05/09/2011 03:15


You've heard of painting the town red, but what about painting the town white?

A group of New Yorkers are painting white the roofs of 20 buildings managed by the Cooper Square Mutual Housing Association in the Lower East Side of Manhattan.

“White roof painting is a strategy that is environmental and economical,” said Manhattan Borough president Scott Stringer, in a press statement. “This is a model that can be replicated throughout New York City as a way to modernize and sustain our affordable housing stock.”


By painting the 35,000 square feet of rooftops white they will be making a dent in the urban heat island created by the Big Apple. An urban heat island is created when dark colored man-made materials used in the construction of a city absorb the sun's rays and release that energy back out as heat.

Touch an asphalt parking lot during a heat wave and you'll understand this phenomenon.

White paint reflects up to 90 percent of the sunlight that strikes the roofs, as opposed to black which absorbs the heat. Much of New York's roofs are black or other dark colors. This can make the city up to 15 degrees hotter than a suburb under similar conditions during the day and 22 degrees warmer at night, according to the website of the White Roof Project, one of the groups collaborating to paint East Village rooftops white.

Hotter temperatures lead to higher energy bills and a larger draw on the utilities and greater production of pollution from coal, oil, and natural gas fired power plants. Hotter cities are also more dangerous.


The costs and dangers of hot cities are why, to paraphrase the Rolling Stones, the New Yorkers see a black roof and they want it painted white.

“We welcome and enthusiastically support the White Roof initiative which will make our building roofs as much as 25% more energy efficient, thus lowering our electrical and fuel costs,” said Val Orselli, executive director of Cooper Square Mutual Housing, in a press statement. “We are hopeful that this innovative program can be extended to the rest of our Lower East Side community.”

The area to be painted in New York forms a continuous strip from East Fourth and East Third streets between Second Avenue and the Bowery.

Volunteers from nonprofit groups FABnyc, The White Roof Project and NYC CoolRoofs will paint the roofs according to an article in Crain's New York Business.

The paint and supplies are all paid for by donations, reports the Voice of Russia.

Perhaps one day New York and other cities will look like Popayan, Colombia. The beautiful colonial-era buildings of the city center are painted almost entirely white, though the roofs are ceramic tile. Though the city was built long before the concept of urban heat islands came into being, I can't help but wonder if the white paint has helped generations of Colombians to beat the tropical heat.


-Discovery News-

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