New York City is turning to its youngest citizens and their schoolyards in a new, innovative effort to reduce stormwater runoff and enhance recreational space in the city.  A partnership among the Trust for Public Land, the city’s Department of Environmental Protection, the School Construction Authority, and the New York City Council is working to design and build playgrounds with green infrastructure elements such as rain gardens, rain barrels, porous paving materials, and plantings within priority watersheds of the city, such as the Gowanus Canal and Jamaica Bay.  Their goal is that each newly designed playground will be able to capture the first inch of water in a storm.

 The most exciting part of the Trust’s program is that it is engaging the students, parents, and teachers at each school to help design the playgrounds that will both meet their specific needs and the needs of the city to reduce stormwater runoff.  Students are tasked and encouraged to participate in the design process.  During that time, they learn about the problems with outdated urban infrastructure—such as combined sewer systems and asphalt paving—and the ways in which soft infrastructure solutions like trees and grass, roof gardens, and permeable surfaces can help to mitigate and ameliorate those issues. Through this knowledge, their playground “wish list” evolves from the standard items like basketball courts, swing sets, and slides to include butterfly and meditation gardens and gravel-lined turf fields (NY Times).

As cities around the U.S. continue to face concerns such as outdated stormwater infrastructure and climate change, it will be imperative that citizens understand the issues and possibility for innovative and integrated solutions.  By engaging New York City’s school children, the Trust for Public Land is laying a foundation for an informed citizenry that is more aware and engaged.  Through incorporating them in the design process, they are also encouraging students to be active participants that can work together to solve problems and build a better community for themselves.

Image Credits: The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times

Harriett Jameson, Biophilic Cities Project Researcher 

Harriett is a masters degree  candidate for the Urban and Environmental Planning and Landscape Architecture disciplines at the University of Virginia.