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Morning Spew

Counting Trees and Smog on a Tuesday

A new tool puts the inequality of our built environment on full display, and other links.

9:30 AM EDT on October 18, 2022

A boat in New York Harbor on Sunday, October 16th, 2022. (Hell Gate)

New York City is a land of deep inequity, with neighborhoods bounded by industrial areas long since abandoned, or highways and boulevards built only to jettison car drivers away from the city center as quickly as possible. Asthma, pedestrian deaths, unceasing noise, and air pollution settle on certain neighborhoods like a dark miasma, as community groups struggle to transform their built environments into safer, healthier spaces. 

But just getting a sense of the enormity of the problems—and the real, concrete steps that can be taken to alleviate some of the worst environmental impacts of poor previous planning decisions—is tough. It’s easier for developers to envision turning that old warehouse and its sidestreet into a car dealership than other possible uses—a playground, bike parking, even just a shady area in a neighborhood without trees. 

Today, Transportation Alternatives and researchers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology released a tool that allows New Yorkers to easily access public data on a variety of health and quality of life indicators in their neighborhoods.

The website Spatial Equity NYC compiles neighborhood-specific data as granular as the number of public benches, traffic volume, tree canopy, and bus speeds. Taken altogether, it paints a portrait of a city that’s still deeply unequal (please look at the difference in the amount of asthma-causing particulate matter between Elmhurst and nearby Middle Village), but one with tools at its disposal to make its built environment better. More trees, fewer cars, more seating, less pollution.

The tool is part of Transportation Alternatives’s 25x25 plan, which would convert 25 percent of current parking and driving space into pedestrian space by 2025. The Adams administration might say “good luck with that,” but at least here’s a way to visualize what needs to be done. 

Let’s visualize some links to start our Tuesday!

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