Lack of access to recreational water features, population density, poor economic health, and a limited tree canopy combine to make hydrant uncapping the most convenient and affordable way of keeping cool in District 12.
Looking at a map of District 12, one has the impression that the area is surrounded by parks and water. Yet, the Henry Hudson Parkway and the Harlem River Drive run through these parks and create a continuous barrier between the District and the Rivers. The Cross Bronx Expressway, a major interstate highway, cuts across the southern portion of the District.
North Manhattan is also characterized by sharp elevation changes, creating steep walks into nearby parks. Along the streets few leafy opportunities offer relief from the heat. District 12 neighborhoods have some of the lowest percentages of tree canopy cover in the city: 7% of relative area for southern Washington Heights, 9% for Inwood, and 19% for northern Washington Heights. The city average is 24%. Manhattan averages 13%.24
Several parks in the area do have spray fountain features. One of the city’s 51 indoor recreation centers is in the District (also in Highbridge Park). And there is one marina for sail and motor boats. However, there are neither public beaches with swimming access, nor boat or kayak rentals.
Only one of the city’s 54 public pools is in the District (at 173rd Street in Highbridge Park) "On a busy day, 2,400 people swim at Highbridge, which has a capacity of 770. The system: as one swimmer leaves, another is let in. People often wait patiently for more than an hour."25 There are 56,683 children in District 12.26
It is not surprising that residents intervene in their dense physical environment to create a more intimately scaled water experience at their doorstep in an area underserved by parks.