Public Parks and Climate Change

Climate change is here, and Syracuse is already feeling it. The last several summers have been some of the hottest on record, and new weather patterns are scrambling all our seasons. We need to do everything we can to stop climate change, of course—driving less, greening the grid—but in the meantime we also have to mitigate the negative effects of climate change that are already here. City parks are some of our best tools to do that. 

In a map of average temperature variation across the City, parks pop out as islands of cool. They are 10 to 20 degrees cooler than the rest of the city on average. This is because of their ample tree cover and the lack of heat retaining buildings, and it’s a big part of why people flock to parks in June, July, and August. In a town built for harsh winters where many houses have never had air conditioning, parks offer a respite in increasingly hot summers.

Public pools are a super-charged version of this same phenomenon. Many families and children build their summers around the public pool because it’s a fun, safe, affordable, guaranteed way to beat the heat. That’s why kids were so insistent that City Hall find a way to open up the pools last summer—we had a historically hot summer and there wasn’t anything else to do.

Climate change isn’t just about rising temperatures—it will also cause more rainfall. Parks can act as ‘green infrastructure’ that protects neighborhoods from flooding. On the Eastside, the Barry Park Detention Basin is a constructed wetland designed to keep Meadowbrook from flooding, and it’s worked. City Hall should construct a similar pond along Onondaga Creek to minimize flooding there too. And as an added bonus, people actually like living near Barry Park pond.

This is all wrapped up with racial segregation and economic inequality. Homes in richer whiter census tracts and more likely to have private backyard pools than homes in poorer blacker neighborhoods. Barry Park protects home values in a richer whiter area while the lack of similar protection has made it impossible to build wealth through homeownership in a poorer blacker neighborhood. This is environmental racism, It’s up to City Hall to combat it.

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Parks are not just amenities. In the 21st century, in a warming world, they are necessary community infrastructure. It’s time we started acting like it.