Tag Archives: NYC

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.

New York City Is Over Weight

On September 20, 2011 the mayor of the City of New York (NYC), the Hon. Michael Bloomberg (the Mayor) addressed the General Assembly of the United Nations. The Mayor spoke about the urgent need to solve the world crisis in non-communicable diseases. In his 12 minute address to General Assembly the Mayor argued that governments are in a unique position to stem this public health crisis. By enacting laws and implementing appropriate policies, governments could make the social default good health and not neglected health. Governments should pursue policies and laws that eliminate the unhealthy eating practices of its citizens. Though Mayor Bloomberg is a zealot for the improvement of public health he is right about the role governments should play in this effort.

In support of his arguments the Mayor cited NYC’s pro-active stance towards public health. He talked about NYC’s enactment of laws that banned cigarette smoking in restaurants, bars and on City owned property. Mayor Bloomberg also mentioned that the excise tax that the City of New York imposes on a pack of cigarettes raises the price of a pack to the highest in the United States.

Mayor Bloomberg also talked about the fact that NYC was the first municipality to ban the use of Trans Fats in restaurant cooking. Simplistically stated; Trans Fats are chemically modified food ingredients that raise the level of a particularly unhealthy form of cholesterol. Over the years we have become accustomed to the use of these fats in the preparation of fast foods. Who has not eaten McDonalds French fries or Kentucky Fried Chicken?

I do not always agree with the Mayor’s view on politics or economics. On the issue of governments’ participation in the improvement of public health I agree with the Mayor’s position.

There are no good health benefits that can be derived from smoking. Every year hundreds of thousands of people around the world die from diseases caused by smoking. Tobacco smoking increases the risk of stroke and heart disease. Smokers are more likely to suffer from pulmonary and blood vessel diseases. The ill effects of smoking are well documented. Mayor Bloomberg correctly insists that governments should lead the charge to end smoking.

NYC took bold and decisive action on December 30, 2002 when it banned smoking in
restaurants, bars and most work spaces. At the time the ban became  law, owners of the targeted establishments argued that the new law would dramatically  increase the costs of doing business. These doom slayers were ultimately proven  wrong once the data could be collected and analyzed. The smoking ban has not  had a negative impact on business operations. New York State enacted a comprehensive  legislation which banned smoking. The newly enacted state law left intact NYC’s law but modified and eliminated some of the exceptions. Many national and foreign jurisdictions have enacted laws modeled on NYC’s smoking ban law.

After a contentious debate about civil liberties versus the police power of the state, the New York City Council on February 2, 2011 passed a second law prohibiting smoking on the City’s beaches and in its parks. Council members voted overwhelmingly in favor of this ban. Speaker of the Council, Christine Quinn Cristina Quinn, believed that the new law was a victory for non-smokers rights. Supposedly this further ban was passed to protect New Yorkers from the harmful effects of second-hand smoke. Beaches and parks attract visitors who want to feel a cool breeze on their faces and to breathe some “fresh air.” Consequently secondary smoke, if any, should dissipate in open space before it bothers anyone.  Exposure to secondary smoke in enclosed spaces can create health problems but not at beaches or parks.

There have been no successful legal challenges to the City’s power to enact laws that ban  smoking or eliminate the use of Trans Fats in foods.

Statistics indicated that during the last 10 years almost 500,000 New Yorkers quit
Officials assert that this drastic reduction in smoking is due to the City’s graphic anti-smoking ads and the ban on public smoking. This is the official line but it cannot be the reason for the drop in smoking. The majority of the people who have quit the habit have done so due to the high cost of cigarettes. Regardless of the reason people are smoking less the total cost of treating smoke related illnesses has  fallen every year. In my opinion Mayor Bloomberg was correct in his address to the General Assembly when he stressed that the economics favored governments using their power to cut the number of smokers.