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Central Park Conservancy Blog

Designing and Constructing with Sustainable Materials in Central Park

What is sustainable development and site design? And how do they influence urban park management?

We think of sustainable development as development that meets present needs without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. Similarly, sustainable site design applies this idea to design, construction, operations, and maintenance practices.

In Central Park, the Central Park Conservancy’s Planning, Design, and Construction team balances historical design elements with ecological considerations in order to build sustainable landscapes. These include designing for biodiversity, supporting pollinators, and creating, preserving, and enhancing a wildlife habitat. One example of habitat preservation and creation is the Lake shoreline reconstruction at Cherry Hill. The shore was stabilized with natural materials, including plants, boulders, and coir logs (natural fibers formed into rolls that offer stabilization along areas like river banks and slopes), to prevent erosion and cultivate a viable ecosystem. The Lake was contoured to create deep and shallow areas that facilitate aquatic planting shelves and generate habitat for wildlife, in turn enhancing the water body’s health and ecological function.

The Lake before and after

The selection of materials is an important part of sustainable design and construction in the Park. Criteria the Conservancy considers when selecting materials include the environmental and social impacts of the materials’ extraction, manufacture, transport, installation, and disposal. Reusing or repurposing existing materials is one technique used in the Park. For example, portions of the 110th Street Playground were built with wood from the Atlantic City boardwalk!

wood from Atlantic City boardwalk at 110th street playground

A new sustainable material on some of the Park’s paths is porous asphalt. Laid on top of a stone reservoir layer, porous asphalt improves the surface permeability of paths. This has several benefits, such as reducing storm water runoff volume; melting snow and ice faster and thereby reducing salt usage for de-icing, reducing water runoff contamination, and improving water and oxygen transfer to nearby plant roots. While initial costs for porous asphalt are often higher than other pavement materials, this can be offset by cost reductions in other areas, like stormwater management. Porous asphalt requires special maintenance, such as vacuuming, and is best used in flat areas. You can find it on Central Park’s Rhododendron Mile along the East Drive, between 86th and 94th Streets.

porous asphalt