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NYC and Trust for Public Land to create green playgrounds

NEW YORK — New York City and The Trust for Public Land announced a partnership to build as many as 40 new school playgrounds that will include green infrastructure to capture stormwater when it rains, thereby easing pressure on the city’s sewer system and improving the health of local waterways. The announcement was made during a ribbon-cutting celebration held at Brooklyn’s P.S. 261, where the new playground will manage nearly half a million gallons of stormwater annually.

Participants included The Trust for Public Land’s Adrian Benepe, Senior Vice President, and Marc Matsil, New York State director, Environmental Protection Commissioner Carter Strickland, Chancellor Dennis M. Walcott, City Council Member Stephen Levin, and Hideki Shirato of The Mizuho USA Foundation.

The first three playgrounds to be completed this fall are all located in Brooklyn, at P.S. 261, which drains into the Gowanus Canal, and at J.H.S. 218 and P.S. 65, which drain into Jamaica Bay. Over the next year, the partnership will build up to 10 additional playgrounds that will improve the health and cleanliness of the Gowanus Canal, Newtown Creek, Westchester Creek, the Bronx River, Flushing Bay, and Jamaica Bay. This new program grew out of a long-standing partnership between The Trust for Public Land and the City of New York. Under Mayor Bloomberg’s PlaNYC 2030 initiative, older asphalt schoolyards are being transformed into vibrant playgrounds and community parks, helping ensure that every child in the city has a safe outdoor play space within a ten-minute walk.

“The Trust for Public Land has been steadily decreasing the amount of asphalt in city schoolyards and replacing it with trees, gardens, permeable surfaces, and turf fields,” said Mary Alice Lee, director of The Trust for Public Land’s New York City Playgrounds Program.

“We are pleased to partner with The Trust for Public Land and contribute up to $5 million a year towards green playground projects that will manage millions of gallons of stormwater, reduce local street flooding, and improve the health of our local waterways,” said DEP Commissioner Carter Strickland. “These projects will also help raise awareness in the next generation of New Yorkers about the connection between planted beds and fields that absorb stormwater and a cleaner harbor.”

Depending on the size and layout of the space, and the needs of the particular school, the green infrastructure components could include small green roofs on storage sheds, rain gardens, rain barrels to capture stormwater that falls on roofs, tree swales with pervious pavers, and artificial turf fields with a gravel base that allow stormwater to pass through and be absorbed into the ground. The green infrastructure components will capture at least the first inch of stormwater that falls on the playgrounds each time it rains. Each site will be open to the public after school and on weekends until dusk, seven days a week, as part of the Schoolyards to Playgrounds program.

Public funding for the playgrounds’ construction was provided by the NYC Department of Education, the Department of Environmental Protection, and New York City Council Members Stephen Levin (P.S. 261), Charles Barron (J.H.S. 218), and Council Speaker Christine Quinn (P.S. 65), who each contributed $200,000. The charitable foundation of Japan’s Mizuho Bank, Ltd., the Mizuho USA Foundation, which is dedicated to supporting community development programs that contribute to the strength and vitality of urban neighborhoods, provided private funding. Significant funding for P.S. 65 was contributed by MetLife Foundation, a longtime supporter of The Trust for Public Land’s NYC Program, having supported close to 20 playgrounds and gardens throughout the five boroughs, while The Trust for Public Land’s Playgrounds Committee funded the J.H.S. 218 playground.

Like many older cities in the United States, New York City is largely serviced by a combined sewer system where stormwater, and wastewater from homes and businesses are carried through a single sewer pipe to treatment plants. During heavy rainfall, stormwater that falls on streets, rooftops, sidewalks, and other impervious surfaces can exceed the capacity of the sewer system and a combination of stormwater and wastewater (CSO) can be discharged into local waterways. Since 2002, DEP has invested more than $10 billion in upgrades to wastewater treatment plants and related efforts to reduce CSOs and today New York Harbor is cleaner and healthier than it has been in more than a century. However, CSOs remain the city’s top harbor water quality challenge.

In 2010, the city launched the Green Infrastructure Plan, an alternative approach to reducing CSOs and improving water quality that combines traditional infrastructure upgrades with cost effective green infrastructure installations that capture and retain stormwater runoff before it ever enters the sewer system. Over the next 20 years, DEP is planning for $2.4 billion in public and private funding for targeted green infrastructure installations, as well as an estimated $2.9 billion in cost-effective grey infrastructure upgrades, to significantly reduce CSOs.

To date, The Trust for Public Land’s New York City program has led participatory design for 178 playgrounds that New York City has built through the NYC Department of Parks and Recreation. Prior to The Trust for Public Land’s commitment to PlaNYC, the organization had created 25 playgrounds at New York City public schools through a pilot program with the NYC Department of Education, which oversees the School Construction Authority. Based on the success of those pilot projects, this new partnership was able to easily integrate green infrastructure into the playground renovations, of which the playground at P.S. 261 in Brooklyn is the first to be completed. New York City’s public schools serve 1.1 million students.