Guest Columnist Oliver Kellhammer: Affordable, accessible green streets are achievable

  • Temperature taken in the shade on June 28. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

  • Temperature taken in the sun on June 28.

Published: 7/6/2021 8:11:15 PM

The city is planning to cut down seven mature Japanese cherry trees on Warfield Place as part of a road repaving project. We learned of the decision when notices were taped to our doors in April. We were given no opportunity for meaningful input. In a meeting with the mayor, he told us that these decisions are data-driven and made by algorithm.

Since vital social and ecological concerns fall outside his data set, we decided to collect our own data.

The city plans to repave using asphalt, a petrochemical compound known to release hazardous pollutants under hot temperature conditions. Using an infrared thermometer, we’ve been measuring the ground temperatures of the existing asphalt sidewalk shaded by the cherry trees.

On June 21 at 10 a.m., during the first heat wave of the summer, the ground temperature of the asphalt under the cherry trees was 76° F. The temperature of the unshaded pavement was 105° F.

On June 28 at 1 p.m., during the second heat wave, the temperature under the cherry trees was 85° F. The temperature of the unshaded pavement was 139° F. That’s a difference of 54° F.

Temperatures of 131° F cause second-degree burns in human skin in a matter of seconds.

At particular risk are children, the elderly, people with impaired mobility, and people who rely on service dogs, whose paws come in contact with hot asphalt.

Additionally, unshaded asphalt creates a heat-island effect, leading to heat exhaustion and heat-related illnesses that can be fatal.

In Northampton’s Climate Action Plan, the city committed to:

■ “Bringing climate resilience … into the conversation on every significant city action.”

■ “Retaining trees, especially street trees …”

■ “A planning process that’s inclusive of everyone in the community.”

■ “Become a more resilient city to address the climate change that is coming.”

The repaving plan violates every one of these commitments.

Climate change is here. Affordable, accessible green streets are achievable. If the mayor thwarts our efforts to fight global warming on our own block, how can we hope to solve the larger climate problems we face as a city, never mind as a planet?

Oliver Kellhammer is an assistant professor of sustainable systems at the Parsons/The New School.
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