Any other year, an outdoor lesson might have felt like a walk in the park — literally. But now, having a chance to participate in school activities against a backdrop of changing leaves feels less like an autumn picnic and more like a chilling necessity.
As of early September, around 800 New York City schools had obtained approval to hold part of the school day in recess yards, closed-off streets, or city parks as per the city’s newly-minted outdoor learning program. This much-lobbied program gives approved schools the option to hold art, music, and gym lessons outdoors if they so choose. Academic classes can also take place outside, provided that the school has enough space to support them in addition to other outdoor activities.
The vast majority of schools that applied to the Education Department for program approval received it, with only a handful of declines due to safety concerns. However, education officials prioritized their considerations based on need — the schools that have been hit more severely by COVID-19 and those without dedicated schoolyards took precedence.
Countless parents, faculty, and administrators successfully lobbied local government officials to uphold outdoor learning; now, their implemented program enjoys widespread support.
“A new outdoor learning plan that is going to open up a lot of new, wonderful possibilities for our kids and for our educators,” Mayor Bill de Blasio commented during a press conference on the matter. “We heard those voices that said, ‘Could we do something different under these circumstances?’ The answer is: yes. This will apply to our public schools, our charter schools, private/religious schools, Learning Bridges schools. You name it. One standard for all.”
The idea behind the program is simple: by moving classes outdoors, schools can better allow for learning while limiting the risk of COVID-19 spread. Public health authorities have firmly established that outdoor environments tend to be safer due to their increased air circulation.
As one writer for the Mayo Clinic explains: “When you’re indoors, you’re more likely to inhale these droplets from an infected person, especially if you’re in close contact, because you’re sharing more air than you do outdoors. Poor building ventilation can cause droplets to hang in the air for a longer period of time, adding to the potential for infection. When you’re outside, fresh air is constantly moving, dispersing these droplets. So, you’re less likely to breathe in enough of the respiratory droplets containing the virus that causes COVID-19 to become infected.”
It is worth noting that there is a precedent for outdoor learning, too. In the early 1900s, several New York City schools attempted to minimize tuberculosis spread by moving students to outdoor classrooms on rooftops and, in one case, an abandoned ferry.
Holding open-air classes is an excellent idea in theory — but in practice, a few flaws remain.
Since the plan’s debut in late August, several educators have raised concerns that it would unfairly benefit privileged city schools while leaving poorer institutions out in the proverbial (if not literal) cold. Their concerns are warranted; after all, outdoor learning isn’t feasible for schools located in areas with high levels of violence or those near noisy roadways. Schools in wealthier neighborhoods often have the advantage of being within walking distance of parks or having green space on-campus.
Moreover, the bill for outdoor learning can be difficult for poorer schools to foot. As one reporter for the New York Daily News recently pointed out, “Schools are responsible for raising their own funds to purchase tents for shade and weather cover, and must provide their own barriers and staffing to close off adjacent streets — leaving schools with wealthy parents in a better position.”
Some argue that this gap reflects a lack of adequate planning from the city. Indeed, comments from city leadership on the economic barriers faced by less-privileged schools seem to convey some passing of the buck.
“If a PTA has done their fundraising and they’ve raised more than enough for their school, let’s identify another school that doesn’t have that fundraising capacity,” Chancellor Richard Carranza suggested during a news conference.
Administrators and education lobbyists weren’t entirely satisfied with that response.
“Relying on PTA fundraising to fund this effort only exacerbates inequity,” Mark Treyger, the chairman of the City Council’s Education Committee, pointed out on Twitter after the conference.
Outdoor learning has a great deal of potential. However, we need to continue to workshop the idea even as we implement it and find ways to give less-privileged schools the resources they need to hold open-air classes with as much ease as their wealthy counterparts. Children should have the chance to learn and gather in safety — now, it’s up to educators and the city of New York to turn a great idea into a fair and effective solution.
In the space of a few short months, New York City has gone from being the epicenter of America’s COVID-19 concerns to a shining example of pandemic response management. Its dogged pursuit of health and safety, as well as its transparent, information-driven approach to disease management, have empowered New Yorkers to emerge from the initial panic caused by the pandemic with grace and hope.
In early August, Governor Andrew Cuomo announced that the states’ COVID-19 numbers had ebbed to epic lows. Test rates have remained consistently under one percent positivity for more than two weeks. The number of hospitalized patients, intubations, and ICU cases have all dropped to the lowest they have been since mid-March.
This is news worth celebrating; however, the struggle isn’t over yet. Now that the immediate crisis has stabilized, New York needs to turn more attention to upholding the local economy by encouraging economic activity and ensuring that local shops and community hubs stay afloat.
That said, New Yorkers can’t throw caution to the wind by welcoming the city’s signature shoulder-bumping crowds back in full force. If we do, we’ll be back where we were in late March — anxious, overwhelmed, and at a real risk of spreading COVID-19 throughout the city.
“Make no mistake: this virus is still surging in parts of the country and until there is a vaccine we cannot become numb or complacent about the risks we face,” Governor Cuomo recently said after recapping the city’s progress against the pandemic. “Local governments must continue to enforce public health guidance and we all must remember to be smart — follow the guidance, wear masks, socially distance and stay New York Tough!”
But how do we do that? How can we strike a balance between encouraging economic activity and ensuring that New York’s residents are socially distanced?
Already, some businesses have begun to brainstorm safe ways to welcome consumers into their stores. Over the last few weeks, many have put a particular emphasis on organizing space. Go to any grocery store, and you’ll see six-foot blocks spray-painted in a line that extends halfway down the block. Similar measures have been taken outside public restrooms, farmers’ markets, museums, and attractions. In an ideal world, this approach would allow consumers to navigate bustling shopping districts within invisible, six-foot bubbles of personal space.
But one journalist for the real estate magazine Curbed suggests that while demarcating space presents the start of a solution, we should also consider how we might lay claim to time.
“It’s not difficult to imagine, as temperatures rise and crowds form, that we may soon be reserving six-foot circles in the park, spots in parking lots near public beaches, or 20-minute time slots at the local splash pad or pool,” Alexandra Lange writes. “The fall will bring still more time slots — chosen, not by us, but by teachers and employers.”
Lange names her imagined approach timed ticketing. The system she outlines would call for New York’s logistical divisions to draw lines on their daily calendars as regularly as store proprietors do on the sidewalk. She notes that establishing time slots for certain kinds of road use (say, biking or bus-riding) isn’t unheard of — in the early 1900s, New York streets frequently closed for a few hours after the end of the school day to allow children to play before the evening rush.
Already, the MTA has begun establishing a time-aware system for commuters. The department recently published a 13-point action plan that included staggering business hours, as well as dividing commuters into groups that would use public transit on different days of the week to limit crowding.
But we can extrapolate this line of thinking beyond employees to shoppers, tourists, and other city travelers. In the future, New Yorkers might reserve a time slot to visit their favorite store, set aside a few hours to traverse a shopping district, or even claim twenty minutes to visit one of the gardens in Central Park.
This isn’t a perfect solution. It removes spontaneity, the driver behind impulse purchases, and window-shopping. However, timed ticketing does provide a solution for safety that might, for now, help New Yorkers safely return to some semblance of normal — within a defined time slot, of course.
Let’s face it; New York City gets hot in the summer. According to state-published statistics, average temperatures regularly hover in the mid-80s during June, July, and August. Having a place to cool off during the summer isn’t a nice-to-have for New Yorkers; it’s a necessity.
Typically, the city addresses this need for cooler temperatures by providing a host of public services. Free public pools are available across the five boroughs, and residents have easy access to the state’s beaches. NYS Parks employees also maintain a host of spray showers, which are typically activated mid-morning on any day predicted to reach 80 degrees Fahrenheit or higher.
But, of course, this isn’t the average summer. Concern over the spread of COVID-19 has come to dominate public health conversations in New York. Since the virus’s arrival in March, New York has emerged as a national role model for containing the disease. The city’s case numbers and reported deaths have both seen steady declines, trends which have inspired both optimism — and pragmatism — among New York’s leaders.
“We worked very hard in New York, and the people of New York sacrificed for the past three months,” Governor Andrew Cuomo shared in a recent briefing. “They closed down, they wear masks, they socially distance, we have the virus under control, and we don’t want to see it go up again. It’s that simple, and people understand that. So I think they’re going to honor it because people at the end of the day get it now.”
New Yorkers aren’t safe from COVID-19 yet. White House public health advisor, Dr. Anthony Fauci, echoed Governor Cuomo’s point in a comment for the Telegraph, noting that while a return to normal life could occur within a year, “people need to tamp down their expectations for typical summer travel and activities.”
Social distancing is still a must, especially for those in high-risk age and health groups. But with so many isolating indoors, without access to public cooling measures, will New York’s summer heat become more problematic than usual?
New York is nevertheless determined to mitigate the risks.
In mid-June, Mayor Bill de Blasio rolled out Get Cool NYC, a program which “addresses the higher risk for indoor heat exposure for New Yorkers this summer, due to staying inside for social distancing, especially for those most at risk of COVID-19 complications.”
The city has so far installed 4,500 air conditioners in public housing and intends to provide 74,000 by the end of the summer. The New York State Public Service Commission has also given the city permission to provide $70 million in financial assistance to vulnerable, low-income New Yorkers so that they can pay higher-than-usual summer utility bills.
“With this all-hands-on-deck effort to ensure people can pay their cooling bills and to provide air conditioning units to those in need, the City is keeping our communities safe at a very delicate time,” New York’s Housing Preservation and Development Commissioner, Louise Carroll, commented on the program.
Proponents for Get Cool estimate that this aid will provide relief for roughly 440,000 families in the city.
Of course, outdoor cooling is still available. According to reporting from Curbed, the NYC Parks Department will be creating outdoor misting sites in addition to their usual spray showers, and also designate some open streets as “cool streets.” These neighborhoods will offer open fire hydrants to overheated pedestrians in areas at high risk of overheating. The city also intends to establish unconventional cooling centers at spacious facilities such as auditoriums and sports venues that can offer temperature relief while still accommodating social distancing.
This summer will be different from past years, yes — but despite those changes, New Yorkers will be able to enjoy familiar, warm-weather amenities in safety.
New York City has always been known for its pedestrian experience. In usual times, a walk through any one of the five boroughs demands a quick stride, assertive attitude, and an ability to navigate through tides of people, cars, and buses. But now, the days of fighting for crosswalk space might (temporarily) be at an end. In May, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced that the city would open 40 miles of streets to pedestrians, with the intent to open almost 100 miles through the remainder of the pandemic.
“The open streets are going to be another way to help encourage social distancing, because the warmer weather tells us we’re going to have a new challenge,” de Blasio commented during a press conference announcing the new policy. The city’s first open streets will be those nearest to and inside public parks, to give residents an opportunity to enjoy the outdoors without undue risk of contagion. According to CNBC reporting, the city will continue to monitor outdoor activity to ensure that social distancing measures are observed.
New York’s open-street experiment follows similar policies implemented in cities such as Boston, Minneapolis, and Oakland. The sudden openness has reportedly been transformative for some communities, enabling residents to find cheer and safely connect to their neighbors in a way that has been all but impossible since shelter-in-place measures began.
In a recent article for Curbed, Oakland resident Courtney E. Martin explained how open-street policies had revitalized her community under quarantine and brought about opportunities for outdoor family fun that would never have existed during ordinary circumstances.
“‘Slow streets,’ overnight, transformed our family life and the lives of our neighbors,” Martin writes. “We had struggled to find a place to teach our daughter to ride her bike up until this point. It always seemed like such a production. Easier to just scoot along the sidewalk and put it off. But the minute the streets opened up, we got our helmets on and headed out […] The only thing that may be as reliable as toilet paper selling out during this strange era is kids learning to ride bikes.”
But not all perspectives on the open-street initiative have been quite so cheerful. In New York, the idea faced significant pushback from city leaders. At one point, Mayor Bill de Blasio went so far as to say that, “I do not believe it will work, period.”
While it’s still early in the roll-out process, his perspective appears to have been overly pessimistic. The reopening has so far gone smoothly — and it is worth noting that nearly two months have passed since the last time a pedestrian was fatally struck by a car in New York City. This period, ABC 7 reports, “marks the longest stretch since the city began tracking pedestrian fatalities in 1983.”
In trying times like these, such good news is worth celebrating. As summer progresses, it will be exciting to see how New Yorkers use the open-street policy to safely revitalize community spirit and foster joy despite the pressures of COVID-19.
It’s not exactly easy to get your usual dose of art and culture these days. As the hard reality of the COVID-19 pandemic continues to hover over New York City, social distancing regulations have come into full effect.
Under Governor Cuomo’s “New York State on PAUSE” order, all non-essential businesses have closed, and gatherings canceled indefinitely. Public transportation use has been limited; recreational activities restricted to non-contact, distanced pursuits. These measures might seem harsh, but they are necessary. As of the end of April, New York has reported nearly 300,000 cases of the novel coronavirus — however, there are indications that social distancing has helped slow the disease spread and will help New Yorkers return to normal life soon enough.
“Our efforts are working,” Governor Cuomo told New Yorkers in a press conference. “They’re working better than anyone projected they would work. That’s because people are complying with them […] If we stop acting the way we’re acting, you will see those numbers go up.”
So, for the safety of all New Yorkers, we have to put our weekend trips to Museum Mile on hold. There won’t be any walking through a museum’s crowded hallways, nor jostling for a quick peek at a limited-time exhibit. That said, sheltering at home mandates shouldn’t keep you from exploring NYC’s best art offerings virtually.
In mid-March, Fast Company reported that Google Arts and Culture reached out to over 2,500 museums and galleries around the globe with a novel idea: to provide comprehensive virtual gallery tours to every art lover with an Internet connection. The offerings vary, of course. As Fast Company’s Lilly Smith clarifies in her article, “The featured collections vary depending on the museum, but most include online exhibits, a “street view” that lets you explore inside the institution itself, as well as galleries of the artwork.”
Like Google Maps’ popular Street View feature, this new exploration tool allows users to “walk” through passageways with a few directing clicks. The tour provides 360-degree visual coverage of galleries within some of the world’s most famous museums. International highlights of Google’s new offerings include the National Gallery in London, the Whitney Museum of American Art, and Amsterdam’s Van Gogh Museum.
If you’re hoping for a look through the finest art collections that New York has to offer, never fear — Google has you covered. Below, we profile three museums that you can explore virtually this weekend.
The Metropolitan Museum of Art
Under more ordinary circumstances, the Metropolitan Museum of Art would be preparing for its 150th-anniversary celebration. Today, the Met’s collection encompasses a trove of work from around the globe and across 5,000 years of artistic practices. As the Museum itself shares on its website, “Every day, art comes alive in the Museum’s galleries and through its exhibitions and events, revealing both new ideas and unexpected connections across time and across cultures.”
The Museum’s physical doors are closed, of course, but you can still appreciate a few of its galleries online through Google’s interior Street View.
The corkscrew architecture of the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum is delightfully dizzying in person. While online visitors might not get the full, vertigo-inducing effect by steering through a virtual platform, the visual splendor of the space is still easy to see. Digital explorers can take an uninterrupted “walk” up the Museum’s spiral ramp and enjoy its diverse collection of impressionist, post-impressionist, and modern art in one continuous journey.
The Museum of Modern Art
If you have a passion for modern art, you need to take a (virtual or otherwise) trek through the Museum of Modern Art. For nearly a century, MoMA has given visitors a chance to study and enjoy some of the most notable masterpieces of the modern era. Google can, unfortunately, only offer a glimpse of 129 of the Museum’s most-beloved artworks; these include Van Gogh’s The Starry Night and Rousseau’s The Dream, among others.
Don’t let current circumstances keep you from enjoying art. Explore your favorite New York City museums from the safety and comfort of your home!
These days, it feels as though the coronavirus spread has put all of New York City on pause. The usual activities of daily life have ground to a halt; workplaces have closed, restaurants shuttered, and the streets left uncharacteristically quiet as the city’s residents isolate themselves from their neighbors. But as New Yorkers retreat into their homes, many find themselves facing a challenge they may never have expected to handle: proctoring their child’s education.
As of mid-March, the vast majority of New York’s 1,800 schools have shuttered their doors. While some optimistic administrators hope to reopen by the end of April, most academic institutions plan to stay closed through the end of the academic year. The closures have disrupted the routines of over a million students. Now, just as some workers have been instructed to work from their home offices, students have been sent to virtual classrooms. The change has prompted parents, teachers, and administrators alike to find creative ways to ensure educational continuity for the city’s students despite the lack of a physical school.
“It won’t be easy,” teachers union boss Michael Mulgrew told the New York Post. “It won’t be perfect. But we need to get this done.”
After news of the upcoming closures broke on March 15th, the Department Education set about re-training the city’s 80,000 teachers for remote teaching. For a few days after students left their schools, teachers reported to class to learn how to execute their usual lesson plans remotely. Educators were instructed on how to use digital teaching tools like Google Classroom, Canvas, and videoconferencing platforms.
Some teachers have been able to adapt to the digital challenge with relative ease. However, many instructors have struggled to adjust. In a recent article for Chalkbeat, one New York mother of twins shared that while both of her children attended the same school, her experience with remote learning has differed enormously between their respective teachers.
“My daughter’s teacher has got it together,” she explained. “My son’s teacher is not there yet — everyone is learning from each other.”
That challenge that teachers face is considerable — especially considering that many of them are attempting to juggle their roles as educators with their responsibilities as parents. One reporter for the New York Post recently interviewed one such teacher, who explained that she was “juggling her own kids’ remote schooling while trying desperately to cyber-herd her own students.” The problem is made worse, the teacher shared, because her students often need to do their work somewhere other than their homes while their parents work remotely.
The coronavirus has also turned a spotlight onto one of the most significant problems facing New York schools today: resource scarcity. Over 300,000 city students — a third of the total population — do not have the digital tools they would need to learn remotely. The NYC school department is rushing to rectify the lack, partnering with tech companies to buy devices in bulk and provide Internet access to students who lack connectivity.
New York’s shift into remote learning has faced its share of growing pains over the past several weeks, and will likely face more in the weeks to come. But amidst the struggles, the persistence, determination, and creativity of the city’s teachers, parents, and students have come to the forefront. The coronavirus may have halted usual routines, but it will not block the city’s passion for education.
To borrow a quote from a Bronx middle school teacher: “It can only get better from here.”