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Cool Neighborhoods

The city of New York launched a special program to resolve the climatic diversity of the various areas of the city

The heat is even more dangerous than the cold and can possibly lead to death, particularly for the elderly, sick, and those facing poverty, and climate change will make this threat a true emergency, even in countries with a temperate climate. The American National Weather Service (NOAA) estimates that, in the period between 2006 and 2015, heat was the leading cause of death related to weather conditions for Americans. During that period, summertime heat waves killed 1,130 Americans: more than tornadoes (1,101), floods (842), strong winds (559) and the cold (317). In fact, if it's cold you can cover up, but if it's too hot? The disastrous wildfires that occurred at the end of the summer this year, especially in California, illustrate, according to various observers, how climate change will increasingly affect our lives and how heat - with drought, for example, in the case of California - is one of the foremost enemies due to its possible effects, not only for people, but also the surrounding environment.

New York is one of the hottest cities in America. The Big Apple has alarming rates for the effects of heat waves that strike, turning the city into an oven. For this reason, in 2017 the city of New York launched a special long-term program that seeks to resolve a complicated situation, including due to the climatic diversity of the various areas of the city: some are facing the ocean, others are close to a park, instead others are sealed in cement.

Perhaps one year is not enough to evaluate the effects of the plan launched by the Mayor's Office of Recovery and Resiliency (ORR) last summer. But Cool Neighbourhoods NYC looks like a good start. It is a new program, with a budget of USD 106 million, designed to help keep residents safe during the summer and to mitigate the worst effects of humidity. It is a decision that expands the administration's climate resilience agenda and ranges from investments to increase areas with shade and vegetation to canopies that increase the surface area of covered spaces, both public and private. Focus was given to the decision to help reduce surface and internal temperatures in New York neighbourhoods with high vulnerability to heat-related illness and mortality. Moreover, a key element is better data collection and monitoring to understand what works best and an effort to deliver targeted health protection messages and to encourage all new residents - especially the elderly, those who are home-bound, and those in poor health - urging them to take action to protect themselves and their neighbours.

Each year, excessively hot summers cause dehydration, heat exhaustion and heat stroke: effects that are particularly dangerous for both older adults and the most vulnerable segments of the population. As explained in a report drawn up by the Mayor's Office, extreme heat kills more New Yorkers than any other extreme weather event: it resulted in an average of 450 visits to emergency rooms, 150 hospital admissions, 13 deaths due to heat stroke and 115 deaths due to natural causes exacerbated by extreme heat. The New York City Panel on Climate Change (NPPC) predicts that by 2050, there will be an increase in average temperatures in the city and the number of days that exceed the tolerability threshold will double. In summary, heat waves in this American metropolis will increase in intensity and duration.

The Cool Neighbourhoods program is seeking to expand current heat reduction efforts in the city (such as the NYC ° CoolRoofs), add new initiatives (such as Be a Buddy NYC), and offer climate risk training courses for home healthcare workers. The program also collaborates with healthcare departments and other administrative departments of the State of New York to support the expansion of the Home Energy Assistance Program (HEAP) to help families in need pay their energy bills for operating air conditioners.

As part of Cool Neighbourhoods, the city announced a USD 82 million effort to fund the planting of trees along streets in the South Bronx, northern Manhattan, and Central Brooklyn: areas identified as particularly vulnerable to health risks. The Big Apple has made USD 16 million available for plantings in parks and another USD 7 million to support the restoration of wooded areas in five districts. 

“Climate change is a dagger aimed at the heart of our city, and extreme heat is the edge of the knife,” said Bill de Blasio, the 109th mayor of New York. “This is a question of fairness: hotter summers, exacerbated by climate change, are a threat that falls disproportionately on communities of colour and the elderly. We are responding to this challenge with programs designed to protect the health of New Yorkers, expand covered areas in our city, promote community cohesiveness, and more”. “A challenge,” added the mayor, that “also supports our efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 80% by 2050”.

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