The Newtown Pentacle

Altissima quaeque flumina minimo sono labi

remonstrating hotly

with 2 comments

 Industrial Maspeth, where I go to get away from it all, is shvitzy.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

One thing I can tell you with certainty, that I would actually attest to in a court of law, is that the “Maspeth Heat Island Effect” is no myth. This is an environmental phenomena affecting urbanized areas where vegetation has been entirely replaced by concrete and cement. The entire inner urbanized core of New York City and its satellite cities around the archipelago are typically a few degrees warmer than vegetated or forested geography, but there’s a few spots in the city itself which can anywhere between five and fifteen degrees warmer (even at night) than they should be during (particularly) the summer months. This is the result of all that concrete baking in the emanations of the burning thermonuclear eye of God itself all day, and the predisposition of masonry and concrete to “hold” heat and then radiate it out. NASA thermal imaging maps of NYC show Crown Heights, Sunset Park, and Greenpoint/Williamsburg in Brooklyn, Fordham and Hunts Point in the Bronx, Midtown East and the Financial District in Manhattan, Long Island City and Maspeth in Queens as being  the hottest parts of the City of Greater New York. 

Industrial Maspeth is literally the hottest spot on NASA’s map.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

There’s a lot going on because of these elevated temperatures that isn’t obvious. On the economic side, it means that businesses and homes in the hot zone spend a LOT more on cooling their facilities down with air conditioning and ventilation (Willis Carrier invented air conditioning at Newtown Creek, as a note). The tar used to seal roofs and repair roadways gets all gummy, area waterways experience depressed oxygen levels, and life found in the heat islands are stressed out. 

That includes us, incidentally. You can actually feel it getting warmer the closer you get. When I’m walking down 48th street from Sunnyside towards industrial Maspeth during the summer, crossing under the overpass for the Long Island Expressway involves the encounter of what feels like a “wall of hot.” Additionally, the squamous nature of industrial architecture with its long masonry walls and unforgiving streetscape tends to defeat the natural laminar flow of air currents. Any breeze there is tends to get sucked into the convective upwelling of warm air. That leaves behind radiant heat and atmospheric humidity with nothing to break it up, even temporarily. 

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The solution, which I’m just passing along from scholarly sources, is the promulgation of “living” or green roofs. Street trees and other plantings like rain gardens or bio-swales isn’t terribly realistic in areas like industrial Mapseth due to its occupation. Heavy vehicles ply these streets daily, and in the case of facilities like the MTA’s Grand Avenue Depot pictured above, the lanes and avenues and roads and drives of Industrial Maspeth are where these heavy vehicles are maintained and serviced. The entire bus company of Brooklyn makes its way to that spot pictured above at least once a week.

One of the interesting “carrot and stick” approaches to breaking up the heat island effect centers around creating a metered sewerage tax for new construction, with an exemption to this fee offered to property owners who install a green roof as part of their building design. This would divert water from the overtaxed DEP sewer system during rain events, and create acreages of urban greenery that would serve as a passive cooling system for the buildings, reducing energy costs and load on the archaic electrical grid. 

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Written by Mitch Waxman

August 13, 2018 at 11:02 am

2 Responses

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  1. I still question the green roof idea as adding extra expense in either retrofitting buildings to accommodate the extra weight or to be included in new construction.

    That as well as the habit trapped water has of eventually eating its way through the best wonder materials which means at some point in the future, the roof will need to be redone. More long term bigger than regular roofing expenses.

    This idea doesn’t even address the fact that solar insolation will still be absorbed on the south facings of buildings and still heat the structure maybe not as much but yet still It’s only half a solution which looks like it would be spending dollars to save pennies.

    Besides, where is the water for the grass or other plants to keep the green roof green going to come from? Rain might not be enough.

    By the way, do you think that these rain garden or bio-swale (whatever the fuck this neologism is supposed to mean) which washes water presumably to the soil under the street pavement won’t wash it away and cause more sink holes? More business for street repair contractors maybe? Cui bono?
    The ride never ends!

    I know this idea lacks the panache of gimmicky coolness but I think it would be cheaper and easier to plant more trees in Maspeth to shade streets and sidewalks as you have already suggested and to install retractable awnings on the rooftop and over the south face of the buildings.

    “One of the interesting “carrot and stick” approaches to breaking up the heat island effect centers around creating a metered sewerage tax for new construction, with an exemption to this fee offered to property owners who install a green roof as part of their building design.”

    So is this what our vaunted top-down technocratic command and control, scientifically regulated economy by experts has degenerated into? Forcing citizens to purchase goods and services as well as public subsidies (moar gubbermint money!) given to feed an army of politically connected businesses and sundry middleman services to maintain a weird eco-friendly potemkin village type economy?

    Yeah, manufacturing, creating wealth in goods and service people need or want and creating jobs is like soooo 1950’s and we can’t have that now for….uh….reasons and stuff.

    Don Cavaioli


    August 13, 2018 at 1:22 pm

    • “uhhh.. reasons and stuff” either the new business (warehousing people in shoddily constructed residential towers) that’s causing much of the water problem which will result in your taxes going towards building new sewer plants to support them build remediation into THEIR investments, negating the need for replacement and industrially relevant lifetime of OUR investments, or… well why do anything at all, it’s all a sick joke and there’s no point in trying. Let anarchic nihilism rule the day.

      Mitch Waxman

      August 13, 2018 at 1:30 pm

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