New York greening

Posted on March, 01 2012

Greening the Big Apple with one million trees 

Greening the Big Apple with one million trees

A million new trees, planting beds on streets and squares, and greening of the waterfront are all features of New York’s plans to make the city greener. And a new square in every district will make it more walkable. These projects are included in PlaNYC, New York City's praised and extensive environmental plan aiming for a 30% reduction of greenhouse gas emissions by the year 2030.

Keywords: tree plantations, green streets, PlaNYC, forest parks, energy efficiency

With a population of 19 million in the whole metropolitan area and 8 million in the city itself, New York is one of the world's mega-cities. Besides parks, which the city has improved through an inspection programme started in the 1990s, nature or sustainability are not usually associated with the Big Apple. On closer inspection however, New York is better than one may imagine.

Electric efficiency is high – New York State ranks highest in the US. The state has 1,300 MW of wind power capacity, with plans for a further 8,000 MW and additional plans for a tidal power plant. In US terms, New York has an excellent public transport system, and since the 1980s water consumption has been reduced through a comprehensive programme (see New York water).

Ambitious climate plan
In 2007 the Mayor of New York City, Michael Bloomberg, launched PlaNYC, one of the world’s most comprehensive city programmes for environmental improvement (see also Chicago and Vienna). It aims to integrate ecology with strengthening the city economy and making it a better place to live. A key goal is a 30% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2030. PlaNYC includes over 130 different initiatives for goals such as:
  • creating homes for a million more New Yorkers and making existing buildings more sustainable
  • ensuring that all citizens have access to a park within a ten-minute walk
  • decontaminating all polluted land
  • improving the water system
  • transforming waterfront areas into green recreational areas
  • conserving and protecting natural habitat areas
  • extending and improving public transport (with a Bus Rapid Transit system, among other things)
  • upgrading the energy infrastructure, increasing the share of renewables
  • creating the cleanest air among all American cities

Tree planting and greening
Though High Line Park was on the planning table as far back as 2004, the opening of this very popular recreating area in 2009 on the site of an old rail track – a 2.3 km long green corridor – was an indicator of the PlaNYC regime.

With the help of more than 6,000 volunteers, a million trees are to be planted within a ten-year period, amounting to 20% increase. The city covers 60% of the cost with private organisations, landlords and NGOs making up the rest. Most of the trees will be planted in streets, squares and parks, but a certain amount will be set aside for a programme for increasing areas of natural forest parks in the city by one-third (this currently constitutes 40% of all park area). About 200,000 trees have already been planted.

The Green Streets programme converts areas of paved roadway into green areas filled with trees, shrubs, and groundcover. This greening along roads, at crossroads and footpaths is done to beautify the urban environment, ease traffic, improve pedestrian traffic, increase biodiversity, and facilitate the water-bearing capacity of the ground. In 2011 there were 2,338 green streets in New York. The programme will create 80 new ones each year to achieve a total of 3,000 green streets by the year 2017. Similar programmes exist in Portland, Seattle, and Chicago (see also Portland).

New square in every district
In order to make the city more pedestrian-friendly, several new public places will be created through reconstruction of existing streets. The goal is to build a new square in all 59 city districts before 2020 – meaning no New Yorker would live more than a ten-minute walk from a square. The city has invited NGOs and neighbourhood organisations to participate in the planning.

New York's programme for revitalising the waterfront has been reinvigorated. Just like other big cities in the west, New York has harbour areas which are no longer utilised, and have fallen into decay. Now, 90% of these areas are to be transformed into public recreational areas. They will be decontaminated, improvements will be made to the water quality, and the natural habitat will be protected.

Energy declarations for buildings
Other PlaNYC initiatives in the spotlight are a conversion of the taxi fleet to hybrid vehicles – 15% converted to date – and a renovation programme for buildings praised for its energy-declaration requirements (see also Houston and Seattle). In a city where 70% of greenhouse gas emissions come from buildings, this programme is pivotal for achieving the 30% reduction goal. The programme, which is expected to create more than 17,000 jobs, has received publicity with the revamping of the Empire State Building, where energy consumption was reduced by 38%, and where investments are expected to pay for themselves within three years. The city has also committed to renovating of all its public buildings, where the repayment period is estimated to be a maximum of seven years.

Lester R. Brown, Earth Policy Institute, 2009, Plan B 4.0: Mobilizing to Save Civilization, First edition, W. W. Norton & Company,

New York City Global Partners, Innovation Exchange, "PlaNYC: NYC’s Long-Term Sustainability Plan", 2010,

New York City Global Partners, Innovation Exchange, "NYC Greener, Greater Buildings Plan", 2010,

New York City Global Partners, Innovation Exchange, "Improving Public Spaces", 2011,

New York City Global Partners, Innovation Exchange, "Planting One Million Trees to Develop the Urban Forest", 2011,

New York City Global Partners, Innovation Exchange, "Greenstreets: Greening Roadways", 2010,

“New York: From high line to park”, Sustainable Cities,

Key data are retrieved from the UN World Urbanization Prospects: The 2011 Revision,, and from the UN Demographic Yearbook 2011,

Text by: Martin Jacobson

New York
© Karl Fjellstrom /
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