Environmental Sustainability

The Conservancy is committed to the environmental sustainability and resilience of Central Park and New York City.

As a public greenspace, Central Park serves as an essential piece of infrastructure for New York City. Its significance becomes even more pronounced as climate change and chronic environmental inequities continue to pose challenges for the New York City community.

Central Park’s varied landscapes provide vital ecosystem services—a term used to describe the benefits humans get from nature—to New York City that help mitigate climate change and reduce the impact of climate shocks, like extreme storm events or poor air quality. The Park benefits the City by helping with carbon storage and sequestration, cooling and purifying the air, and reducing stormwater runoff. However, climate change threatens the performance of these ecosystems by stressing the vegetation in the Park, causing more frequent flood events, and threatening the health of Central Park Conservancy employees who work in the landscapes year-round.

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Native pollinating plants like swamp milkweed, used throughout Central Park

As experts in Central Park’s care, the Conservancy is dedicated to minimizing the adverse environmental effects of our work, including pollution, greenhouse gas emissions, and waste. We simultaneously aim to contribute positively to the environment by promoting biodiversity and improving the quality of nature for both visitors and ecosystems. In everything we do, we remain committed to preserving Central Park’s beauty, ensuring its health, and fostering its sustainability for the 42 million annual visitors that enjoy the Park.

As stewards of this iconic public space and historic landmark, the Conservancy is committed to maintaining Central Park for future generations by refining design and management practices. Across the organization, the Conservancy encourages staff to consider environmental sustainability in their day-to-day work and pilot new solutions.

Restoring Habitat at the Harlem Meer Center

The Central Park Conservancy is rebuilding the former Lasker Rink and Pool to better integrate the facility into the Park’s landscape, offer new and enhanced outdoor activities, and increase access for communities around the north end of the Park. The Conservancy embedded sustainability, to the greatest extent possible, in the project’s design and construction.

Restoring Landscapes and Building Green Infrastructure: The previous pool sat on top of a watercourse called the Ravine, which connects the Pool to the Meer. The infrastructure of the rink physically covered the Ravine, and the water was channelized in a culvert underground. The new design restores the water connection and removes the culvert in a process called “daylighting,” or unburying covered water. By exposing the water, the project will improve the water quality, enhance biodiversity, and create more access to greenspace.

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Rendering of the green roof at the Harlem Meer Center

The Harlem Meer Center design removes hardened features from the edge of the Harlem Meer. In place of hard infrastructure, the Conservancy has installed freshwater marsh plantings at the water body’s edge to stabilize its banks, create habitat for wildlife, and improve water quality.

It also will feature a pedestrian path that will enhance nature-based recreation and connections to the North Woods. This will allow visitors to more easily enjoy the physical and mental health benefits of New York City’s woodlands.

Reducing Paved Areas and Building a Green Roof

The building design reduces impervious surfaces by over two acres, which helps the Conservancy maximize ecosystem services. Additionally, the design incorporates a green roof to mitigate stormwater runoff, eliminate localized “heat island effects,” and provide additional access to nature.

Conserving Water & Energy

The former rink infrastructure, built in the 1960s, was prone to leaks and relied on a refrigerant (R22) that has since been banned due to its ozone-depleting qualities.

The new facility features the following water and energy conservation elements:

  • Passive climate control minimizes reliance on building systems/use of energy for cooling and heating. By placing the building within the slope, the building interior will be thermally insulated. The orientation of the building and design of overhangs will shade the interior space in summer and admit sunlight in the winter. The operable glass façade produces natural “stack” ventilation to cool the building in the summer, eliminating the need for air conditioning in all but a few back-of-house spaces.
  • High-efficiency plumbing minimizes the use of potable water and the associated burden on the City’s sewer infrastructure.
  • The building’s stone, wood, and glass are sourced locally. Stone from the excavation was repurposed as fill in the construction of the pool and landscape topography. By sourcing locally and repurposing materials, the Conservancy saves energy and emissions from transportation.
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Spray features keeping young visitors cool

Achieving LEED Certification

In alignment with our commitment to building excellence and sustainable design, the new Center will achieve a Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Gold rating from the United States Green Building Council (USGBC).

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Rendering of the Harlem Meer Center redesign with restored Ravine

Reducing Emissions through an Electric Fleet

The Conservancy is proud that 90% of our utility vehicles, used in daily operations, are electric. This reduces our reliance on high-emissions fuels like diesel and gasoline. The Conservancy aims to transition to electric equipment wherever possible. In addition to our utility vehicles, by the end of 2023:

  • 59% of passenger vehicles are electric or hybrid
  • 33% of blowers are electric
  • All air compressors are electric

The Conservancy is exploring the possibility of electric mowers and other low-emission equipment.

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90% of Conservancy utility carts are electric

Letting the Grass Grow

Expanding habitat within Central Park is a powerful tool to combat the effects of climate change and improve biodiversity. Outside of the distinct natural areas (including landscapes like the North Woods, the Ramble, the Hallett Nature Sanctuary, and the Dene Slope), the Conservancy aims to support ecosystems in landscaped areas while balancing other goals like historic preservation, access, and recreation.

In 2023, the Conservancy piloted several “low-mow” sites in the northern section of the Park. Reducing mowing saves trees from root damage caused by mowing, lowers emissions from fuel-powered mowers, and creates habitat for pollinating species and native plants.

The Conservancy carefully selected sites that are on a slope or receive little foot traffic. With support from volunteers, we manually removed non-native grasses like smartweed. The team then installed low fencing to protect the landscapes, hand-tilled the soil, seeded with a mix of native grasses, and let the grass grow. The Conservancy continues to monitor the success of low-mow projects and is adapting practices.

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Wildflowers grow underneath trees to provide habitat and protect tree roots

Diverting Waste from Landfill

We recycle in the Park! The Conservancy collects approximately 1,400 tons of plastic, bottles, paper, and other refuse from the Park and its facilities each year. In 2023, the Conservancy focused its efforts on improving recycling rates in the Park by expanding employee training on recycling practices, improving signage at waste stations, and focusing on waste streams that are least contaminated, like metal, glass, plastic, and cartons.

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Central Park Conservancy staff learning about where recycling collected from the Park is sorted

Within the past year (2023), we increased our recycling of metal, plastic, and glass by 72%. Park visitors play a critical role in this effort by, firstly, reducing what they purchase and bring into the Park; selecting recyclable materials; and properly sorting in waste stations. Thank you for helping us reduce our landfill waste.

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Central Park Climate Lab

The Central Park Conservancy partners with the Natural Areas Conservancy and the Yale School of the Environment to understand the impacts of climate change on urban greenspaces and the benefits of those spaces. Findings inform our management.

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