Extreme heat events are increasing in frequency, severity, and duration in New York City. There are a number of negative health impacts from extreme heat, including heat stress, dehydration, dizziness, and fainting. These impacts can lead to hospitalization, worsening of chronic conditions such as cardiovascular and respiratory diseases, and can even lead to death. Vulnerable populations such as older adults are most at risk. And, the burden of extreme heat events is disparately borne by low-income neighborhoods and neighborhoods of color.
To plan for extreme heat events, New York City has implemented the Cooling Center Program. On declared heat emergency days, the city will open spaces for the public to seek air conditioning that is accessible and free to all. Sites include public libraries, community centers, senior centers, and more. The Cooling Center Program is important for advancing equity by supporting those who are most vulnerable to extremely hot days. However, WE ACT’s Climate Justice Working Group found a lot of problems with these sites last summer. We held workshops to develop recommendations to provide better cooling spaces for low-income populations in New York City:
Increased consistency across Cooling Center sites, establishing a more comprehensive criteria that all sites have to meet in order to become Cooling Centers, and the criteria must be evaluated by a set date.
Signage with information and availability was chronically lacking across sites. Spreading information about the site location and features to the public is key for utilization, so there should be strict guidelines about wayfinding and communications across the city.
Staff communication and training is key. Staff members must be informed that their site is a Cooling Center. And, they must be able to identify signs of heat stress in site visitors.
Quality and conditions of sites must be improved. Sites should have extended hours of operation, create welcoming atmosphere with programming, utilize more spaces as Cooling Centers, and surveys should be conducted with the public to assess which spaces are preferred.
Read our 2020 New York City Cooling Center Report (PDF) to see the recommendations based off our audit of Northern Manhattan cooling centers. And when they are open (due to an extreme heat event), you can find your nearest New York City Cooling Center here.
WE ACT and our members are working to advance and improve Intro 1563, a bill designed to improve New York City’s Cooling Centers. We are asking the New York City Council’s Committee on Health to hold a hearing on Cooling Centers before the summer’s heatwaves arrive.