Changes in NYC Summers

Summer in New York Cityーin any urban centerーis uncomfortable. It’s sticky and smelly. Kids are out of school, and there seem to be more tourists. Sun bakes the sidewalks and human hair. People are irritable.

Finally, summer also seems to be getting even more unbearably hot. According to a variety of sources, it is. According to Weather Underground, average summer temperatures have been rising in every region since 1970, and in many regions, spring feels like summer.

Whether the spiking temperatures can be attributed to climate change, global warming, or natural fluctuations doesn’t matter to many people when deodorant and air conditioning feel useless. How are people staying cool this summer? Do they think the summers are getting worse?

Florence, aged 73, has lived in New York City all her life. She stated that when she was younger, she didn’t feel the heat as she does now. But she also attributes the change in her perception of temperature to “the atmosphere,” saying that “the cycle of the weather has changed a lot.”

During Florence’s childhood, she recalled, “We didn’t have fans, or air conditioners. It’s relaxed, you know. It didn’t bother us, really. I don’t recall anyone complaining about [the heat]. Maybe my parents did, or my older siblings did, but it didn’t bother me.”

Today, Florence has to have air conditioning, or a fan at the very least, to deal with the “smothering” heat and humidity. Though she doesn’t see this summer as worse than the last, Florence thinks, “You come right out of winter [and] spring comes for a few days, a few weeks, and then, boom. Here comes summer.”

Florence finds that summers are getting longer, with the heat starting in what were traditionally spring months. Michael, who has lived in NYC for 28 years, agrees.

He finds that “it’s getting hotter earlier.” When prompted to elaborate, Michael stated that in his opinion, the hottest and driest part of summer has become July, rather than August. An older man, his advice is to get blinds, carry around a battery-operated fan, walk in the shade and make sure the windows of one’s home face away from the setting sun. He also carries around a wet handkerchief. Today, Michael says, “I usually use the air conditioner more.”

To Michael, the worst of summer in the city are the subway platforms. In his experience, the modern air-conditioned train cars is a “treat,” as one was lucky if the subways of the 20th century had windows that could open. Yet, Michael expects better from the MTA, arguing that sweating commuters deserve air-conditioned platforms. In an 2012 article in Transportation Nation, the NY Metropolitan Transportation Authority addressed that issue: “Unfortunately, air conditioning of subway stations is not feasible due to the open nature of their construction and the impossibility of cooling an infinite space.”

There are many opinions on the use of air conditioners.

Jeff Strong was born and raised in New York City, and has lived in New York on and off for over fifty years. In his childhood, he was frequently at camp during the summers, but today, Jeff stays in the city for work. Working in business has opened his eyes to the sheer wastefulness that air conditioning can be.

According to the New York Times, the temperature set for most offices is based on a 1960s formula that took into account the working office population of the time: middle-aged males wearing formal or business attire. As a result, younger, more lightly dressed, and/or female office workers are chilled by the temperature. Some bring sweaters and heaters to work. To Jeff, it is the height of ridiculousness.

He also takes offense at the open doors of many air-conditioned stores that blast cold air into the streets, even going as far as to close the doors of those guilty stores one in a while. That is not to say Jeff doesn’t appreciate air conditioning. He just advocates that the temperature be set in the 70s rather than the 60s.

Evey, aged 54 years, disagrees. Evey, like Florence, has lived in NYC all her life. She described the summers of the 1960s and 1970s as “beautiful,” saying “the summer was the summer” and “we never [had] these drastic heat waves.” She also stated that she sees the changing temperatures as a result of “[what’s happening] with the ozone layer and all those diesel fuels. Now, she says summers are “stifling” and added “I would definitely say there is less spring and fall.” Her only advice was to dress appropriately and turn up the AC.

It’s clear that when most people try to think of solutions to the heat, their minds immediately go to air conditioners. Ironically, it is the air conditioners that are part of the larger causes of global warming and climate change: the rapid consumption of fuel.

But there seems to be few other solutions. For example, the sight of fire hydrants being illegally tampered with to produce water sprays for desperate children used to be common in low-income communities. Today, fines and greater awareness of the dangers of tampering has curbed this practice. No solution is completely without consequences.

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