JERSEY CITY, NJ - Sustainable Jersey City (SJC) has been awarded Unilever’s 2021 Change Makers & Do-Gooders Community Grant. The $10,000 grant was awarded for SJC’s project focusing on the Urban Heat Island (UHI) Effect, which is an increase in ambient temperature due to dark, heat-absorbing urban surfaces such as asphalt roofs, roads, and parking lots—an issue exacerbated by lack of tree cover.

In partnership with CAPA Strategies, Groundwork Elizabeth, and South Ward Environmental Alliance (SWEA), community members and Unilever volunteers will use the grant to conduct an assessment of the UHI Effect across Jersey City, Elizabeth, and Newark, New Jersey. Meanwhile, SJC and Rutgers Environmental and Occupational Health Sciences Institute (EOHSI) will also spearhead Air Quality Studies in all three municipalities.

The funds will be used for CAPA Strategies’ services in relation to the UHI Effect study. This includes equipment, data analytics and technical assistance. We also have an extraordinary in-kind gesture by Rutgers Environmental and Occupational Health Sciences Institute (EOHSI) to provide pro-bono services and technical assistance for an Air Quality study in conjunction with the UHI Effect study,” said Debra Italiano, Founder and Chair of SJC.

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UHI varies in different parts of the city. While the impact is minimal in verdant places like Liberty State Park, adjacent neighborhoods can see dramatic differences.

“In Jersey City, we’ve found that the UHI Effect is most pronounced in Ward F (Bergen-Lafayette) and Ward A (Greenville). An abundance of dark, heat-absorbing urban surfaces — roofs, buildings, and asphalt roads, along with a sparse or non-existent tree canopy are the main factors amplifying the UHI Effect,” said Italiano.”The Effect, in turn, has major public health impacts, including causing a host of heat-related illnesses. Extreme heat can also drive up energy consumption, leading to increased emissions, poor air quality and increased instances of respiratory illnesses. In fact, Jersey City has the highest rate of adult asthma in Hudson County.”

Sustainable Jersey City operates independently of the City government, as a collaborative network of green community groups, individuals, government and private organizations focused on, "leading Jersey City towards a more sustainable and resilient future." With projects ranging from rain gardens to community composting, SJC has been executing projects and raising awareness across Jersey City since 2011.

“One of the most important things residents can do on an individual level is to be a steward for trees on their street. Water them regularly, protect their bark from damage, keep the tree bed clean and spacious to allow for stormwater drainage, and keep an eye out for any tree-related issues,” said Italiano. “Jersey City property owners with an empty tree pit on their sidewalk can now get a tree at no cost under the City's Adopt-A-Tree program. They can even take it a step further and invest in white roofs (reflective) or green roofs (rooftop gardens) and use energy-efficient appliances to reduce emissions. With these simple steps, residents can ensure naturally cooler street-level conditions in their area and in their homes.”

According to Jersey City officials, the issues of UHI in our communities are a significant concern.

“The City of Jersey City, through the Office of Sustainability, is participating in the NIHHIS-CAPA Urban Heat Island Mapping Campaign, and this summer we are working with a green team through the PSEG Institute for Sustainable Studies (ISS) at Montclair State University to map the heat island effect and analyze its effect in Jersey City,” said spokesperson Kimberly Wallace-Scalcione. “The urban heat island effect is a concern for all urban areas. Actions to combat the urban heat island effect are a part of the Jersey City Climate and Energy Action Plan, which will be presented to City Council for adoption later this spring.”

Says Italiano, “Extreme heat is definitely on the City’s radar and officials are working to address it in Jersey City’s draft Climate and Energy Action Plan (CEAP) Common strategies to cool down cities include reducing emissions, using sunlight-reflecting roofs, and planting more trees. We’re hoping to work with City Officials on progressive tree protection legislation, canopy restoration efforts, green infrastructure and energy-efficient buildings.”

With the frenzy of redevelopment in Jersey City, there are many opportunities to enact changes that will positively impact environmental issues like UHI and more.

“Developers in Jersey City also have a part to play. Designers should revisit design standards and incorporate their building’s contribution and resilience to the UHI effect in impacted areas. They can help address the UHI Effect by using reflective surfaces in building materials, installing cool roofs, planting shade trees, and employing passive solar cooling and ventilation — issues which are also a part of Jersey City’s draft CEAP,” said Italiano. Ultimately, we hope that data from these studies helps developers, municipal decision makers, and the general public take strategic action to reduce the UHI Effect in Jersey City’s most-impacted communities.”

To learn more about Sustainable JC, please visit http://sustainablejc.org/.

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