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Extreme Heat, COVID, & Equity in New York City

Heat vulnerability in New York City has been linked to socioeconomic indicators, including household income and resident age, as well as access to air conditioning and green spaces. 

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is forecasting an unusually warm summer in the US for 2020. In New York City, this could exacerbate heat exposure in homes, where most heat-related mortality occurs, as well as potential brownouts or blackouts due to extreme weather. 

What will potential heatwaves, blackouts, and brownouts mean for city residents already struggling with lack of air conditioning and limited access to green spaces? How will existing health, weather, and economic hazards be affected by new guidelines designed to reduce COVID-19 outbreaks in NYC? What are just and equitable solutions to address threats posed by extreme heat and other interdependent risks? 

Additional & mentioned resources


Q: How much of a threat does heat pose for horses?  Has anything been done to regulate use of horses in NYC?

A: There are fewer and fewer horses in the City, and limits are placed on the number of hours they can be taken outdoors. I think that above 90 degrees its illegal to use horses, but not sure if there are more nuanced regulations.

Q: The areas that have high vulnerability heat index are areas with high covid rates- and last year boroughs such as BK & Queens lost power during peak heat waves- what are these vulnerable communities supposed to do when they cant cool off? Also- the city cut back on summer youth programming - what do you think would be a safe activity for kids this summer?

A: Great point, without power A/C or electric fans are not an option. During blackout, (1) being hydrated and (2) placing wet cloths on one's neck and head can provide some relief.

A: While kids are generally not experiencing the adverse health outcomes that adults are, it is still critical to keep them safe ... there has not been the uptick in cases that many folks were expecting after the protests associated with George Floyd's murder. Thus, it seems that outside activities where social distancing is maintained may be a viable option.

A: The City will use hotels instead of congregate spaces for emergency shelter during prolonged outages and establish buses with proper PPE and social distance for emergency cooling during short outages:…

Q: I'm a human factors researcher looking at infrastructure changes to reinforce social distancing and beneficial behaviours. Cities like Seattle and Portland are already widening lanes where possible. Given the impact of heat, New York's density, and the existing "opening of the streets", what initiatives would you like to see in place? What can only be done in other cities?

A: There is increasing discussion about the viability of "Superblocks"

Q: Is there a way to access these maps after the webinar? (Science teacher in hopes of using them)

A: The speaker presentation files are provided.



Q: Why is there a decrease in tree canapy in  the area of Central park?

A: Many trees in CP were lost in storms during the time period shown.

Q: What are the causes of tree loss in those areas? New development? Potentially from Hurricane Sandy (since a lot was on the Rockaways)?

A: I’m sure Emily can answer this further, but trees dies for many reasons.  Some are simply old, others are dealing with disease, there is damage of street trees from box trucks that’s common, they are heat and pollution stressed, and storms especially with high rainfall and high winds cause trees to fall.

Q: One used to be able to ask NYC Parks Dept. to plant a tree in front of your building and it would happen. Do you know if this is still possible?

A: Yes — you can call 311 or go to the NYC parks website and submit a request.

Q: Can potted plants help decrease temperatures like a green roof does, even though it doesn't have all of the same benefits, like collecting stormwater?

A: plants can cool in an enclosed space, but you need a high density of plants. At a larger scale, I'm not sure that having plants indoors would make a signficant difference.  One of the values of plants on roofs is that they cover the entrie roof (or much of it) reducing heat absorption as well as providing direct  cooling.  Good question to research further!

Q: I have been trying to convince my building in Washington Heights to convert our large, flat roof into a Green Roof. Are there statistics you can steer me to that  could help bolster my argument, such as cooling the building, lowering temperarures in the neeighborhood, preventing storm run-off? Any great links/articles?

A: Check out a new site for advocating for green roofs and providing latest info we created in the last year.


Q: How will vulnerable communities deal with the heat this summer if public libraries and other free cooling centers don't open up soon? There isn't a concrete plan to keep vulnerable people safe. 



Q: Where can I find that HVI map that everyone was using?



Q: Where can we find the survey that presenter Timon McPhearson mentioned?

A: You can take the survey here:

Q: Can you repeat or type the name of the author on redlining and heat?

A: There are a couple studies including by Vivek Shandas, but also Dexter Locke’s work


Christian Braneon scientist and urban climate expert at NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies 

Emily Nobel Maxwell, Director of The Nature Conservancy’s Cities Program in New York

Timon McPhearson, Director of The New School’s Urban Systems Lab

Fact sheets & reports
Maps, charts & resource sites


Christian Braneon is a scientist and urban climate expert at NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies (GISS) in New York. With the Urban Climate Change Research Network, Braneon leads workshops to help cities use NASA datasets to enhance climate resiliency. He serves on the steering committee for the New York City Panel on Climate Change, is a principal investigator for the GISS Climate Change Research Initiative, and co-leads the Goddard Space Flight Center’s Climate and Environmental Health Group. 

Emily Nobel Maxwell is the Director of The Nature Conservancy’s Cities Program in New York. Maxwell helped launch The Nature Conservancy’s North America Cities Network and is a founding member of the NYC Urban Forest Task Force and Just Nature NYC. Emily is an author of Building Capacity Through Diversity, a report that explores building the efficacy of the environmental movement through diverse partnerships and of Urban Coastal Resilience: Valuing Nature's Role. She launched her urban environmental work playing a critical role in community garden preservation in NYC. Emily currently serves on the Advisory Board for OneNYC, NYC’s strategic plan.

Annel Hernandez is the Associate Director of the NYC  Environmental Justice Alliance. Annel works on city and statewide climate policy issues, focusing on local advocacy and research that further equitable investments in coastal resiliency, green infrastructure, and renewable energy. She also works on coalition campaigns to push for a vision of integrated climate resiliency. Previously, Annel worked with the NYC Mayor’s Office of Economic Opportunity and the Urban Climate Change Research Network at the Earth Institute. Annel is a Rachel's Network Catalyst Awardee, and also serves on the board of BK ROT and Newtown Creek Alliance.  
Timon McPhearson is Director of The New School’s Urban Systems Lab, a Senior Research Fellow at Cary Institute, and Associate Research Fellow at the Stockholm Resilience Center. He investigates the ecology in, of, and for cities and teaches urban resilience, systems thinking, and urban ecology. McPhearson is a member of the Urban Climate Change Research Network, and the Urban Heat Island Task Force in the New York City Mayor's Office for Recovery and Resiliency. He co-leads the National Science Foundation’s Urban Resilience to Extreme Weather-related Events Sustainability Research Network.

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