New York City is home to over 20,000 acres of natural areas — with 7,300 acres of forest within NYC Parks jurisdiction. 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. 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 current and future generations of New Yorkers.
The 30,000 acres of parkland under NYC Parks’ management includes not only natural areas, but also myriad public amenities: basketball courts, playgrounds, gyms, boardwalks, and picnic lawns. 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.
NYC has been strengthening the utility of parks and public space in under-resourced and growing neighborhoods through initiatives like Community Parks Initiative (CPI). An analysis of historical capital investment showed that more than 200 parks were underinvested, having received less than $250,000 each over the last 20 years. 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 demonstrating the highest need (with high poverty, density, and population growth), 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.
CPI’s impact can also be seen through increased programming opportunities in these parks, as well as high usage by residents, many of whom are now proud park stewards and advocates. CPI has galvanized community partners to care for new parks, by cultivating 71 community partner groups for CPI parks. NYC Parks has supported over 1,930 park beautification projects and offered free youth sports programming with over 1.9 million visits. Finally, CPI is poised to contribute to the broader field of public health research and urban policy through the PARCS Study, a partnership between NYC Parks and the City University of New York Graduate School of Health Policy and Public Health analyzing the health and social impact of CPI in local communities.
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. NYC Parks explores multiple approaches to reach the target, including forming partnerships and coordinating with public and private institutions, improving existing open space, and acquiring and developing private property to create new parks. As of 2020, 81.7 percent of New Yorkers currently live within walking distance of a park. Since 2014, 133,600 New Yorkers have been newly served by new parks and are now within a Walk to a Park. Factoring in projects currently underway, NYC Parks estimates approximately an additional 25,000 New Yorkers will live within walking distance of a new park when completed.
Parks Without Borders is an effort to make our city’s outdoor spaces more welcoming, accessible, and better connected to surrounding neighborhoods. The quality of a city’s outdoor space depends on an integrated system in which parks, sidewalks, pedestrian plazas, and other open spaces are connected to each other, improving access to neighborhood resources and promoting community interaction. This program takes a design approach focusing on improving the areas where parks and neighborhoods meet: entrances, edges, and park-adjacent spaces. Following a robust community engagement process, the City launched the first round of showcase projects.
NYC Parks partnered with the Natural Areas Conservancy (NAC) to develop the Forest Management Framework, a 25-year roadmap to restore and take care of the agency’s 7,300 acres of forested natural areas. The framework aims to ensure safe, high-quality public access to nature for every New Yorker and protect New York City’s biodiversity and unique forest communities.
NYC Parks also collaborated with NAC to develop the Wetlands Management Framework, which provides a 30-year roadmap for the preservation, restoration, and management of all wetlands and streams in New York City. The framework has a particular focus on the wetlands under the care of NYC Parks—about half of New York City's 5,650 acres of wetlands. The framework builds on decades of successful wetlands restoration on parkland and calls on new techniques and integrated, watershed-based approaches.
NYC Parks looks after two million trees in our parks, as well as 600,000 more on our streets. In 2007, the City launched the ambitious MillionTreesNYC initiative—to plant and care for one million trees in New York City. In 2015, with support from New York Restoration Project, additional partners, many volunteers, and nearly 50,000 New Yorkers who helped plant trees in our parks, on neighborhood streets, and in their own backyards, we planted our millionth tree. This initiative expanded the City’s urban forest by 20%, and the City has continued to grow our urban tree network since. Nearly a quarter million new trees have been planted through NYC Parks since 2016, and the agency currently plants about 16,000 to 18,000 street and park trees and 16,000 trees in natural areas per year.
The City continues to protect our trees from harmful invasive pests. NYC Parks has been using integrated pest management to help control invasive insect species that harm our trees, such as the emerald ash borer. The agency also provides special care to native trees as needed. For example, in spring 2018, Parks staff identified stands of rare tree species, the pumpkin ash (Fraxinus profunda) and black ash (Fraxinus nigra) in Bronx natural areas. To prevent their loss to the newly arrived invasive emerald ash borers, Parks treated priority ash trees in the unique forest communities.
To promote native biodiversity, the City passed a law in 2013 mandating NYC Parks to plant only native species in natural areas, aiming to reduce non-native species across the five boroughs. The Greenbelt Native Plant Center cultivates seed mixes and approximately 300,000 plants annually for use across NYC Parks to include plant diversity. The Center also regularly updates the Native Species Planting Guide to assist professionals and the public design resilient landscapes.