BY PAT ARNOW | Some intrepid members of East River Park ACTION and LES Breathe braved the outdoors despite heat advisories on Tues., Aug. 9. Wendy Brawer, Amy Berkov, Mary Jo Burke and I measured temperatures around the area of East River Park.
We started measurements at Corlears Hook Park because that’s where we could find grass and plantings and trees and get near construction work. We can’t get comparable measurements at the south end of East River Park because it is now mostly inaccessible and a hot mess. You won’t be surprised that the few spots of grassy shade were cooler.
There are severe public health consequences to making our neighborhood hotter and drier, which is what has happened now that we have lost some 700 trees. There are also remedies. Here is evidence that can help you make the case for positive action.
How hot was it?
We went out at 2 p.m. and took readings until 3:45 p.m. when the air was 97 degrees. We used a Smart Sensor infared thermometer, which measures surface temperatures. We pointed it at many spots, including asphalt and the dry and sun-baked “passive lawn” that is the only available park space near the river at the park’s south end. Then we checked temperatures at the running track and field at Sixth Street, the grove of mature trees just south of the track and the artificial and real grass playing fields. We took more than one reading at many spots, as you can see from the variations in the chart below.
Temperatures ranged from 80 degrees in tall thick grass in partial shade to 157 degrees at the artificial turf field at the running track in full sun. Under the grove of mature trees in the park, it was still hot — 90 to 95 degrees — but cooler than the reported air temperature in the city.
|Soil and asphalt around the flagpole at Corlears Hook Park, full sun
|Magnolia tree trunk by Corlears Hook dog run, shade
|Soil around magnolia tree, shade
|Magnolia leaves above our heads, shade
|Lawn in Corlears Hook Park, full sun
|Plantings along the lawn in Corlears Hook Park, full sun
|Plantings along the lawn in Corlears Hook Park, shade
|Artificial turf playing field in Corlears Hook Park, full sun
|Sidewalk in Corlears Hook, shade
|Asphalt footpath in sun on West Side of F.D.R. Drive to Corlears Hook ferry landing, full sun
|Gray ramp on footbridge over F.D.R. to Corlears Hook ferry landing, full sun
|Yellow stripe on footbridge ramp, full sun
|Concrete path by the ferry landing, full sun
|“Passive” lawn, full sun
|“Passive” lawn, sparse, dappled shade from trees along edges
|Tree trunk at edge of lawn, partial shade
|Dead tree trunk, full sun
|Tall grass at edge of lawn, partial shade
|Construction piles covered in white plastic, full sun
|Track at Sixth Street, East River Park, full sun
|Artificial turf field inside track, full sun
|Asphalt path outside of track, full sun
|Rubber mats in exercise area next to track, shaded
|Trunk of mature trees south of track, shaded
|Ground under trees in the grove, shaded
|Side-by-side playing fields in East River Park at Houston Street, one artificial turf, the other grass:
|Artificial turf field, full sun
|Grass field, brown and dry, full sun
|Green plants along edges of grass field
What can we do now?
Start by demanding all street trees that have been promised to be planted in our neighborhood to be planted this fall. The city is not reliable about keeping promises. The original promise was 1,000 trees for Community Board 3 (the area adjacent to East River Park); yet the city decided Community Board 6 should get half of them. We need every one of those trees and more.
The city promised us extra street trees, in part, to make up for the loss of parkland during the East Side Coastal Resiliency project. Pester your public officials to get those trees planted. It’s a public health necessity.
See the city’s own Heat Mortality Report if you need evidence: https://www1.nyc.gov/site/doh/about/press/pr2022/heat-related-mortality-report.page
And if you want to learn more about the dangers of these crazy temperatures, look at the National Weather Service New York’s Excessive Heat page: https://www.weather.gov/okx/excessiveheat
We also need maintenance for street trees that we already have. You can help directly with that. You can take stewardship training — see http://nycgovparks.org/reg/stewardship — and take care of your block’s trees.
It’s especially important to note that young trees need watering and respect — be gentle, it’s a living thing. Help keep trees from being treated like a toilet, a trash can or a swing, and they will be shading the block and making air cleaner and cooler for decades to come. Every tree, every green space, every community garden could use your help. Your care will help New York City’s “natural air conditioning system.”
And tell the city to CEASE AND DESIST gratuitous tree slaughter. The city promised to keep 42 percent of the park open and usable. Every tree they cut reduces the usable park! This is unacceptable. Raise hell about it!
Get a real-time local reading on the heat, humidity and Particulate Matter 2.5 — small particles that can penetrate deeply into the lung and impair lung function — at https://eastriverparkaction.org/sensors/
UPDATE, AUG. 10, 2022
With air temperatures at 82 to 85 degrees today, we did some additional measuring. In Rector Park in Battery Park City, which has a well-maintained lawn and garden, the grass was 74 degrees in the shade and 94 degrees in the sun. By contrast, in Corlears Hook Park, with a lawn that is dried and patchy, the temperature was 83 degrees in the shade and 132 degrees in the sun.
We also tested green lawns in Battery Park and Wagner Park, yielding similar results: Longer grass and plantings along the edges of the lawns were coolest.
The shaded bike and walkways along the Hudson River were 81 degrees to 86 degrees. The unshaded asphalt path going toward the ferry in Corlears Hook Park was 110 degrees on the same afternoon.
The moral of the story: You get lower temperatures if you keep your lawns green and pair them with plantings and, most of all, with trees that provide shade.
The lesson from this story: If you are a public/private entity put there for privately owned high-end housing (Battery Park City Authority) or if you are a public park with lots of tourists (Battery Park), you get maintenance and lower temperatures. If you are in a low-income neighborhood, you get…bupkus.
Unless you demand better. Demand justice. Get our green spaces and shade. Don’t let city officials continue to leave us hot and hotter.
Sparse shade in the remains of East River Park means that temperatures in the former oasis are dangerously high. We need remedies.
Arnow is a leading member, East River Park ACTION.