A False Oasis in a Sea of Cement

If you have not yet heard the weather figures for the past month are in; July’s awful heat broke the 1930s dust bowl record. The U.S. records for weather extremes are based upon precise calculations for drought, heavy rainfall, unusual temperatures, and storms. July’s average temperature was 77.6 degrees. This average temperature eclipsed the old record by .2 degrees according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. From my point of view if you live in New York City (NYC) or another large urban area – such as Chicago – every day in July was uncomfortably hot. The challenge we faced was to find some respite from the heat while not investing our life’s savings into the effort.

New Yorkers used a variety of tactics to combat July’s heat. Much to the dismay of energy company managers some people constantly ran their home air conditioners even when they were not home. This tactic stressed the local power grid almost to the point of breaking. During lunch time many workers opted to order their food and ate in to take advantage of their air-conditioned offices. Not many people were strolling around in the heat in search of that perfect lunch.

Complaints about City’s mass transit system seemed to fritter away in the oppressive heat. Many people decided to forego the fast-moving and expensive cabs for the trains and buses that offered cheap and plentiful air conditioning. If there was no rush to get some place fast mass transit was the preferred method of travel.  Riders never like delays in mass transit service. However, as long as the air conditioning was pumping out cool air any short delay was more than manageable. July was just that hot.

The more fortunate or, perhaps,  adventurous New Yorkers frequented the City’s beaches or travelled to rural parts of the State. During the summer months urban areas become islands of heat. In the evening legions of city New York apartment dwellers exited their hot and stuffy apartments to set up temporary residence in front of their buildings. Fire hydrants remained open and in use by kids at all hours of the day. Despite the heat the mood seemed festive.

NYC has a resource that some citizens failed to fully take advantage of in their quest for relief from July’s heat; its many public parks. In a desert of concrete, mental and glass the many lush and expansive parks offer a respite not only from the heat but from the stress of everyday life. The parks also play a role in managing the mostly negative consequences of urban heat island effect. Park vegetation moderates higher urban temperatures through shading and evapotranspiration. Larger parks enhance local wind patterns through the park breeze which spreads cooler park air to adjacent neighborhoods. It has been documented that the urban heat island effect adversely affects weather patterns. NYC parks mitigate local precipitation abnormalities. Studies have shown that the vegetation in parks helps reduce the air-borne pollutants that urban areas produce. The parks serve everyone’s interests.

I have not met a person, New Yorker or foreigner that has not heard of Central Park. If you are from Queens you probably spent time in Flushing Meadows Park. Brooklyn has its Prospect Park while the Bronx has The Bronx Zoo. All of the NYC boroughs have their own botanical gardens.

New York City Park Advocates (NYCPA) is a not-for-profit advocacy watch dog organization that supports the city’s parks and open spaces. NYCPA on their website correctly states the importance of parks and opens spaces for New Yorkers;

“Parks, open spaces and public recreation programs play an important role in both the physical and mental health of New Yorkers.”

All year round the City’s parks offer a wide variety of sporting and relaxing activities, including by not limited to, swimming, bike riding, tennis, all team sports, playgrounds  and nature walks. Properly maintaining so many parks is a herculean task. NYCPA is always standing ready to advocate on behalf of the public and the parks. The watchdog group constantly pressures the City to provide adequate security at its parks. In 2011 the crime rate in the parks had dropped, therefore, the City relaxed on providing security at all of its parks. The larger parks usually  have a permanent police or security presence. Yet, many of the smaller parks that only serve the immediate neighborhood are the ones that require greater security. This year crime in the City’s parks has increased.

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