A poster in multiple languages announcing the Educational Alliance Sirovich as a cooling center. Photo: Hari Adivarekar

It’s been scorchingly hot. A heat advisory was recently broadcast by the City of New York urging people to stay indoors and cool and keep hydrating. As I reported from the streets of Lower Manhattan, I struggled to keep my eyes open through stinging sweat pouring down my forehead. My feet dragged as if walking through an oven at full blast; my brain was foggy and slow. I had the choice to escape to the cool air-conditioned confines of a coffee shop or restaurant or buy yet another liter of coconut water. Not all New Yorkers have my privilege. For many who work outdoors or are unhoused, the relentless heat can be dangerous and even life threatening. 

The air conditioned auditorium at the Educational Alliance Sirovich served as its cooling center. Photo: Hari Adivarekar

Every year around this time, the City of New York offers access to Cooling Centers spread across the five boroughs. The idea is that existing indoor spaces that have consistent air conditioning (and seating), along with water sources and restrooms can be used as oases in the city. These centers can be found with relative ease through this map

All city libraries are open to the public and have areas designated as cool zones. Additionally, all spaces used for the city’s Cornerstone Programs (that aid adults and youth in a variety of vocational, physical or educational activities) and many adult and youth community centers have opened their doors as cooling centers. Beyond these centers, branches of Petco are also participating in the effort. The Brooklyn Museum is the only museum in the city to open its doors to the public seeking respite from the heat. 

The Educational Alliance Sirovich (older adult center) had a form where people could enter their names before accessing their cooling center. Photo: Hari Adivarekar

While most cooling centers encourage people to just walk in and sit down, a few require a quick sign-in on a form. All of them are free and open during the hours of that specific center. Details of hours of operation and phone numbers are available on the NYC government website. Most centers have put up a cooling center poster on the outside of their spaces in many languages.

New York City Parks also has a program called Cool It! NYC where they list facilities that offer refuge from the heat, including drinking fountains, spray showers and areas of canopy cover and those lacking cover. 

The New York City Department of Health also has resources to combat extreme heat. You can even apply for a free air conditioner through the Home Energy Assistance Program.   

Cooling Centers can also be found calling 311 (VRS: 212-639-9675 or TTY: 212-504-4115).

Hari Adivarekar is an independent photographer, film director/producer, journalist, podcaster, yoga practitioner, urban explorer, and in a different life, a singer in a rock and roll band. His work has...

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