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Central Park
Photograph: Courtesy of the Central Park Conservancy

A cutting-edge Climate Lab is opening in Central Park

The NYC park is getting in on the climate change conversation.

Anna Rahmanan
Written by
Anna Rahmanan
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New York is now home to what hopes to become a major player in the fight against the climate crisis: the Central Park Climate Lab.

A partnership between the Central Park Conservancy, the Yale School of the Environment and the Natural Areas Conservancy, the initiative seeks to join the study of the "on-the-ground impacts of climate change on urban parks" by using our very own green space as a sort of laboratory for the field. 

"Some of the changes that we have seen over time, like the amount of precipitation we're getting or the extreme heat events, are increasing at a rapid pace and it's important that we start to quantify these things over the long term," explains Salmaan Khan, the lab's Director of Research and Special Projects. "If it rains a lot, for example, it affects the tree canopies, which leads to an increase in shade, which means that stuff can't grow under them."

Central Park
Photograph: Courtesy of the Central Park Conservancy

In addition to the impact that shifting weather patterns have on the park itself, Khan explains how the issues directly affect the day-to-day operation of the area. "We get 42 million visitors a year and if we start to see that 50% of the time that we see an extreme weather event, it changes the way we protect and manage the park, [that is meaningful]," says the expert.

With that in mind, the Central Park Climate Lab has come up with a three-tier plan whose end goal is to work with cities all across the United States to help them implement urban park strategies meant to mitigate the impact of climate change while also understanding how to make local green spaces more resilient.

To kick things off, the organization will first work to gather on-the-ground research that will help shape the management of Central Park itself. Using the data, the project will then expand to include other parts on New York, hoping to use the park's blueprint as a guide when dealing with different areas. The third step involves relationships with a number of American cities. "What we're hoping we can do is to come up with best practices, information and research that other cities can use to keep up with how much climate change can impact [their spaces]," says Khan. 

Central Park
Photograph: Courtesy of the Central Park Conservancy

Khan does acknowledge the contentiousness involved in some conversations regarding climate change, especially when considering interactions with a non-New York audience. "When we expand our work to other places we have to take into account the fact that some people don’t think climate change [is something to focus on]," he says matter-of-factly. "When it's time to have those tough conversations, at least people will have the information and material to make decisions. The value of the project is there regardless."

As for the actual lab, New Yorkers shouldn't expect to see a hub within their beloved park any time soon: Central Park itself will be the laboratory where the team will work from.

Speaking of which: Khan mentions he hopes for all operations to be up and running by Earth Day on April 22, which is why he's currently actively searching for the Central Park Conservancy's very first Manager of Climate Change Research

As virtually the only massive green space in all of New York City, Central Park holds a special place in urbanites' hearts—not to mention its importance when looking at urban parks all throughout the country. Whether the new lab's ultimate goal to shape guidelines across other cities will be as successful as we hope it will be is yet to be seen, but we're delighted to know that there will now be an entire organization dedicated to the long-term maintenance of such a fundamental portion of the city's character and physical makeup. 

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