Paying Private Property Owners in NYC to "Go Green"

As hip-hop megastar Jay-Z has noted, New York City is a “concrete jungle where dreams are made of.” But New York’s real potential may lie in replacing a large portion of that concrete with real plants and trees, an effort which could turn New York City into the largest and most dynamic stormwater market in the world.

Today, and together with our partners from NYU Stern Center for Sustainable Business, NRDC is presenting the NYC Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) with a report containing our recommendations for stimulating widespread use of green infrastructure on private property in NYC, which would help create that market. In the report, we provide a roadmap for creating a new, desperately needed, and large-scale private property grant program to help reduce stormwater runoff from existing development using green infrastructure.

More than 20 billion gallons of untreated sewage and polluted stormwater sludge flows into the waterways of New York City (NYC) each year.  Like other cities with chronic stormwater and sewage overflows, NYC faces mighty—but manageable—challenges to clean up this mess and make our waterways safe and healthy.  

NYC is approximately 72% impervious. With all that paved area—surfaces such as parking lots, building rooftops, streets, and sidewalks—water has nowhere to go when it rains but run down the streets and into gutters, collecting an array of toxic pollutants before it ends up in local waterways.

To help reduce the city’s stormwater runoff problems, DEP has made commitments to “green” 8,000 acres of impervious area by 2030. This method of capturing rain water where it falls is commonly referred to as “green infrastructure,” which includes rain gardens, green roofs, and roadside plantings, to name a few examples.

DEP aims to “go green” primarily by managing some of the stormwater from city-controlled land such as streets and sidewalks. NYC has built over 4,000 green infrastructure installations along sidewalks for this purpose to help keep some of the stormwater out of storm drains and local waterways.  But more than 50 percent of the land DEP has targeted for green infrastructure is privately owned, and DEP has recognized that it cannot reach its mandated green infrastructure goals by focusing only on the public right-of-way.

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