The High Performance Landscape Guidelines: 21st Century Parks for NYC stand as a radical act by an enlightened municipality. Created by the New York City Department of Parks & Recreation, in partnership with the non-profit Design Trust for Public Space, the Guidelines describe state-of-the-art strategies that will change the way every single New York City green space is designed, constructed, and maintained. Once implemented across New York's 29,000 acres of parkland - an area the size of Miami - these strategies will clean water and air, increase biodiversity, lessen the burden on combined sewer systems, reduce the urban heat island effect, improve public health, and reduce energy usage. And they'll do all that while increasing amenities New Yorkers rightfully demand from their public spaces - gathering places, pedestrian and bicycle paths, verdant green spaces, beauty, delight.
While the High Performance Landscape Guidelines are the first of its kind in the nation, the idea of green infrastructure is not a new one. Confronted with the problem of recurrent floods and overflowing sewage in Boston's Back Bay in the late nineteenth century, Frederick Law Olmsted created a poetic sylvan network of streams and wetlands for pleasure-boating and strolling. Less obviously, the Back Bay Fens also incorporated underground channels, earthwork, and plantings that could absorb, store, filter, and release stormwater and sewage slowly. The interrelated challenges Olmsted addressed in 1875 - public health and water quality, stormwater overflow, and recreational needs in a heavily populated urban area - are even more pressing in twenty first century New York and throughout the world.