S K Y L I N E | The Heat Island We Call Home
NYRA’s tips for cooling down in a hot city
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“New York wiped its perspiring brow yesterday, and frenziedly exclaimed, for the tenth time since the season opened, ‘It’s—hot.’”
— New York Times, July 4, 1879
Last Wednesday, speaking at the site of a former coal plant, President Joe Biden stopped short of declaring a formal “climate emergency” that would give him additional executive powers to address the unfolding catastrophe. While that particular tactic is sure to divide people, we can all agree that it’s—hot.
New York has reached into the high 90s as part of a wider heat wave that is baking the US. City summers have always been hot, sometimes reaching dangerous temperatures, with the victims of heat waves past and present often corresponding to class divisions. “THE THERMOMETER IN THE NINETIES—PROSTRATIONS BY THE HEAT” read a Times headline in July 1879. “HEAT TAKES TOLL OF 124 DEATHS IN NEW YORK CITY” screamed another in the August 2, 1917, edition of the paper. The latter article goes on to explain that “the great majority of the prostrations were of persons at work,” including those employed in factories, department stores, and on transit lines. These New Yorkers did not have the ability to take the day off and escape to the beach, as thousands of others were reported to have done. Although many businesses closed early that day (the Louis K. Liggett Company even gave every employee at its West Fourth Street warehouse $1 to pay their way to a park), masses of people had to endure the blaze all the same.
In the nineteenth century, heat continually plagued the city’s poorest. An 1879 print shows men, women, and children draped across the steps of tenement houses in the Lower East Side in an attempt to survive an especially sweltering night.
Today, heat inequality in places like Queens, Brooklyn, and the Bronx correlates with race and income, as an interactive heat map compiled by the New York City Council Data Team clearly shows. These hotspots, largely in lower-income neighborhoods of color, are covered in dry, impermeable materials like cement, pavement, and roofing that absorb heat and release it back into the air at night.
With things only projected to get worse (by the 2050s, the number of days at or above 90 is expected to double), what are we to do? Air conditioning isn’t going to save us. Not only can it be expensive, it also exacerbates the issue of climate change and can overload the city’s power grid. Further, A/C is an inequitable solution: higher co-morbidities and lower access to cool air follows the same correlation of race and income.
We know we have to build differently. The city’s Climate Resiliency Design Guidelines suggest that capital construction projects should devote half of project sites to shade or vegetation, as well as incorporate passive solar cooling and ventilation, among other design interventions. The 2016 Cool Neighborhoods report also lists tree planting, cool roofs, cool pavements, and green infrastructure as ways of mitigating the effects of ever-hotter summers.
Perhaps we might return to methods New Yorkers have traditionally used to cope with extreme heat. Not only did urbanites of old flock to the city’s eastern beaches, they also took advantage of newly landscaped parks. The author of a Times article from 1860 described Central Park’s “cool and shady” Ramble as a “grateful retreat to the weary citizens.” A 1978 article praised extendable, shade-creating awnings for their “formidable” energy-saving potential.
We need to think about how to revamp these erstwhile ways of cooling down and make them available to all of the populace. The solution is not just to build a few cooler buildings or paint some sidewalks white, but to recognize and mend the structural inequalities built into the fabric of New York’s neighborhoods. Restructuring the city to be one that is less defined by its inequalities across all areas, including transportation and park access, is essential to creating a more equitable urban environment.
For now, the emergency management department is currently overseeing 550 cooling centers across the city, a map of which you can find here. In that spirit of keeping cool, NYRA asked writers to send in some of their favorite places in the city to escape stifling temperatures. From Manhattan to Brooklyn, these public parks and institutions offer respite and delight in equal measure.
– Anna Talley
NYRA’s COOL TIPS FOR A HOT SUMMER
Brooklyn Public Library Central Branch, 10 Grand Army Plaza
Walking down the recently unveiled staircases in the lobby of the central branch of the Brooklyn Public Library, I noticed several sloppy finishes that suggested the ongoing renovations had been done on a skimpy budget and comprise a series of missed opportunities: for a skylight, a stately balustrade, a decorative tile floor.
However, one opportunity that wasn’t missed is the delightful outpost of Emma’s Torch, a popular Carroll Gardens eatery that opened in late 2018. Conveniently located in the library’s atrium, this most amenable cafe serves coffee, pastries, and simple, affordable lunches. It’s a well-functioning public space, with humble vibes, nice bathrooms, people watching, and institutional wifi. There’s joy in that.
– Maddy Bruster
The Hippo Playground
91st Street at Riverside Drive
When the hot weather is absolutely brutal, my kid and I head to the 91st Street Hippo Playground in Riverside Park. There, neighborhood youths take refuge from the thick summer heat while they frolic with a family of fiberglass hippopotamuses and other creatures. Nestled at the foot of a hill and crowned by a canopy of honey locust trees, The Hippo, as we call it, offers a joyful respite from the city’s unrelenting swelter. Bucolic yet boisterous, the playground’s gurgling springs draw in children and caregivers alike. On a good day, maybe 150 people will fill the space, their laughter and gentle gossip ricocheting off the forest floor. Birds stop to rinse themselves in the water, squirrels rummage through tote bags; everyone has a good time. Dappled sunlight falls through the leaves of the trees overhead as kids industriously pour water into and out of buckets while others run and chase new friends across the different play areas. In a far-off muddy corner, intrepid explorers lift the rubber flooring in search of worms. If a summer thunderstorm cycled through the night before, the sand pit becomes a giant wading pool as the bravest jump feet-first in an attempt to make the biggest splash.
If nothing else, the social energy of the playground distracts us from the heat, creating a veritable pause in time, a brief moment where summer feels like it can last, blissfully, forever. That is, until another storm cloud begins to brew and everyone runs for cover.
– Antonio Pacheco
Fort Greene Park Fountain
Myrtle Ave., De Kalb Ave. bet. Washington Park and St. Edward’s St.
As soon as I stepped out on my regular Saturday trip to the Fort Greene Park Farmers Market, I sensed the climbing mercury as though it had turned into sweat droplets. While chasing the shade on Myrtle Avenue en route to the park, I stumbled upon a group of children who were soaking wet. The compass-shaped fountain that I walk past every day to work was unexpectedly spouting water from all directions. Circling the fountain, kids filled red, yellow, and blue balloons before taking aim at one another. To my delight, a slight breeze carried mist across the space, and I can’t recall if it was tears of relief rolling down my cheeks—or actual sweat.
– Ekam Singh
EYES ON SKYLINE
Readers of Skyline 77 were struck by the death of Dezeen founder Marcus Fairs.
IN THE NEWS
On Wednesday, Saudi Arabia released renderings of The Line, a 106-mile-long superstructure that will cut across the country’s northern region and link the inland desert to the Red Sea. Purportedly designed by Los Angeles firm Morphosis, The Line will house nine million people, run on clean energy, and be powered by AI. The mirrored megastructure (estimated to cost $1 trillion) is only one part of Mohammed bin Salman’s greater Neom project, a futuristic city meant to usher in a less oil-reliant future for the monarchic country. There isn’t much more to say about the complacency of those architects in bin Salman’s pocket that critic Justin Davidson didn’t cover in his eloquently argued column on the subject. Neom’s realization appears contingent on slaverylike work conditions and the forced relocation of some 20,000 people, but why should its designers let that get in the way of creating something really f%&*#n’ sick??
While we’re on the topic of computer-generated futures, I’m sure we’ve all had our fun with Craiyon, a janky AI image generator that transforms “natural language” prompts into surrealistic pictures. However, if you’ve had the opportunity to test out DALL-E (or the forthcoming DALL-E 2), you’ll see the technology’s potential is so much greater than, say, putting celebrities into goofy situations. DALL-E can actually envision a different, arguably better, designed world than the one we currently inhabit. On Twitter, artist and safe-streets advocate Zach Katz (@betterstreetsAI) tests the technology’s power to reimagine urban environments. It’s not a stretch to see how his experiments could portend the full-scale adoption of DALL-E or a similar tool into designers’ visioning of projects. My fear is that integrating AI into every aspect of the design process—from visioning to ideation to construction—will inevitably create a positive feedback loop of parametric, monochromatic buildings covering the globe. Or, maybe that’s what the people want. AI will simply give it to us in a clean and quickly rendered package.
What else is going on?
NYRA announced that Samuel Medina, a former executive editor of The Architect’s Newspaper, will take over as editor…
…speaking of, The Architect’s Newspaper named the winners of its 2022 Best of Practice Awards…
…the High Line revealed new renderings of the Moynihan Train Hall Connector, slated for completion in Spring 2023…
…Harriet Harriss steps down as the dean of Pratt’s School of Architecture…
…the Architects Climate Action Network accused RIBA of shortlisting projects that “promote architecture that pollutes the planet” for this year’s Stirling Prize...
…speaking of, the Architect’s Newspaper named the winners of its 2022 Best of Practice Awards…
…Real Review announced the launch of the Real Review Community, which you can join by contributing to the magazine’s Kickstarter campaign.
– Anna Gibertini
The Right to Housing: Collaborations in Design, Finance, and Local Policy with Emily Roush-Elliott, Lindsey Slay Williams, Greg Hettrick
12 PM | AIA Housing and Community Development Knowledge Community
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