Parks | September 21, 2021
Cutting Emissions From New York City Parks
The climate crisis dealt New York City a harsh blow this summer. Historic heatwaves and violent storms rocked our city’s aging infrastructure, revealing more of what’s to come without urgent and immediate action to stop greenhouse gas emissions.
We have always prioritized sustainable practices at New York Restoration Project, which we believe are meaningful at any scale. This includes tracking and eliminating emissions from how we manage over 80 acres of public land in Sherman Creek and Highbridge Parks.
“It’s something we’ve always been doing but now we’re doing it with a new sense of urgency,” says our Director of Northern Manhattan Parks, Jason Smith. “It’s a way demonstrate to our partners, and the community, how we can reduce emissions from the management of urban land.”
Some ways we can do this are more straightforward than others: we are transitioning away from gasoline-powered maintenance tools like weed whackers, mowers, chainsaws, and trucks to electric options, for example, and we purchased our first utility bicycle last year. We currently have one fully electric maintenance vehicle and hope our next big investment will be replacing the whole fleet, says Smith.
We also manage our land to remove as much carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and store it in the parks’ plants and soils. A prime example is the living shoreline we installed last year at Sherman Creek Park. Its design not only helps keep the park from washing away, but it helps preserve the entire wetland habitat, which studies show can help sequester carbon at ten times the rate of mature tropical forests.
Nurturing urban meadows in our parks is another way we can have a lighter environmental impact. “We are developing native meadows for places where we may have a degraded soil, lots of road salt, no irrigation, and limited staff time,” describes Smith. This includes replacing underused lawn areas with native trees, shrubs, and ground covers, which not only help capture more carbon, but can be aesthetically pleasing, too. “There’s a long period of getting meadows established where they require a little extra weeding and care, but after that, we found we can maintain them with really minimal input,” he says.
Currently, the biggest challenge we face in reducing fossil fuel use is shipping materials in and out of our parks. “One of the most critical things we can do is cycle materials and compost locally. This includes plants, which we can propagate at our own small nursery,” explains Smith. Our next step is to identify a yard near our parks where we can stockpile clean soil and locally composted organic material, both of which will help us cut transportation emissions.
Ultimately for Smith, an ideally managed park would also be a carbon sink, or an environment that stores more carbon than it emits. While we pursue that goal as quickly as we can, we are also appreciating the more immediate benefits of sustainably managed parkland. Stopping unsustainable practices and replacing tools that spew greenhouse gases almost immediately yields cleaner air and a quieter atmosphere for park visitors and workers alike. According to Smith, “these practices enhance the park experience by nearly every measure.”