The case for building green spaces in under-represented communities amid extreme heat

Wednesday, August 16, 2023
The case for building more green spaces amid extreme heat
As climate change continues to cause summer temps to soar, the lack of green spaces in underserved communities don't make things any better. Crystal Cranmore has the story.

SOUTH WILLIAMSBURG, Brooklyn -- This summer has seen scorching temperatures like no other across the country, with July notching the warmest month on record.

For places like Los Sures Senior Center in South Williamsburg, respite from the swelling temps is much needed for the elderly.

"We have to protect ourselves against the heat," said one attendee about the facility, which is nestled along the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway. "I'm always looking for refuge."

As climate change causes the summer temps to soar, the lack of green spaces in underserved communities don't make things any better.

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"It is hard to find relief because we are one of the cities that has the lowest green space per capita," said Rami Dinnawai of El Puente of the Brooklyn neighborhood.

El Puente, a community human rights institution committed to empowering youth and building sustainable communities, has been tracking air quality for years.

"Most of our green spaces are along the B.Q.E.," Dinnawi said. "You got to hide in the shade, but you are exposed to extreme air pollution."

Experts say air pollutants like ground level ozone is produced more rapidly on hot days.

Furthermore, the number of extremely hot days - ranging from 100 degrees and up - is projected to increase from six to 13 within the next 30 years in the New York City metro area.

"Between urbanization climate change and the urban heat island effect, said Kim Knowlton of the Natural Resources Defense Council. "It's a triple whammy threat to the health of New Yorkers."

Areas like South Williamsburg, where infrastructures like Los Sures Senior Center trap heat, can create islands of soaring temperatures.

"There's a real inequity in what we see from urban heat island and climate change hammering communities who don't often have the access because of years of structural racism," said Knowlton.

As per the New York City Health Department, African-Americans are twice as likely to die from heat stress as white New Yorkers.

While NYC ER departments saw a spike in heat related visits last month, doctors say a big concern this year has been air quality.

"These people sort of get caught off guard. Had no expectation they were going to end up in the emergency room," said Dr. Erick Eiting, ER Medical Director at Mount Sinai.

For El Puente, addressing this disproportionate impact climate change means empowering the community with tools, such as a portable network kit that assists locals with getting connected to necessary information needed under the most extreme conditions.

"These kits were made with emergencies in mind," said Oscar Comunidad of El Puente. "It broadcasts a local network that people can connect to via Wi-Fi to share resources and communicate locally."

While organizations like El Puente continues to empower communities with much needed resources, work continues to develop more green space along the BQE - combatting air pollution and rising temperatures for generations to come.

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