By Andrea Pineda-Salgado
There’s nothing like summer in the city — ice cream trucks on every corner, swimsuit-clad New Yorkers lounging in Central Park and for once, the subway (granted the air conditioning is working) provides a sense of relief. However, not all city dwellers experience summertime in the same way. The heat feels different depending on your housing situation and which neighborhood you live in. The lack of green space and accessible cooling spots like pools and beaches can make your summers hotter. For some, it can be deadly. According to New York City’s Heat-Related Mortality Report, each year there are roughly 350 heat related deaths and from 2010-2019 there was an average of 10 deaths each summer caused by heat stroke alone. Unfortunately, Black New Yorkers are twice as likely to die from heat stress than other New Yorkers. While some may have the luxury of leaving the hot city and cooling off elsewhere, some may have to stay and work under the summer heat. Some New Yorkers are able to afford air conditioning, while others can only rely on a small fan. Economic disparities among New Yorkers are highlighted during the summer months.
In New York City, the risk of heat-related illness or deaths are measured using a Heat Vulnerability Index (HVI). Environmental factors such as daytime summer surface temperature and green space, like trees, shrubs and grass covers are used to determine a neighborhood’s HVI. Higher surface temperatures and less green space can lead to an increased risk of death during heat waves, which result in a high HVI. It is measured on a scale of one to five, the higher the neighborhood’s HVI, the bigger the risk of heat-related illness or death. According to data from NYC Environment and Health, neighborhoods like Central Harlem in Manhattan and Mott Haven and Merlrose in the Bronx have an HVI of five. It is not a coincidence that these neighborhoods have larger percentages of their population living below the poverty line. In Central Harlem 25% of the population lives below the poverty line. In Mott Haven, it’s 39%.
In contrast, people living in wealthier neighborhoods often have a low HVI, their risks of heat-related illness or deaths is low, they likely have cooler surface temperatures, lots of green space and can afford air conditioning, which often results in a cooler and more relaxing summer. Certain neighborhoods in Manhattan, especially the Upper East Side and Upper West Side experience a lower HVI risk. Most residents are well above the poverty line; only 5% of residents are under the poverty line in the Upper East Side, while in the Upper West Side it’s 10%.
Here’s what some residents had to say about how they experience summer:
Quotes have been edited for clarity.
“On a hot summer day, I have to go to work selling ice cream because rent is due and I can’t stay home when it’s hot. I do have an AC at home but I have to buy a new one. I don’t want to keep it on because my electricity bill gets very high. If my AC ever stops working I don’t know what I would do, I would have to buy another one. The closest park to me is St. Mary’s park, but I can’t really go there to cool off because there are a lot of people smoking and you can’t really go there for that. It’s not very clean, they are fixing it now but it’s still a little dirty.”
~ Maxi V., 35
Mott Haven, Bronx
“When it’s hot I usually try to stay in my house, but if I have to be out then I’m probably somewhere where I can cool down and splash in some water. My daughter and I go to Roberto Clemente pool because it’s close to where we live. It’s our favorite pool because it’s beautiful and the water is refreshing and it’s never too crowded for some reason. However, I have fainted due to extreme heat in the area, at least three times. Once outside the school P.S. 49, in the park and on Morris Avenue.”
~ Tawana Fletcher, 46
Mott Haven, Bronx
“On a hot summer day I like to stay in my house with the AC on, but we have fans as well because you know, I don’t want my ConEd bill getting high. Depending on the weather, when it’s very hot the AC comes on, when it’s not that hot, open up a couple of windows to get a breeze or something. Some of the nearest pools are clean, but you have to go in the early morning if you want to get in because they only clean it once a day, but I don’t go there. Maybe to cool off I would like to go to New Jersey to a water park or something. A lot of people have cars and they can travel to Jersey, but I would have to take public transportation but I don’t take it because its dangerous.”
~ Keema Parker, 37
Mott Haven, Bronx
“On a hot summer day I like to come to the park and read my book and try to escape the heat from my apartment. It’s pretty close to Central Park and there’s a few smaller parks around like Tudor City Park, they’re pretty accessible. We have central air but it’s so expensive, we try not to run it because rent has increased so much already that we’re trying to save some energy and get out when we can. When I don’t want to use my AC I try to find a coffee shop or something like that, but that’s always tough because you have to buy something usually to be in there, but on [very hot] summer days even the park is insufferable.”
~ Erin MacNallie, 24
Murray Hill, Manhattan
“We spend time in Northfork, Long Island, at our house to stay cool. For the beach we go to Shelter Island and visit different restaurants and things like that. We have a French bulldog that doesn’t do well in the summer heat so [when I’m in the city I] sit under the shady trees outside or go outdoor dining. I exercise in Central Park, I run and walk in the park and I’ve noticed there are tons of cyclists, CitiBikes and just tons of people walking and running. Central Park has huge oak trees, they provide so much — the only downside is allergies — but there is lots of shade, it’s definitely 15 degrees cooler in the shade.”
~ Reagan Lang, 52
Upper East Side, Manhattan
“I like to come to the park and find some shade and drink lots of water [when it gets very hot]. My favorite thing to do is get together with friends and have a picnic near Sheepshead Meadow. I’m very privileged to be near Central Park and Riverside Park. Central Park is so big and there’s so many different things to do. It’s nice that there’s so many trees and you can definitely find a spot that’s pretty shady and it’s pretty cool. We have an air conditioner, it doesn’t cool off the whole apartment — my apartment is pretty small anyway so it just cools off the living room. I think it would be a nightmare if it broke down. When we put it in, we had hired someone to install it in and it was really expensive, I feel like a repair person would cost a lot.”
~ Priscilla Parker, 30
Upper West Side, Manhattan
- If you or someone you know needs help paying electricity bills to stay warm in winter or cool in the summer, you can apply to the Home Energy Assistance Program (HEAP).
- Keep yourself updated with places where you can stay cool. Check out Cool it! NYC to find places where you can hydrate, refresh and stay in the shade.
- Stay informed. Check out the NYC Emergency Management’s Beat the Heat webpage for information on what to do when there is extreme heat in New York City.
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