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Visualizing How New York City Heats Up In The Summertime

There’s something about the sticky, humid (and smelly) heat in cities that makes people want to run for the hills. Using a thermal camera, these graphics explain how a city gets hot and stays hot.

If you find the summer heat hard to take, cities are the worst places to be. Studies show that urban spaces can be up to three degrees hotter than surrounding areas. That’s because of the “heat island effect”–which is what you get from paving every available surface with heat-absorbing asphalt and concrete.

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We’ve featured some of the work of artist-researcher Nickolay Lamm before (for example, these epic visualizations of New York’s inequality problem). Here, he turns his attention to New York’s heat.


Lamm snapped these images with a thermal camera on a five-hour whirlwind trip from Pittsburgh (which he talks about here). He teamed up with John Frederick, a heat island expert at the University of Chicago, who explained exactly why some parts of the city are hotter than others (see the slide show for more information on that).

All this heat we’re trapping isn’t merely an uncomfortable inconvenience. Each extra degree adds to air conditioning bills and increases energy consumption; it also raises health risks for the elderly and vulnerable. Painting more roofs white would help, as would more trees. Cities should also think about new colors for pavements, as we discussed here.

About the author

Ben Schiller is a New York staff writer for Fast Company. Previously, he edited a European management magazine and was a reporter in San Francisco, Prague, and Brussels.

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