Sustainability Guidelines for NYC Parks

Panorama, Frozen Lullwater at Prospect Park at Sunset
Panorama, Frozen Lullwater at Sunset, Prospect Park

The New York City Department of Parks and Recreation (Parks) recently released new sustainability guidelines for the design and maintenance of NYC’s green spaces, High Performance Landscape Guidelines: 21st Century Parks for NYC:

High Performance Landscape Guidelines is the first document of its kind in the nation: a comprehensive, municipal design primer for sustainable parks and open space. The product of a unique partnership between the Parks Department and the Design Trust, a nonprofit organization that helped create sustainable guidelines for NYC buildings, High Performance Landscape Guidelines covers every aspect of creating sustainable parks, from design to construction to maintenance, and feature many best practices for managing soil, water, and vegetation resources.
Press Release, January 6, 2011

The Guidelines, running over 270 pages, cover site assessment; design, construction and maintenance; and soils, water and vegetation. the final section of the manual includes several case studies, including two of Brooklyn’s Parks: Calvert Vaux and Canarsie Parks.

Climate change is identified as a major factor, if not the single most important consideration, for the guidelines:

Climate change threatens the stability and longevity of New York City’s infrastructure, buildings, and parks; it also compromises the health and safety of the city’s population. Unless the growth of greenhouse gas emissions is curbed and reversed, experts predict that climate change will result in significant sea level rise, increased storm intensity and frequency, and increased temperatures.

Two factors will exacerbate the impacts of climate change in New York City: the urban heat island effect and the city’s overburdened stormwater infrastructure.

– Climate Change and 21st Century Parks, Part 1, Guidelines


Related Content

Sustainable Gardening


High Performance Landscape Guidelines: 21st Century Parks for NYC, available as PDF (273 pages)
Parks Press Release: A New Year Launches A New Era In Great Park Design, 2011-01-06

Be Green Organic Yards NY

The New York Sate Department of Environmental Conservation announced a new initiative to encourage the use of sustainable gardening and yard care practices.

Be Green(sm) Organic Yards NY will provide training and licensing. Businesses complying with their practices will be able to display the Be Green logo. DEC is also enlisting course providers to deliver the training.

I hope their program includes eliminating leaf-blowers.

From the July 2010 issue of NYS DEC’s online magazine, Environment DEC:

DEC’S “Be Green” Initiative Taps into Organic Yard Care

Having a truly “green” lawn will get easier with the help of “Be Green Organic Yards NY,” a new initiative recently announced by Commissioner Pete Grannis of the Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC).

Homeowners and business owners in many areas of the country are choosing organic yard-care management, which can range from a simple regimen of planting and pruning to the “big picture,” including plant selection and soil structure. The organic approach focuses on preventing problems before they occur and building a sustainable, healthy landscape. The goal of “Be Green” is to help create an organically managed environment for people, pets, wildlife and plants.

With Be Green Organic Yards NY, DEC offers a way for consumers and organic-yard businesses and course providers to participate in a “green” yard management initiative. When businesses provide Be Green services to manage lawns, plants and trees organically, they agree to meet DEC’s Be Green conditions. The conditions include prohibitions against certain pest management practices, such as the use of synthetic pesticides and fertilizers.
How “Be Green Organic Yards NY” Works

In the first phase of the Be Green initiative, DEC encourages organizations that provide organic-yard management training to offer courses needed by companies interested in becoming Be Green businesses. The next steps in the initiative will unfold this year for businesses and consumers. Here’s how the Be Green Program will work:

  • Qualified course providers will sign up to participate in the new program and begin offering training needed by future Be Green businesses. Course providers will enter a license agreement to use the special state Be Green service mark (logo) in advertising this training.
  • Successfully trained businesses will be eligible to sign an agreement with DEC for the right to use the special logo. In return, they will agree to avoid using synthetic pesticides and other prohibited materials when providing Be Green services.
  • When the program is fully operating, consumers will be able to search DEC’s website for Be Green businesses in their area. DEC expects to have listings available in the fall. Consumers will be able to recognize Be Green businesses by the special state logo which may be included in their advertising. Representatives of businesses that provide Be Green services will carry Be Green identification cards.


DEC’S “Be Green” Initiative Taps into Organic Yard Care
Be Green(sm) Organic Yards NY, NY State Department of Environmental Conservation:

Cellophane Bees Return

Cellophane Bee

Colletes thoracicus, Cellophane Bee, is a native species of solitary, ground-nesting bees. Solitary, because each nest is burrowed out by a single queen, who constructs several chambers in which to lay individual eggs. Solitary, yet communal: where they find the right conditions, the nests can be densely packed.Here’s a short video showing the activity on Saturday morning.

This is the third year for what I’ve come to think of as “my little bees.” I noticed the holes earlier last week, and saw all this activity last Saturday, as I was readying for the Plant Swap. This is the earliest in the year that I’ve noticed them.

Make Your Garden Bee-Friendly

These bees took up residence in a “neglected” spot of the garden, one of the benefits of being a lazy gardener/ecosystem engineer. Different species of bees have different requirements. Here are some things you can do to make your garden bee-friendly.

  • Avoid chemicals, especially pesticides.
  • Leave some areas of bare or muddy ground for ground-nesting species.
  • Set aside “wild” areas, even a few square feet.
  • Provide bee nesting houses.
  • Forego that perfect lawn, minimize lawn area, and/or mow less often.
  • Plant a diversity of flowering plants; bees prefer yellow, blue, and purple flowers.
  • Provide a succession of blooming plants throughout the growing season, especially early spring and late fall.
  • Provide a mix of flower shapes to accommodate different bee tongue lengths.
  • Emphasize native perennial plants. (See plant lists under Links below.)
  • Minimize the use of doubled flowers.
  • Select sunny locations, sheltered from the wind, for your flower plantings.
  • Practice peaceful coexistence.


Related Content

Colletes thoracicus (Colletidae), Cellophane Bees, Flickr photo set

Who cares about honeybees, anyway?, 2009-11-04, my guest rant on Garden Rant

Bee Watchers Needed in NYC (and a rant), 2009-06-05
Bees, a Mockingbird, and Marriage Equality, 2009-05-22
Cellophane Bees Return, 2009-05-09
Colletes thoracicus (Colletidae), Cellophane Bees, 2008-05-26



Great Pollinator Project
Understanding Native Bees, the Great Pollinators

Plant Lists

Regional Plant Lists, PlantNative
Plants Attractive to Native Bees, USDA 


Ecoregion Location Maps and Planting Guides, Pollinator Partnership
North American Pollinator Protection Campaign
Urban Bee Gardens, Dr. Gordon Frankie, University of Berkeley
The Xerces Society

Put Down Roots: Million Trees NYC Tree Giveaway

Once again, MillionTreesNYC is offering free trees, first-come, first-served, at limited locations around the city. Trees must be planted in the ground, not a container or planter, within New York City.  They can be planted on private property, with permission of the property owner.

Here are some Brooklyn locations. Check their Tree Giveaway page for the latest updates and other locations and dates around NYC.

SOLD OUT – All 200 trees were claimed in 1/2 hour
Green Fort Green and Clinton Hill & FAB Alliance Giveaway
Saturday April 17th and Sunday April 18th 10 am – 3 pm
Putnam Triangle (Putnam Avenue & Fulton Street)
Brooklyn, NY 11238

Grand Street Campus Giveaway
Saturday, May 1st and Sunday May 2nd 10 am – 4 pm
850 Grand Street
Brooklyn, NY 11211

April is MillionTreesNYC month. In addition to the tree giveaway, there are many other events and activities scheduled.

Earth Day Corporate Challenge (Thursday, April 22, 2010) – To
celebrate the 40th anniversary of Earth Day, NYRP and City Year are
joining forces for a second year to challenge some of New York City’s
corporate leaders to plant more than 100 street trees in Upper
Manhattan’s Washington Heights. To get your company involved, contact
Jimmy Owens, NYRP Corporate Giving Manager, at (212) 333-2552.

NYC Parks Reforestation Day (Saturday, April 24) – more than a
thousand community volunteers will join the NYC Parks Department in
planting 20,000 trees in a single day at 16 park sites across the
city’s five boroughs. To register to volunteer, visit

NYC Grows (Sunday, April 25) – NYRP and the NYC Parks Department,
along with presenting sponsor Organic Gardening magazine, invite New
Yorkers to this annual, free outdoor festival that promotes community
gardening, tree planting and care, urban farming and sustainable
living. Tree-planting and care demonstrations will be provided
throughout the day in the MillionTreesNYC pavilion area. To learn
more, visit

Arbor Day Celebration (Friday, April 30) – To commemorate Arbor Day,
MillionTreesNYC lead sponsors The Home Depot Foundation, Toyota and
BNP Paribas will bring their employees out to dig in and green a
Brooklyn residential development. New York City residents are invited
to celebrate Arbor Day by planting a tree in their yard or by adopting
a street tree and watering and protecting it all year long. To learn
more, visit

MillionTreesNYC Lecture Series (Mondays in May) – To keep the
MillionTreesNYC momentum moving beyond April, a series of lectures
focused on innovations in tree planting and maintenance, public policy
and urban forestry research will be presented each Monday throughout
the month of May. For dates, times and locations of lectures, visit

Related Content

Carolina Silverbell: One of a Million, 2007-10-09
News, NYC: 1M Trees in 10 Years, 2007-04-22



Free Trees in Clinton Hill, GreenBeat Brooklyn, 2010-04-07

Bee Watchers Needed in NYC (and a rant)

The Great Pollinator Project, a joint effort of the Greenbelt Native Plant Center and the Center for Biodiversity and Conservation, is recruiting volunteers for 2009 to record and report observations of native bee species in New York City. They are conducting orientations over the next week from 6-8pm at the following locations:

Brooklyn: Monday, June 8th at Brooklyn Botanic Garden, 1000 Washington Avenue
Staten Island: Tuesday, June 9th at Greenbelt Nature Center, 700 Rockland Avenue
Bronx: Tuesday, June 9th at Van Cortlandt House Museum, Van Cortlandt Park
Queens: Wednesday, June 10th at Alley Pond Environmental Center (APEC) 228-06 Northern Blvd.
Manhattan: Tuesday, June 16th at Central Park, North Meadow Recreation Center (Off of 97th St. Transverse Road)

You can RSVP online, by emailing, or by calling 718-370-9044.

I’ll take this opportunity to rant a bit. Honeybees, which we manage both for their products – honey and beeswax – and their service as pollinators, are a single, non-native, species of bee. Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) has been widely reported for several years and is well-embedded in the public consciousness. Meanwhile, the circumstances of the thousands of bee species native to North America go unreported.

Much has been made of agriculture’s dependence on honeybees for pollination. Dire outcomes from the loss of honeybees – widespread crop failures, famine, even human extinction – have been proffered. Perhaps these things would come to pass. However, the underlying cause would not be the loss of honeybees but our dependence on them through unsustainable agricultural practices.

Honeybees are livestock. They are animals which we manage for our uses. We provide them with housing, maintenance, even move them from field to field as we let cows into different pastures for grazing.

Native pollinators will do the job, but only if we leave them a place to live. We clear land for orchards and fields, removing the hedgerows and other “messy” places that had been their home. The monocultures of agriculture are magnified in the deserts of diversity they create. Of course we need to ship domesticated pollinators around (burning fossil fuels in the process); we’ve eliminated the native pollinators by destroying their habitats. In the process, we’ve also driven out native predators of plant pests, thereby initating the addictive cycle of pesticides, fertilizers, more and more inputs needed just to tread water on land until our systems collapse around us.

If that should come to pass, just don’t blame the bees.

One-third of our food depends on the services of a pollinator—bee or other insect, bird, or mammal. Bees are the most important pollinators in the Northeastern U.S., and there are more than 200 species of bees that live right here in New York City. We need to protect these local pollinators that help keep our parks and green spaces healthy and beautiful, and our farmers’ markets stocked with fresh produce.

In 2007, the Center for Biodiversity and Conservation and the Greenbelt Native Plant Center began the Great Pollinator Project (GPP) in collaboration with the Great Sunflower Project in San Francisco, CA. The goals of the GPP are:
1) identify which areas of New York City have good pollinator service (as determined by how quickly bees show up to pollinate flowers at various locations throughout the city);
2) increase understanding of bee distribution;
3) raise public awareness of native bees; and
4) improve park management and home gardening practices to benefit native bees.

If you are interested in our local pollinators, we need your help!

– The Great Pollinator Project

There are many ways to be a Bee Watcher:

  • Observe bee visitation at selected plants that will be distributed at our spring orientations. Conduct your observations in your own garden and submit your data online.
  • Become a Mobile Bee Watcher. Conduct your observations on flowers in your neighborhood or at selected bee gardens planted at various locations throughout New York City and submit your data online.

Bee Watchers

Related Content

Bees, a Mockingbird, and Marriage Equality, 2009-05-22
Cellophane Bees Return, 2009-05-09
Colletes thoracicus (Colletidae), Cellophane Bees, 2008-05-26


Great Pollinator Project
Greenbelt Native Plant Center
Center for Biodiversity and Conservation

Queens Botanical Garden Visitor Center on AIA Top Ten “Green” List

The Queens Botanical Garden is on my “to visit” list. Last week, their Visitor & Administration Center was named one of the top ten “green” projects of 2008 by the Committee on the Environment (COTE) of the American Institute of Architects (AIA):

In looking to the future, the Garden has propelled itself into the front ranks of its field as the first botanical garden in the country devoted to sustainable environmental stewardship. The goal has been to integrate a beautiful contemporary building into the experience of its varied gardens and landscapes, heightening the visitor experience of the natural environment and conveying the key elements of successful sustainability. A water channel surrounds the building and weaves through the garden, fed by rainwater that cascades off of the sheltering roof canopy.
Press Release, April 22, 2008, AIA/COTE

The 2008 COTE Top Ten Green Projects program celebrates projects that are the result of a thoroughly integrated approach to architecture, natural systems and technology. They make a positive contribution to their communities, improve comfort for building occupants and reduce environmental impacts through strategies such as reuse of existing structures, connection to transit systems, low-impact and regenerative site development, energy and water conservation, use of sustainable or renewable construction materials, and design that improves indoor air quality.

QBG’s V&A Center, a LEED Platinum building, officially opened in September 2007 as part of a wide ranging plan to improve sustainability across the Garden:

The Garden’s Master Plan of 2001 launched the Sustainable Landscapes and Buildings Project. As the name implies, the project is much more than buildings. It includes new plants, many of which are native species; bioswales to collect storm water and reduce wear-and-tear on New York City’s combined sewer system; water recycling systems; the new Horticulture/Maintenance Building; the revolutionary Visitor & Administration Center; and the transformation of our existing parking lot into a 125-space parking garden beginning on or around June 2008.
Sustainable Landscapes & Buildings Project, Queens Botanical Garden

Reusing graywater for flushing toilets reduces the project’s potable water consumption by 55%. The building also features waterless urinals and composting toilets. Thanks to extensive bioswales and a green roof on the auditorium, the project manages all stormwater on site. A water channel, fed by rainwater that cascades off the roof canopy, weaves around the building and through the gardens.

The reception building’s long, narrow shape is oriented along an east-west axis, allowing daylight to penetrate all interior spaces. An efficient lighting system, daylight dimming, and occupancy sensors reduce energy consumption. Glass doors and windows slide open in temperate weather, providing natural ventilation. The building uses photovoltaic panels and a ground-source heat-pump system to harvest energy on site.

More than 33% of the materials in the building, by cost, were harvested or manufactured within 500 miles of the project site. The project team also preferred materials with high durability, low maintenance requirements, recycled content, low chemical emissions, and Forest Stewardship Council certification.
Queens Botanical Garden Visitor Center, AIA/COTE Top Ten Green Projects


Sustainable Landscapes & Buildings Project, Queens Botanical Garden
Queens Botanical Garden Visitor Center, AIA/COTE Top Ten Green Projects

The Values and Ethics of Plant Propagation

A neighbor of mine got his question published in Randy Cohen’s weekly column, The Ethicist, in Sunday’s New York Times:

“I’m told it is illegal to propagate and sell this tree because the National Geographic Society (NGS) has exclusive rights to it in the United States, but would I be unethical to do so?”
Pine Away, The Ethicist, NY Times, April 20, 2008

The tree in question, Wollemia nobilis, the Wollemi™ Pine (and note the trademark), is critically endangered in the wild:

The pine was known solely from fossil records and presumed extinct until it was discovered in 1994 in the Wollemi National Park, just outside Sydney, Australia. Dubbed the botanical find of the century, the Wollemi pine is now the focus of extensive research to conserve this ancient species.

Fewer than 100 mature trees are known exist, growing in small groves on moist ledges in a deep rainforest gorge surrounded by rugged mountains and undisturbed forest.
Wollemi Pine (Wollemia nobilis) at Brooklyn Botanic Garden

The trademarked name situation arises – ironically, to my mind – from efforts to protect and conserve the species:

Through National Geographic’s licensing partnership with Floragem, a portion of the sales will go directly to Wollemi Pine International Pty. Ltd., whose mission is to conserve the Wollemi Pine for future generations and to raise awareness of conservation internationally. Through public participation, Wollemi Pine International will repopulate the Wollemi Pine and return royalties to fund conservation of these trees and other threatened and endangered species.
Press Release, National Geographic Society, September 19, 2006

The Ethicist, Randy Cohen, responded:

Liz Nickless, a spokeswoman for the society, says that “there are no exclusive agreements for the distribution of the Wollemi pine.” There is a U.S. trademark, she adds, “so anyone wanting to use the name will need permission.” That is, you may become a Johnny Wollemi Seed, disseminating this fine fir under its scientific name, Wollemia nobilis, or for that matter as Sexy Slender Tree or Pinetacular, but not (without consent) as a Wollemi Pine.

While trademarks govern the use of the name, plant patents proscribe unlicensed propagation:

A plant patent is granted by the Government to an inventor (or the inventor’s heirs or assigns) who has invented or discovered and asexually reproduced a distinct and new variety of plant, other than a tuber propagated plant or a plant found in an uncultivated state. The grant, which lasts for 20 years from the date of filing the application, protects the inventor’s right to exclude others from asexually reproducing, selling, or using the plant so reproduced.
[emphasis added]- What is a plant patent?, Overview of Plant Patents, U.S. Patent and Trademark Office

This example comes from the U.S. Patent Office; similar laws and regulations govern in other countries.

More and more of the varieties I see available for sale are labelled “PPAF” (Plant Patent Applied For) or “PP #XXXXXX”, the plant patent number. So what happens when I need to divide my patented perennial?

Asexual reproduction is the propagation of a plant to multiply the plant without the use of genetic seeds to assure an exact genetic copy of the plant being reproduced. … asexual reproduction would include but may not be limited to:

  • Rooting Cuttings
  • Grafting and Budding
  • Apomictic Seeds
  • Bulbs
  • Division
  • Slips
  • Layering
  • Rhizomes
  • Runners
  • Corms
  • Tissue Culture
  • Nucellar Embryos

Asexual reproduction, Overview of Plant Patents

When I divide my patented perennial – or god forbid, share it with a neighbor – I’m breaking the law. I could choose to disregard it, or I could choose not to support this system and boycott patented plants altogether.

That F1 hybrid vegetable is a manufactured product and won’t come true from seed; its selection and use maintains a dependency on its manufacture and distribution. An open-pollinated heirloom variety can be propagated indefinitely, and shared with others;, a model for sustainable gardening.

As gardeners, the choices we make affect our world, however indirectly. With some reflection, we can reduce the risk of unintended consequences in conflict with out intents. We can choose gardening practices to express our values through action.


Press Release, National Geographic Society, September 19, 2006
The Wollemi Pine Conservation Club
Wollemi Pine (Wollemia nobilis) at Brooklyn Botanic Garden
Overview of Plant Patents, U.S. Patent and Trademark Office
Name that Plant – The Misuse of Trademarks in Horticulture, Tony Avent, Plant Delights Nursery, 2007.12.25 [Added 2008.05.31]

Sustainable Flatbush featured in “A Walk Around the Blog”

BRIC, the non-profit Brooklyn arts organization which produces Brooklyn Community Access Television (BCAT), has been doing a bi-monthly series called A Walk Around the Blog, interviews with Brooklyn bloggers talking about their neighborhoods. The latest edition features Anne Pope of Sustainable Flatbush talking about, what else, Flatbush and sustainability.

I make an appearance from 1:53 to 2:54 in the video.

If you can’t see the embedded video above, or if you want to view it at a higher resolution, it’s also hosted on

Related posts

Greening Flatbush a success!, February 24, 2008


Sustainable Flatbush
A Walk Around the Blog (Blog)
A Walk Around the Blog (Blip)

Sustainable Garden Design in Gowanus Development

Today on Brownstoner there’s a post and extended commentary (as one expects at the ‘Stoner) about the garden design for a multi-unit residential Project in Gowanus called Third & Bond (presumably located there):

Now that our building design is nearly complete, we’ve turned our attention to what surrounds the buildings: the outdoors. Third & Bond has 38 private outdoor spaces (enough for 85% of buyers to have their own) as well as 7 front yards and a courtyard. We want these spaces to look great, be easy to maintain, and meet our “green” goals. In short, we needed a green landscaping genius.

They choice local garden designer Timothy D. Osborne, who does business as The Organic Gardener. They promise to share “the actual designs in the coming weeks.” In today’s post they describe some design constraints dear to my heart: grass-less (meaning no lawn), native plants and local materials, and butterflies. Some of the points are a bit confused, but the intent is sound.

Grass is a LEED [Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design] no-no. Lawn grasses like crab grass and Kentucky blue grass are not native to North America and require a tremendous amount of watering compared with native coastal grasses.

I just checked the LEED Version 2.2 Rating System and Credit Checklist for New Construction and didn’t find any references to lawn or grass. Still, eliminating lawn is a brave choice for a developer; I’m surprised and pleased to hear they’re going to try to make it work.

Since we bought our house some 30 months ago, I’ve been gradually reducing the garden space devoted to lawn. I have a small patch of lawn left in the front yard. We no longer use a lawn care service; they all use gas-powered mowers and leaf-blowers, which pound-for-pound are worse than SUVs for their carbon emissions, particulate pollutants, and noise pollution. I use a push-reel mower and rake. I rarely water, and it shows. I’ve seen some beautiful examples of lawn-less front-yard gardens in the area. I expect that within a few years what’s left of our lawn will be replaced with more complex, interesting, and sustainable plantings.

The Organic Gardener’s plant suggestions were almost all native including lavender and dogwood.

Lavender is not native to North America, but it’s a great choice for xeriscaping, low-water-use gardening.

Satisfying the local butterfly population is pretty much our priority at Third & Bond. But seriously, another benefit to choosing local plants is that they are more attractive to birds and butterflies native to the area. We’re hoping our plant materials will be especially attractive to winged wildlife.

If they can follow through with these intentions, I have no doubt they will be.

Although I write about local issues, and go so far as to dive into zoning and land use, I avoid the hard-core, snipe and snark, body-slam arena of Brooklyn real-estate blogging. There’s not much opportunity to return the link-love I get now and then from Brownstoner. It’s nice to be able to return the favor while staying on-point for this blog.

Related Posts

Front garden
Native plants
Mowing the Lawn, June 6, 2006


Third & Bond: Week 17, Brownstoner
The Organic Gardener, Timothy D. Osborne (Note: His Web site is poorly designed. All the information exists only as graphics. Even the menus are available only as image maps, with no labels. There’s no text anywhere on the site.)
Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED), U. S. Green Building Council