and globally,” said Emily Maxwell of the Nature Conservancy, part of the coalition. “We want to expand it in a way that reaches our most heat-vulnerable communities.”
Residents flock to parks seeking shade but often find disappointment.
New Yorkers of color are more likely to be among the 33 percent with no park within a five-minute walk, and have less nearby park acreage per capita, according to New Yorkers for Parks, an advocacy group. The bulk of city funds supplementing tight Parks Department budgets goes to parks in Manhattan.
Playing with her two daughters at Crotona Park, Nicole Foster, 30, has noticed a decline since her childhood. Bits of litter floated atop scum on a pond where people used to kayak and fish. Soot covered the padlocked tennis courts. Paint was chipped, garbage uncollected.
“Somebody needs to put some money into this park,” she said. “It’s not as nice as it should be.”
In another Bronx park, St. Mary’s, in Mott Haven, Willie Neal, 54, had the opposite impression: Things had improved. Working out on gym equipment, he surveyed functioning tennis courts, fresh paint, a dog run, new benches and tables, and remarked, “It wasn’t like this when I was younger.”
While race, income and geography play a role, the stark differences among city parks have complex roots — making the problem hard to address equitably.
Crotona and St. Mary’s serve similar neighborhoods: 40 percent poor and 96 percent Black and Latino. But only one, St. Mary’s, got $50 million in improvements in the past five years, mostly from City Hall. Crotona Park got half as much in 13 years: $22 million from various city offices.
The Parks Department gets a small share of the city’s budget, and individual parks try to win more from disparate sources — vying with one another and other community priorities.
“The city has not committed the amount of money to get a truly equitable parks system,” said Adam Ganser, the executive director of New Yorkers for Parks.