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The Natural Solution To Extreme Heat

Dominic Hall-Thomas

CRISTINA MACAYA, HOST:  Now onto climate news. According to a report from the Adams Administration, extreme heat is the biggest threat to human life in New York City as a result of climate change. That same report laid out exactly how the city planned to tackle it. Including a long-term climate goal which aims to cover 30% of the city in the cooling shade of tree canopies. 

MARINE SAINT, HOST: That report was released in spring 2023, so one year on, how much progress has been made? Dominic Hall-Thomas takes us on a stroll through Central Park to find out. 

DOMINIC HALL-THOMAS: What kind of trees are we looking at? Is it a bit of a mixture?

EMILY WALKER: It's a mix of, um, oaks , black cherry trees. You can see there’s a pathway that leads you down to a forest. 

HALL-THOMAS: This is Emily Walker, she works for ​​Natural Areas Conservancy.

WALKER: Most of what you see is just canopy. It looks a little bit fallow at the moment because it’s just starting to come back springing into life. 


HALL-THOMAS: The ground is carpeted with little yellow flowers, the trees have buds with emerald green tips, and a small stream flows between the tree trunks. And it’s lucky that the trees here are springing into life, because the weather and the city is about to start heating up.The tree canopies provide shade so in the summer, parks like this remain much much cooler than the surrounding city. 

WALKER: I think there was a 13 degree difference. 

HALL-THOMAS: 13 degrees! 

WALKER: Which is a lot if it's, you know, 95 degrees outside and you’re out on the street. 

HALL-THOMAS: And that’s why Mayor Adams made tree coverage so central to the city’s plans to tackle extreme heat. The parks department says last year they planted over 15,000 trees. But how close does that get them to their 30% goal? Well, right now-

WALKER: The canopy coverage for the five boroughs is at 22 percent so we have 8 percent to go

HALL-THOMAS: It doesn’t actually sound like that much 

WALKER: It doesn’t sound like that much but when you think about the context in which we have the ability to add trees or increase canopy it’s actually a pretty significant lift. 

HALL-THOMAS: Which means at this rate, it would take nearly three decades to hit that target. 

In the meantime, built up areas get the hottest during the summer when concrete absorbs summer heat. Problem areas like Harlem and the Bronx, have very little tree coverage and a high density of buildings. 

And you can’t just dig into the sidewalk. There’s power lines, gas mains, and of course the subway to contend with. 

And on top of that, trees are expensive. It costs an estimated $3500 to plant and maintain one tree according to the parks department. They need regular watering for two years, which the budget doesn’t fully cover. 

So, who is left to do the job?

On Frederick Douglass Boulevard, in Harlem, the street is lined with a few small trees but no behemoths to provide substantial shade. So I asked residents, if the city asked you to water a young tree- 

HALL-THOMAS: Would you do it? 

DANIEL MCGRATH: Hell no! That’s what the rain water’s for. I have a life. 

CHRISTOPHER JOHNSON: No (laughs). Not because I don’t love trees, but I'm like, I'm sorry, my time is money. 

SELENA JOHNSON: No I would not. The idea of it would be nice. But actually maintaining it would be a freaking headache. 

Hall-Thomas: Daniel McGrath, Christopher Williams, and Selena Johnson all say they would appreciate more trees, but not enough to take care of them without pay.

I reached out to the city’s climate office to ask how they plan to fund the rest of the project and how long it would take, but they didn’t respond in time for air. 

According to last year's report the parks department wants to promote the preservation of existing trees and to plant another 15,000 trees next year.

Now, they just have to figure out who will water them. 

For Columbia Radio News, I'm Dominic Hall-Thomas. 

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