Goals serve multiple purposes: they communicate values of nature to New York City (NYC) individuals and communities, provide yardsticks for measuring progress, allow for programmatic alignment across organizations, and represent our aspiration for nature in NYC. To respond to these, please add your comments to this form.
• Biodiversity/habitat—NYC nature provides suitable environments for a diversity of species
• Water and air quality—NYC nature absorbs and filters water from run off and cleans the air
• Coastal protection/resilience—NYC nature mitigates damages from coastal storms
• Connectivity—NYC nature enables movement of species through the city, is accessible to all New Yorkers, and connects people to nature
• Inspiration—NYC nature encourages human creativity and appreciation of beauty
Targets are measurable, realistic, actionable objectives that will lead to the functional goals being met by 2050.
Note clicking on the down arrow at the end of each target will reveal draft baselines, measurements, near-term milestones, and future approaches. These are under active discussion by the nature goals coalition, should be considered a work in progress, and are open for comment. Please join the conversation by providing your feedback using this form. To join the coalition, contact us.
By 2050 New York City Nature will…
1. consist of a system of natural areas that have the same extent or more than existed in 2015
- Baseline: 10,578 acres of Forests, 5,719 acres of wetlands, 4,864 acres of grasslands and 76,066 acres of open water
- Measurement: Repeat ecosystem mapping every five years using standardized methods
- Near-term milestone: Adopt a goal of increasing natural areas by 1% to accommodate climate change and increase inequities in the current distribution of natural areas across the city.
- Future approaches: Establish a framework for natural area acquisition through buyout or land banking programs or through special zoning.
2. have natural areas that are comprehensively managed for ecosystem functions, habitat values and local genetic diversity
Manage all natural areas well; or natural area management
- Baseline: “Forever Wild Areas” in the New York City Parks cover approximately 8700 acres. Additional natural areas are managed in New York State parks, Federal parks, recreation areas, and wildlife refuges, and on private lands.
- Measurement: Systematic monitoring and mapping of on-going management activities in natural areas
- Near-term milestone: Fund the Forest Management Framework.
- Future approaches: Develop comprehensive management guidelines. Establish a citywide system to recognize well managed natural areas. Model green flag system in the United Kingdom.
3. contain at least one example of every native ecosystem of the NYC region somewhere in the city
- Baseline: Historically an estimated 120 different ecological community types, including marine ecological communities, existed in the five boroughs, according to the Welikia Project.
- Measurement: Develop a list of existing ecosystems based on the New York Natural Heritage Program classification, excluding ecosystems made untenable by climate change.
- Near-term milestone: Monitor ecological diversity in natural areas.
- Future approaches: Systematically encourage establishment of representative examples of the ecological diversity of New York City, though note that some communities may no longer be viable because of changes in the climate.
4. sustain populations of all known native species that existed in the city in 2015
- Baseline: Unclear, but … 1425 plant species (826 native plant species), 220 bee species (E. Toth, pers. comm., cited in McPhearson et al. 2013); 750 plant species (NRG 2013); 200 bird species in Central Park, plus another 81 rarely seen (NYC Audubon 2000) or 350 bird species city-wide (S. Elbin, pers. comm.); approximately 1290 plant and animal species observed in NYC since 1980 (E. Sanderson, pers. comm.)
- Measurement: Develop a process to collate species observations into a common database and produce periodic species lists.
- Near-term milestone: Increase species-specific management; allow no new invasive species to establish
- Future approaches: Establish ranks for city species – “C-ranks” (based on modification of state ranking); establish targets for removals of introduced invasive species.
5. benefit from the natural re-colonization or planned restoration of locally extirpated species of plants and animals
- Baseline: At least 1 / year for the last decade, notably natural re-colonizations/reintroductions/discovries in the past 10 years: beavers (2007), alewife herring (2007; 2016), New York leopard frog (2014), coyotes (2007), Lasioglossum gotham (2011), L. katherinae (2011), L. georgeickworti (2011), Themira lohmanus (2017), humpback whales (2017), gizzard shad (2005)
- Measurement: Develop a process to collate species observations into a common database and produce periodic species lists, including new species.
- Near-term milestone: Establish a reintroduction program for non-dangerous, climate-approach species that have been extirpated.
- Future approaches; New York City conservation law to protect species; reforms to zoning and tax system to recognize environmental harm to species caused by development
6. be protected and enhanced by decisions about the built environment that are obliged by law, policy, or social norm to conserve or improve ecosystem function and habitat values across the city
- Baseline: Currently few decisions take into account ecosystem function and the conservation or improvement of nature, though New York City does have local laws on native plants and tree restitution, the City Environmental Quality Review (CEQR) process, various obligations under New York State and Federal law.
- Measurement: Monitoring of legal framework and enforcement of laws.
- Near-term milestone: Expand Special Natural Area District (SNAD) program to other ecologically critical areas of the city.
- Future approaches: Integrate Wetland Reserve Program standards into CEQR; Develop a tourist tax at airports and hotels that funds environmental projects; Create new obligations to protect nature as part of the New York City charter; New ways of zoning land and taxing property with respect to environmental harm caused by development
7. have the same extent or more of canopy cover and permeable surfaces (including green infrastructure) that existed in 2015
- Baseline: 39,284 acres of the city were covered by tree canopy, representing 21% of the total land area in 2012 (McFaden et al. 2012); 53,000 acres are permeable to water (Mason and Montalto 2015); New York City’s Department of Environmental Protection lists more than 6000 green infrastructure installations completed, in construction or planned (NYC DEP Green Infrastructure Program Map 2019).
- Measurement: See 1.
- Near-term milestone: Expand tree canopy by 5% and expand permeable space by 2% (though not at the expense of losing other natural ecosystem types)
- Future approaches: Expand natural areas; manage natural areas; expand use of green roofs, vertical gardens, bioswales, and other forms of green infrastructure.
8. capture 5% of airborne particulate matter with vegetation
- Baseline: “In NYC’s five counties, modeled PM10 removal [by tree canopy in neighborhoods] ranged from <4% (New York) to 20% (Richmond).” (King et al. 2014)
- Measurement: Repeat methods described in King et al. (2014).
- Near-term milestones: Enhance tree canopy; see 7.
- Future approaches: Reduce air pollution from energy production, industrial uses, heating and cooling, and transportation by shifting to emission-less, renewable energy sources.
9. capture 10% of rainfall and snowmelt falling on land
- Baseline: Gittleman et al. (2017) estimate that community gardens capture on average 94% of 1.5” rain event and 68-70% of a 5” rain event. Mason and Montalto (2014) that every 10 square feet of permeable surface decrease runoff by 1.4% for city blocks in New York, which are on average about 36% permeable.
- Measurement: Combine use of a city-wide hydrological model (National Academy of Sciences 2018; also see visionmaker.nyc) and field studies of specific natural areas, open spaces, and green infrastructure installations.
- Near-term milestone: Establish green roof requirements for new public buildings and establish incentives for green roofs on private property
- Future approaches: Ban plastic bags and other uses of plastic leading to trash / micro plastics pollution
10. help reduce city temperatures
- Baseline: Urban forests decrease city temperatures in New York City, though the effect is modest and limited mainly to nearby areas (Rosenzweig et al. 2009).
- Measurement: Monitor temperature on the ground and via remotely sensed measurements in a systematic way; analyze data seasonally and diurnally
- Near-term milestone: See 6, 7. Adopt recommendations of the Cool Neighborhoods program.
- Future approaches: Establish green building caucus.
11. consist of clean and swimmable waters
- Baseline: Several water bodies in or adjacent to New York City are impaired with respect to Clean Water Act standards (e.g. Arthur Kill, Bronx River, Van Cortlandt Lake, Hutchinson River, etc.) (New York State Department of Environmental Conservation 2019)
- Measurement: New York City Department of Environmental Protection regularly monitors water quality in New York Harbor, an effort going back over 100 years; US Environmental Protection Agency provides Federal standards for “clean and swimmable” with respect to different water quality metrics.
- Near-term milestone: Adopt and implement existing long-term control plans to meet Federal standards.
- Future approaches: Adopt and implement additional long term control plans addressing all impaired waters
- Baseline: New York City Parks and New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (NYS DEC) manage fishing (for finfish) in New York City) NYS DEC enforces shellfish harvest limits, though currently no shell fish collection is allowed in New York City;
- Measurement: NYS DEC monitors recreational and commercial fishing in state waters.
- Near-term milestone: Improve water water quality, see 11.
- Future approaches: Continue improving water quality in the harbor; maintain and improve passageways for fish; restore city streams.
13. have the same length or more of natural shorelines than what existed in 2015
- Baseline: About 30% of the shoreline of the Harbor Estuary, including marshes and tributaries up to the head of tide, are hardened with
bulkheads or engineered structures. The areas of most extensive shoreline hardening are the East River, lower Hudson and Upper New York Bay. (New York – New Jersey Hudson Estuary Program and Hudson River Foundation 2018)
- Measurement: See 1, with a focus on identifying natural vs. hardended shoreline.
- Near-term milestone: Establish a framework for coastal property acquisition through buyout or land banking program
- Future approaches: Restore natural shorelines and marshlands; retreat from the coast as needed to accommodate sea level rise and storm surge
- Baseline: One study found that for 25 salt marsh sites in New York City, accommodating future sea level rise would require an additional 257 acres of land, 90% of which is currently managed by government. (NYC Parks 2017)
- Measurement: See 1, coupled with modelling efforts of future sea level rise (see New York City Special Initiative for Resilient Rebuilding 2013 and the New York City Panel on Climate Change 2019)
- Near-term milestone: A cross-agency task force assigned to focus on land use changes and assessment of feasibility for migration of coastal ecosystems in the context of other city priorities.
- Future approaches: Coastal retreat from areas regularly inundated; restoration of beaches, dunes and marshes in those areas
15. be enhanced by any new or retrofitted coastal protection structures managed to improve ecosystem functions and habitat values
- Baseline: Most if not all hardened shorelines and bulkheads have been constructed without regard to effects on ecosystem function or species habitat (New York City Special Initiative for Resilient Rebuilding 2013)
- Measurement: See 13.
- Near-term milestones: Follow Waterfront Alliance guidelines for enhancing shorelines under the WEDG guidelines (Waterfront Alliance 2018)
16. facilitate the movements of native resident and migratory species, sufficient to support gene flow and avoid inbreeding
- Baseline: Scattered information; for some species, the city is permeable; for many others – especially less mobile ones (e.g. salamanders) it is probably not.
- Measurement: Monitor a set of species representative of different mobility strategies using a combination of field observations and genetic methods (e.g. Harris et al. 2016)
- Near-term milestone: Enhance connectivity of existing natural areas using green infrastructure and parkland
- Future approaches: Include provisions for wildlife movement in park management and land use plans; enhance connectivity for migratory fish
17. facilitate the movements of New Yorkers to natural areas through a well-integrated system of transportation modes and a formalized system of trails on land and water
- Baseline: Citywide, as of February 2016, 81 percent of New Yorkers currently live within walking distance of a park. Roughly 1,550,700 New Yorkers are further than a walk to a park. (NYC Parks 2017).
- Measurement: Transportation analysis coupled with social assessments of people visiting natural areas.
18. be inclusive, welcoming and safe for all New Yorkers
- Baseline: Unclear, though see Auyeung et al. (2016)
- Measurement: Surveys of park user-ship and park visitor assessments, social assessments and summaries of existing crime stats.
- Near-term milestone: Develop guidelines for a city-wide trail system
- Future approaches: Create a fully operational trail system, including signage and maps within and to New York City natural areas; leverage the new ferry network to promote visitation; provide “Green Bus” routes to take people to natural areas; improve signage and wayfinding; develop innovative financing mechanisms such as a tourist tax at airports and hotels that funds environmental projects and staff lines.
19. be supported by active environmental stewardship groups in all neighborhoods of the city.
- Baseline: Over 500 stewardship groups have been described in New York City; a map shows that there are many neighborhoods with 0 – 3 groups (US Forest Service 2017)
- Measurement: Stew-Map methodology – see Svendsen et al. 2016
- Near-term milestone: Increase the number of outreach coordinators working for non-profits and New York City Parks; encourage community stewards to join the Nature Goals consortium
- Future approaches: Establish and support one active stewardship groups in every neighborhood of New York City.
20. be supported by nature activities that can engage 100% of NYC schoolchildren at least once per year
- Baseline: Unclear, though there are many active environmental education programs in New York City. The New York State core education curriculum includes “Living Environment” requirements, includes required 1200 minutes of laboratory instruction.
- Measurement: Need to develop tracking system for environmental education opportunities and participation
- Near-term milestone: Increase funding for field trips to natural areas.
- Future approaches: Include nature field trips every year in the curriculum; integrate city natural areas into units of study across all grade levels; develop a professional development program for public school teachers around nature goal 2050 content.
21. provide employment to 1% of the New York City labor force
- Baseline: Approximately 294,000 private sector jobs in the city’s green economy, which represents approximately 7.5% of the 3.8 million private sector jobs in the city (NYC 2016); it’s unclear how many of these jobs are “in nature” by which we mean working in natural areas.
- Measurement: Summarize existing green jobs data from New York City and New York State.
- Near-term milestone: Expand civil service titles to include more environmental positions and add 50 environmental civil service titles, fulltime or seasonal by 2021, in all city neighborhoods;
- Future approaches: Build on New York City strong foundation to enhance green jobs (New York City Economic Development Corporation 2018)
22. is celebrated by recognition of at least five exemplary native flora and fauna spectacles each year
- Baseline: Current spectacles: fall color in forests and wetlands; harbor heron nesting; humpback whales and other cetacean viewing; menhaden aggregations; fall hawk watch; spring migratory birds; spring ephemeral flowers
- Measurement: Need to define “spectacular” and “celebrated”, then monitor celebrations
- Near-term milestone: Highlight spectacles in each borough each year.
- Future approaches: Restore New York City nature to “spectacular” levels
23. provide and preserve at least one natural area in each borough large enough for the sounds of the city not to be heard, buildings not to be seen, and some stars visible at night
- Baseline: Unclear… some of the larger New York City natural areas already provide sightlines without buildings and quieter conditions (e.g Inwood Hill Park, Staten Island Greenbelt, Van Cortlandt Park, Pelham Bay Park, Alley Pond Park, Marine Park.) New York City Parks regulates noise in parks, though with uneven success. The New York City light pollution map provides information about where stars can (and can’t) be viewed.
- Measurement: Sightlines can be evaluated through viewshed analysis; sound can be recorded; nightlights can be measured; sites can be evaluated with respect to “big”, “quiet”, and “starry” criteria.
- Near-term milestone: Highlight the best examples of big, quiet, dark nature in New York city natural areas in each borough.
- Future approaches: Expand the number and extent of these areas so they are accessible by all New Yorkers.
24. provide a natural area or notable example of nature within half-mile of every New York residence
- Baseline: Unclear… however notable examples exist such as great trees (Barnard 2002), remnant wetlands, amazing beaches with piping plover, fishing holes, etc.. Where all else fails, we have historical descriptions of historic springs and streams that once flowed through many parts of the city (Sanderson 2009; Kadinsky 2016)
- Measurement: Identified “notable sites” and species.
- Near-term milestone: Develop list notable nature already called out in New York City natural areas; identify gaps.
- Future approaches: Develop a mechanism to recognize nature and standardized signage to be placed in New York City neighborhoods.
25. will be regularly celebrated in artworks of various kinds annually.
- Baseline: No quantification, but many artists work with nature in New York City in a variety of mediums
- Measurement: number of pieces/projects and artists supported and engaged with nature each year.
- Near-term milestone: Develop a contest or award for the best New York City nature art that celebrates an aspect of New York City’s nature.
- Future approaches: Commissions and regular funding for artistic work highlighting the city’s nature.