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Buildings, Infrastructure and Land

Green Space

Ensuring access to nature, improving stormwater management, and combatting extreme heat

New York City is home to over 20,000 acres of natural areas. Each year, the city’s trees capture 1.97 billion gallons of stormwater runoff and store 1.2 million tons of carbon per year. They remove 1,300 tons of pollutants from the atmosphere, with an annual savings in health costs of $93.2 million. Our trees also play a critical role in the City’s heat mitigation strategy, helping to lower temperatures in communities most vulnerable to heat. New York City’s urban forests also provide meaningful connections to nature for millions of people. This is why the City has been working to protect these precious natural areas and resources, to preserve high-quality access to nature for New Yorkers. Our green infrastructure such as right-of-way rain gardens, stormwater green streets, and porous pavement help to keep our waterways clean while also reducing the pressure on the city’s sewer system.

Advancing Equity and Access to Parks

Before and after images of gardening in the South Pacific Playground in Brooklyn through the Community Parks Initiative.

Before and after gardening in the South Pacific Playground in Brooklyn through the Community Parks Initiative.

The City’s Department of Parks and Recreation (NYC Parks) has been working to advance equity and access to parks, with a goal of 85% of New Yorkers within walking distance of a park by 2030. The city has also been strengthening the utility of parks and public space in under-resourced and growing neighborhoods through initiatives like Community Parks Initiative (CPI). Launched in 2014, CPI is NYC’s first equity-driven parks initiative and is based on a community- and data- driven process. Through the award-winning program, over $300 million has been invested to reimagine and rebuild 67 underinvested parks in neighborhoods, effectively improving and greening 70 acres of parkland and the quality of life for nearly half a million people who live within a walk of these parks. As of fall 2021, 60 CPI parks have been renovated and reopened, with all remaining sites in construction or procurement.

To meet the City’s target of 85 percent of New Yorkers living within walking distance of a park by 2030, NYC Parks launched the Walk to a Park Initiative. This initiative focuses on increasing access to parks and open spaces, concentrating on areas of the city that are under-resourced and where residents are living farther than a walk to a park. As of 2020, 81.7 percent of New Yorkers currently live within walking distance of a park.

The City’s sewer system is about 60% combined and 40% separated, with over 7,400 miles of sewer pipes, 135,000 catch basins, and 95 pumping stations. This complex system quietly does a job we simply can’t live without. DEP works constantly to build out and improve sewers in underserved areas; in southeast Queens alone, the City committed $2B to rebuild and expand the stormwater drainage network to alleviate flooding, improve the quality of life for residents and businesses, and increase property values. When planning for future drainage infrastructure, DEP is considering future sea level rise and rainfall intensity as well as environmental justice.

Learn more about stormwater management here and the sewer system here.

New Yorkers rely upon the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) for clean water and safely handled sewage. DEP has invested $400 million in permanent resiliency protections for critical Wastewater Resource Recovery Facilities (WRRFs), various pumping stations, its Spring Creek Combined Sewage Overflow Storage Facility, and other key infrastructure throughout the five boroughs. These vital improvement projects have been initiated adding protection measures at 8 WRRFs and 13 pumping stations to protect against rising sea levels and storm surge by raising critical equipment above the floodplain, installing floodgates, and waterproofing rooms and buildings. These efforts ensure that floods cause minimal disruption to critical services and protect the environment and public health.

Read the NYC DEP Wastewater Resiliency Plan.

The City has made transformative, citywide investments in stormwater management that will improve water quality today and prepare for the climate of the future. The City has spent $8B to construct more natural systems that absorb, delay, and treat stormwater where it falls (green infrastructure) as well as traditional systems that move stormwater to central treatment (grey infrastructure). These are part of city-wide plans to reduce pollution in New York City waters and strengthen the capacity of our drainage system to effectively manage heavy rainfall. As a part of these efforts, the City is constructing over 11,000 new curbside rain gardens, 1,500 greened acres, and has added over 660,000 square feet of porous surfaces to our streets and sidewalks. These investments help absorb stormwater, reduce combined sewer overflows, and improve water quality, while green spaces also help cool temperatures, clean the air, promote biodiversity, and beautify neighborhoods.

Learn more about Green Infrastructure.

The City has massively expanded the Bluebelts in Staten Island – currently there are 84 separate ecologically rich and cost-effective drainage systems, totaling 14,000 acres, that naturally handle the runoff precipitation that falls on our streets and sidewalks. Bluebelts enhance natural drainage corridors including streams, ponds, and wetlands, to convey, store, and filter stormwater. Bluebelts reduce urban flooding, improve the health of local waterways, and provide open green space for communities and diverse habitat for wildlife. As New York City prepares for rising sea levels and heavier rains due to climate change, Bluebelts offer a natural and effective solution for stable and sound stormwater management.

Learn more about Bluebelts.

The City has kept pace with global innovation in stormwater management. Beginning in 2015, NYC and the city of Copenhagen have partnered to exchange best practices in resilient design and learn from their successful implementation of cloudburst design strategies. A “cloudburst” is a sudden, heavy downpour where a lot of rain falls in a short amount of time. In 2017, the City performed its own Cloudburst Resiliency Planning Study to develop these innovative solutions to manage heavy rainfall, mitigate inland flooding, and alleviate associated physical and societal impacts. After a series of pilots, the City is expanding this initiative to additional vulnerable areas of the city.

Learn more about cloudburst management.

In 2021, the City released the Stormwater Resiliency Plan, outlining the path toward improved preparedness for extreme rainfall. In the Stormwater Resiliency Plan, the City made public first-of-their kind stormwater flood risk maps– a city-wide analysis of flooding caused by extreme rainfall events to illustrate where New York City is most at risk. After Tropical Storm Ida, the City has committed to expediting the implementation of policies proposed in the Stormwater Resiliency Plan, including those for resilient stormwater management, the integration of future-looking climate change projections into the City’s long-term drainage planning, changes to the City’s flash flood emergency response procedure, and an increased focus on public communications related to rainfall-based flooding.

In 2017 the City released its first heat resiliency plan, Cool Neighborhoods NYC, a set of strategies and programs with almost $100M worth of investments that increased the City’s tree canopy, developed climate risk training programs for community partners, and expanded cool roofs and other building scale investments to the City’s most heat vulnerable communities. All these investments have been guided Heat Vulnerability Index (HVI), which is a tool grounded in climate and racial justice that identifies what communities are most at risk to extreme heat. Since 2017, over 11,000 street and park trees have been planted in HVI-5 neighborhoods, with an estimated 14,530 more to be planted through Spring 2024. In 2022 an additional $112 million was allocated to the program which will allow for an additional 36,000 trees to be planted each year in HVI-4 neighborhoods through 2026.

As part of Cool Neighborhoods NYC, NYC Parks, MOCEJ, and NYC Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (NYC DOHMH) monitored street level temperature at 475 locations in neighborhoods with the highest heat vulnerability during the summers of 2018 and 2019. This monitoring helps the City understand how different factors, such as green space, impervious surfaces, and building heights impacts air temperature. NYC Parks is also partnering with the Natural Areas Conservancy in a national study to measure the cooling benefits of natural areas in cities. A dozen cities are participating in the study — including New York City — to monitor differences in temperature across natural and built landscapes using satellite data and deploying air temperature sensors in forests.

Learn more about the monitoring process.

In 2020, NYC Parks launched Cool It! NYC, an interactive map that highlights cooling elements such as spray showers, water fountains, and streets with the most tree cover to help New Yorkers stay cool outdoors.

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