In New York, The Future Of Parks Is Small

The future of parks may not be all that big. In fact, it may be small, as per New York City’s Greenstreets program, the city’s extensive urban beautification initiative that has launched a citywide neighborhood street tree planting project. Under the Greenstreets program, New York City’s Parks Department has converted thousands of unused concrete and striped islands formed by the city’s intersecting streets into leafy, pint-sized parks. These triangles, medians, and curbside bump-outs not only help to beautify the urban landscape, they calm busy traffic, increase pedestrian safety and capture stormwater for irrigation. Not bad for a little bit of green in a big, big city.

Greenstreets was first launched in 1996, but has since been completely reinvigorated by Mayor Bloomberg’s PlaNYC. The mayor’s comprehensive designed to cut New York City’s carbon footprint by  30 percent by 2030 — while making room for a million more residents — calls for a million trees to be planted in the city. So far, the Big Apple has made good on 612,277 of those trees, with Greenstreets playing a key role.

Greenstreet after shot

image via Greenstreets

Under PlaNYC, the Greenstreets initiative received its first-ever dedicated funding: $8.5 million to create 480 new sites by 2017, with additional funding for maintenance. It began small, as befits an initiative aimed at creating small parks: a flowerbed here, a few trees there, then gradually began improving existing infrastructure, like awkward intersections. In so doing, Greenstreets has transformed what might be thought of as the city’s “negative space” into green space. A concrete median or matrix of painted lines was transformed into a raised bed with shrubbery, sidewalks, and crosswalks, and maybe even a bench or two.

The cumulative result? As per a 2007 survey, there were 2,281 Greenstreets micro-parks in neighborhoods across the city, comprising a total of 204 acres. To put that in perspective for you, that’s almost half the size of Brooklyn’s Prospect Park,  a 585-acre urban oasis considered the masterpiece of the famed landscape architects Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux, who also designed Central Park. By 2017, the city projects that there will be over 2,760 Greenstreets micro-parks in the city, in no small part due to PlaNYC. (Since the launch of the plan, the city has completed 319 new sites throughout the five boroughs.)

greenstreets after

Grist reports that Helle Søholt, co-founding partner and managing director of Gehl Architects in Copenhagen, Denmark, had this to say at the Greater and Greener International Urban Parks Conference in New York City. “Parks in the U.S. are seen as destinations,” she said. “In Europe, they’re thought of more as public spaces between buildings — the green glue that holds a city together.”

New York’s Greenstreets initiative embodies that concept, while helping the city to plant more trees, cut more carbon and increase quality of life for its residents, as per PlaNYC.

Susan DeFreitas has covered all manner of green technology for EarthTechling since 2009. She is a graduate of Prescott College for the Liberal Arts and the Environment, and has a background in marketing green businesses. Her work on green living has been featured in Yes! Magazine, the Utne Reader and Natural Home.