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August 01, 2006

Cooling centers haven for vulnerable New Yorkers

Solitaire, originally uploaded by Lindsay Beyerstein.

Today, Mayor Michael Bloomberg declared New York City's first heat emergency.

Temperatures are expected to exceed 100 degrees today and tomorrow with high humidity. The City is opening over 700 cooling centers around New York as part of its emergency response plan.

This afternoon, I decided to stop by my local cooling center in Wyckoff Gardens to chat with some of my neighbors battling the stifling heat.

Adelaide Miranda, Director to the Senior's Center, explained that the facility normally serves the elderly. However, during the heat wave, the facility is also open to the public from four o'clock onwards. Miranda expects that the center will be open until eleven o'clock tonight and tomorrow. She estimates that the facility has been serving about 30-40 people each day since temperatures soared on Friday.

The cooling center is a gymnasium with card tables and chairs. When I arrived, slightly before four, there were about 12 seniors playing cards and chatting.

Elena Batista took a break from her solitaire game to answer my questions. She calls the cooling center "beautiful" and stressed how important it is for her to have a cool place to go.

Josephine, a retired social worker, echoed Elena's sentiments. Josephine said that without a cool place to go, she and her neighbors without air conditioning would be in serious danger.

"We need this place," she said, "We're like a family here."

Elena nodded.


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That's a great and necessary thing; Bloomberg is obviously smarter than Schwarzenegger. We had 141 heat-related deaths in California, nearly all of them elderly people living alone, most of them preventable if we had had something like this.

100 degrees plus East Coast humidity; good christ! Go back there with a couple big jugs of lemonade.

Well done, Lindsay...well done. A friend of my sister's is helping out at the Stuyvesant Gardens Center on Malcolm X Boulevard in Bed-Stuy. The topic of discussion amongst the volunteers is mainly the prevention of something like the horrific loss of lives in Chicago a few years back during a heat wave where hundreds of elderly people died needlessly. It is a serious concern and I'm glad to see you highlighting it here. Again, well done,

And yes...I'm a long time reader, first-time poster. You'll see more of me here in the future.


Thanks, LM! I look forward to reading your comments.

I'm glad to see that this is being done.

To be fair, most of the deaths in California were in the Central Valley, where the population is nowhere near as dense as in New York. It's much harder to make something like this work when you have a dispersed population. More could have been done, but except in Sacramento or other larger cities, cooling centers alone wouldn't have helped much. (I was really glad that my sister-in-law and 2-year-old niece, who live in Merced, happened to be in another hemisphere during the heat wave.)

It strikes me that the planning for heat waves that is being implemented now is a direct effect of Eric Klinenberg's book on the Chicago heat wave of 1995. It got a surprising amount of attention when it was published, especially considering that it was his sociology PhD dissertation! I've heard him interviewed on the radio about five times in the last couple of weeks.

Last night our power in Arlington, VA went out for several hours. I'd never actually been so hot that I was nauseated before... I hate to imagine how it was for any infants or older people in our building.

To be fair, most of the deaths in California were in the Central Valley, where the population is nowhere near as dense as in New York. It's much harder to make something like this work when you have a dispersed population.

Fair point. I don't know how many of the dead were in rural areas. Then again, the Central Valley isn't nearly as rural as it used to be. I know a lot of the casualties were in the cities or suburbs (the Chron article talked about two men who died in neighboring apartments in downtown Modesto), and I think most of those were preventable.

On painfully hot and humid days like this, there will be a certain number of people without a/c that will take a long subway ride somewhere just to take advantage of the air conditioning.

Good for Mayor Mike for opening these cooling centers

Yes, credit where credit is due.

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