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Opinion: Hot news — clear-cut East River Park is boiling!

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.

The area around the Corlears Hook Park flagpole, top, which has been denuded of foliage for the East Side Coastal Resiliency project, showed significantly higher temperatures than parts of Corlers Hook Park that were in shade, above. (Photos by Pat Arnow)

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.

A squirrel rests at the base of a tree in the grove that provides shade to the exercise area beyond. (Photo by Pat Arnow)
The trunk of the magnolia was 90 degrees on the 97-degree afternoon. (Photo by Pat Arnow)
Plantings in the sun ranged from 90 to 106 degrees but 87 to 93 degrees when shaded by trees. (Photo by Pat Arnow)
The only park space south of Houston Street along the East River is this brown, dry, sunny “passive lawn.” Temperatures ranged from 95 to 99 degrees. (Photo by Pat Arnow)
These two guys from the LES Sports Academy had cooled off in a spray fountain and were heading for some shade in Corlears Hook Park. (Photo by Pat Arnow)
The unshaded track at Sixth Street was 151 degrees. No one was on it. (Photo by Pat Arnow)
People in the park favored shade for exercising and relaxing. (Photo by Pat Arnow)
Temperature Location
122º Soil and asphalt around the flagpole at Corlears Hook Park, full sun
90º Magnolia tree trunk by Corlears Hook dog run, shade
90-92º Soil around magnolia tree, shade
95º Magnolia leaves above our heads, shade
127º Lawn in Corlears Hook Park, full sun
114º Plantings along the lawn in Corlears Hook Park, full sun
87º Plantings along the lawn in Corlears Hook Park, shade
145º Artificial turf playing field in Corlears Hook Park, full sun
93º Sidewalk in Corlears Hook, shade
132º Asphalt footpath in sun on West Side of F.D.R. Drive to Corlears Hook ferry landing, full sun
115-137º Gray ramp on footbridge over F.D.R. to Corlears Hook ferry landing, full sun
104º Yellow stripe on footbridge ramp, full sun
99º Concrete path by the ferry landing, full sun
95-99º “Passive” lawn, full sun
85-93º “Passive” lawn, sparse, dappled shade from trees along edges
84º Tree trunk at edge of lawn, partial shade
87º Dead tree trunk, full sun
80º Tall grass at edge of lawn, partial shade
103º Construction piles covered in white plastic, full sun
151º Track at Sixth Street, East River Park, full sun
157º Artificial turf field inside track, full sun
131º Asphalt path outside of track, full sun
133º Rubber mats in exercise area next to track, shaded
95º Trunk of mature trees south of track, shaded
95-99º 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:
118º Artificial turf field, full sun
108º Grass field, brown and dry, full sun
87º Green plants along edges of grass field

What can we do now?

STREET TREES

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.”

STOP CUTTING!

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.

3 Comments

  1. Dr. Amy Berkov Dr. Amy Berkov September 11, 2022

    Plants lower temperatures, and not only by creating shade. Their roots draw water out of soil. The water is pulled up through the plant and released into the atmosphere, through the leaves, as vapor. This process (transpiration) has a cooling effect — similar to our production of sweat. Plants not only lower energy costs, but maintain the global water cycle. Clear-cut rain forests can be transformed into deserts. In our urban environments, mature trees have extensive root systems and canopies, and provide a multitude of ecosystem services that are not replaced by saplings.

  2. Carol from East 5th Street Carol from East 5th Street September 11, 2022

    PLEASE! Send this study to Eric Adams and Carlina Rivera. What a disgrace and so very sad. Feeble actions like planting new trees in a few years (no matter how many) don’t come anywhere near to making an impact on our air quality and overall quality of life NOW.

  3. Barbara C. Barbara C. September 11, 2022

    Right on and bless you our women Eco-Warriors. Not listening to you and our other experts caused you-know-who to be dethroned.
    On election day/days CD 10 Voters when asked who they were voting for, first responded with, “I know who I’m NOT voting for!” They weighed their choices very carefully & scientifically, Unlike the city’s choice to rape our coast with their #BadPlan.
    Mr. Goldman, here is a very sage comment about the difference between the way BPC & LES are treated.
    It’s a shame that our neighborhoods and boroughs were slammed together into an uncomfortable non-community, But the people have spoken, so please listen to the scientists and the sage activists who were ignored, and now we all pay the price.

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