In another indication of the close connection between housing policy and climate change, a new interactive map representing street-by-street heat exposure in New York City demonstrates that low-income neighborhoods bear the highest “heat burdens.” The map, which covers northern Manhattan and the South Bronx, represents ambient temperature (that is, the temperature as felt by humans) as opposed to ground temperature (the measure typically used in similar studies). Volunteers collected data by recording temperatures along the streets with sensors. Upon examining the resulting data, researchers found that heat is distributed unequally around the city. In the South Bronx, one of the poorest areas of NYC, the temperature was found to be 8 degrees Fahrenheit (4.5 degrees Celsius) hotter than in the Upper West and Upper East Sides, much wealthier neighborhoods located just a few miles away.
Heat disparities, coupled with bad air quality and inadequate access to air conditioning, increase the likelihood of heat strokes and deaths. Every year, there are on average 370 heat-related deaths in New York City, with particularly high numbers of heat-related deaths in the Bronx. The high ambient temperatures in the South Bronx are matched by high temperatures inside apartment buildings, which are on average 90 years old in the neighborhood. In such an aged, energy-inefficient housing stock, outdoor air can easily infiltrate the indoors, and indoor air can quickly escape to the outside, making temperature control within buildings difficult.
The spatial disparities in ambient temperatures in NYC are linked to a long history of discrimination and redlining, which have prevented people of color and low-income people from accessing higher-opportunity neighborhoods with more trees, green spaces, and resources.
Explore the new interactive map here.