How Central Park Keeps New York City Healthy

“Just living is not enough... one must have sunshine, freedom, and a little flower.”

Hans Christian Andersen

We know parks make us healthier and happier, but how does Central Park contribute to the wellbeing of New York City’s people, plants, and wildlife?

Trees provide cleaner air

Central Park is home to more than 18,000 trees, including one of the country’s largest and last remaining stands of American elms, along the Mall and Fifth Avenue. These trees are not only picturesque, but also help New Yorkers breathe a little easier. In one year, a mature tree will absorb more than 48 pounds of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, converting it into oxygen. That adds up to roughly one million pounds of carbon dioxide removed from the city’s air each year by Central Park’s trees. It's no wonder that the Conservancy Tree Care team is so passionate about caring for them!

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Trees keep cities cooler

The Park’s trees not only decrease carbon dioxide levels, but also help keep New York City cool during increasingly common heatwaves that are exacerbated by the climate crisis. Metropolitan areas like New York City often constitute “urban heat islands,” which are hotter than surrounding rural areas due to heat-absorbing materials like concrete and glass. Trees work as natural air conditioners, not only providing shade for the people sitting under them, but cooling the city as a whole. These trees also absorb water that evaporates in the heat, cooling the air temperatures around them.

A few more things about trees

Trees have countless other environmental benefits, including capturing air pollutants, filtering rainwater, and reducing the amount of toxins flowing into water bodies, but Central Park’s trees have an added role in maintaining the landscapes. Roughly 3,000 cubic yards of leaves and 5,000 cubic yards of other tree waste each year find a second life at the Park’s composting operation, the Mount. Wood chips are used in flowerbeds or ground into fine mulch, and leaves are turned into compost. On occasion, leaves are transformed into “compost tea,” which is used on the Park’s newly planted trees and flower gardens as a natural fertilizer. (Contribute your own trees to this effort at NYC Parks’ annual Mulchfest.)

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Healthy parks make healthy people

Access to open spaces for physical activity results in a 25 percent increase in exercise, three or more days a week. This is great news for the millions of New Yorkers who live near Central Park. More than half a million people live within a 10-minute walk from the Park, and roughly 1.2 million more are within a half-hour bus or subway ride. With ballfields, tennis courts, handball courts, playgrounds, ice skating rinks, boat rentals, swimming pools, running trails, and more, Central Park offers New Yorkers a variety of ways to stay active. For those looking for some relaxation, newly renovated areas like the North Woods and the Hallett Nature Sanctuary offer an opportunity for quiet and solitude amid the bustle of New York City.

Parks build communities

Dubbed the “people’s park” by Park designers Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux, Central Park was originally intended as a democratic space, open to people of every background and economic status. The Park continues in that vein today, providing a free public space for millions to enjoy artistic, cultural, and other major events each year, or to just sit on a bench and people-watch. The Park serves as the finish line for the TCS New York City Marathon; the setting for a free, annual performance by the New York Philharmonic; and the host to many other festivals and events that bring New Yorkers and visitors together.

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Parks provide urban habitat for wildlife

Among the City’s skyscrapers and apartment buildings are few places that New York City’s wildlife population can call home, so Central Park is a welcome retreat. The Park counts turtles, ducks, fish, squirrels, bats, and chipmunks among its permanent residents, and more than 200 different species of birds rely on the Park’s landscapes and water bodies throughout the year. Central Park is also an important stopover for many bird species, providing ample space for rest and feeding during spring and fall migrations.

Healthy cities need healthy parks. Our work at the Conservancy creates sustainable landscapes that provide environmental benefits to all New Yorkers, but our work is never complete. While our dedicated staff keeps the trees and landscapes healthy for visitors, we also empower the Park’s next generation of stewards with volunteer opportunities and student internships. By embracing sustainability in our work, we ensure that Central Park will give back to New York City for generations to come.