Good morning. It’s Thursday. We’ll look at what to expect for air quality today in New York City. We’ll also look at a photo from a less-bad-air day nearly 57 years ago. And we’ll find out why a meeting of state cannabis regulators and retail license holders suddenly became heated.
Jennifer Poynter and her husband Mike thought about what to pack for their trip to New York City. They left the masks at home in Indianapolis.
“We talked about it — ‘Do we still need them? Are there any Covid protocols in New York?” she said. They had checked the forecast. “The weather looked great,” she said.
They arrived as the concentration of pollutants in the air hit the highest levels ever recorded in the city and with the skyline blurred by smoke from wildfires in Canada. Familiar landmarks were pale shadows in the distance. The Chrysler Building? Its silvery cap was not shining. The Statue of Liberty? It was a silhouette in the orange-brownish haze.
The Poynters soon bought themselves masks. He was wearing his as he panned the viewing scope on the 86th floor of the Empire State Building on Tuesday. There was not much to see, and today may not be much better. The National Weather Service said the haze would linger because the weather system pushing it around the atmosphere was relatively stagnant.
The AirNow Index had climbed through “unhealthy” to “very unhealthy” and, finally, to “hazardous.” The air quality index in New York City climbed to a new and unwanted record that topped one set just the day before. And the air quality record on Tuesday broke a record that had stood for 21 years, when another rash of wildfires from Canada sent smoky air south.
High readings are not unusual in smoggy places like Jakarta or New Delhi. But they are rare in New York, where state and federal laws have helped to reduce emissions. Mayor Eric Adams put into words what many New Yorkers had probably thought when they looked out a window or walked down a street: “What the hell is this?” he said at a news conference.
Gov. Kathy Hochul called the worsening air quality “an emergency crisis” that extended across New York State, and urged people to stay inside: “Please don’t go out if you don’t have to,” the governor said. Much of the state was under an air quality health advisory alert, indicating that the index was expected to pass 100. Mike Hardiman, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service, said that Binghamton “looks like Mars” and “smells like cigars.”
In New York City, libraries closed early on Wednesday. City-run beaches were all but empty. The Yankees rescheduled their game against the Chicago White Sox. The team said it would be made up as the first game of a single-admission doubleheader today, but that could change if the air quality does not improve.
The city suspended alternate-side parking. Public schools were already scheduled to be closed today, taking one possible decision item off the list for city officials. But thousands of teachers and staff were scheduled to attend a professional development workshop.
And, once again, many New Yorkers scrambled to find masks. Some commuters said the smoky air had reversed passengers’ routines: During the pandemic, people slipped on their masks when they went into the subway. In the haze of Wednesday, they wore masks on the street and slipped them off as the doors of their train closed behind them.
Christine Booth, who lives in Dorset, England, walked the High Line on Wednesday. “That wasn’t too bad,” she said as she looked out at the city from the next stop on her itinerary for the day, the Empire State Building, “but this is something else.”
Dorset has a long stretch along the English Channel, “so the air is clear and fresh,” she said. She said she was not unfamiliar with cities: She used to work in London, for a trade council that promoted business with countries in Eastern Europe. “It was never like this,” she said.
Prepare for a chance of showers, persisting through the evening, on a mostly sunny day near the low 70s. The evening is mostly cloudy, with temps dropping to the high 50s.
In Latin, ‘infamis aer’
“Breathe in that smog and feel lucky that only in L.A. will you glimpse a green sun or a brown moon,” the filmmaker John Waters once wrote about driving toward Hollywood.
New Yorkers have breathed in a lot of smoky air in the last couple of days, even if the sun did not turn green. And an image came to mind that suggested that there was, sadly, nothing new about it, except perhaps the origin of the smoke.
I remembered the photograph above from when we were gathering the material for “The New York Times Book of New York” a dozen years ago. The photo was published on the front page on Nov. 25, 1966, along with a caption that alluded to a Hemingway novel. It was not quite 57 years ago, four years before the first observance of Earth Day.
I came across an article from Smithsonian magazine that said air pollution had been a problem for ancient Romans, who referred to the dirty cloud above them as gravoris caeli (“heavy heaven”) and infamis aer (which was exactly what the words look like, “infamous air”). And I was haunted by what Andrew Hinderaker, one of our photo editors, said on a less-bad-air day a couple of years ago when I asked if he could find the photo from 1966: “Aren’t we all just islands in the sea of smog?”
The latest New York news
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Mourning a pizza legend: In a city full of great pizza, Andrew Bellucci was New York’s “original pizza nerd.” After he died suddenly, admirers gathered to remember his life.
Lawsuit over a library: City officials are suing the architects who designed the Queens Public Library at Hunters Point, arguing that the building was not compliant with the Americans With Disabilities Act and other federal, state and local laws.
Hospital costs: The City Council is expected to approve a bill on Thursday that would allow New Yorkers to compare online the cost of hospital procedures.
Frustrations over ‘hiccups’ in cannabis rollout
Things got testy at a meeting between cannabis regulators and retail license holders — so much so that a state official walked off the stage after he was heckled by participants frustrated by what they said was a lack of transparency.
Officials had called the meeting to announce changes they said would speed a rollout of retail dispensaries that has fallen months behind schedule.
The official who left the stage was Reuben McDaniel III, the president of the state Dormitory Authority, the agency in charge of raising $200 million to finance the leasing and construction of the first 150 dispensaries. Chris Alexander, the executive director of the state’s Office of Cannabis Management, which issues licenses and develops policies, asked the licensees to not give up, adding that state agencies and Gov. Kathy Hochul were “all in” on the program despite the problems.
“Don’t pull your chips out on us,” he told attendees at the meeting, held at the CUNY School of Law in Queens. “We’re committed to you.” He promised that the state’s commitment was one that went “beyond this moment of tension” even as he acknowledged “the hiccups we’ve had in getting the program up and running.”
The two-hour meeting had gone smoothly until the final minutes, as officials announced changes intended to make the process of opening a dispensary faster and smoother. The changes included adding smaller storefronts to the pool of properties available to licensees and setting aside low-interest loans of up to $100,000 for those who choose to find their own locations instead of subletting from the state.
McDaniel also said his agency would publish a list of locations where it has signed a lease or where it is negotiating one, to avoid conflicts with licensees who are scouting their own shops. Previously, licensees had complained that they were finding viable locations, only to later find out they were too close to a facility held by the Dormitory Authority.
I was admiring a set of dishes at the Housing Works shop on Columbus Avenue. They looked shiny and new.
I said something to the young woman standing next to me about how beautiful the dishes were.
She turned toward me and smiled.
“Please don’t say another word,” she said, “because if you do, I will have to buy them, and I can’t afford it.”
— Susan Kalev
Glad we could get together here. See you tomorrow. — J.B.
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