First of up to 40 water-capturing playgrounds
By Mary Frost
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
The days of the hard, asphalt school playground may be numbered: A new type of “green” playground was dedicated at Brooklyn’s P.S. 261 on Thursday that will help manage stormwater runoff and alleviate the flooding of the Gowanus Canal.
New York City and The Trust for Public Land, partners in this project, say P.S. 261’s colorful new play-yard is one of up to 40 playgrounds that will include “green” infrastructure to soak up water during rainstorms, easing pressure on the city’s sewer system and improving the health of waterways.
Many New York City residents may not realize that city’s sewer system allows rainwater to mix with sewage during storms. Overflow is sent straight into waterways, which may then flood into streets and basements. Gowanus residents have complained for years about the overflow from the filthy Gowanus Canal, which receives roughly 300 million gallons of sewage and rainwater every year. P.S. 261’s playground will help by managing almost half a million gallons of this stormwater annually.
“We have enough asphalt in New York City,” said Council Member Stephen Levin, who contributed funds towards the million-dollar playground. Money for other playgrounds was provided by the NYC Department of Education, the Department of Environmental Protection, Councilmember Charles Barron, Speaker Christine Quinn, Japan’s Mizuho Bank, Ltd., MetLife, and the Trust for Public Land’s Playgrounds Committee.
P.S. 261’s playground, which students helped design, includes a garden, a storage shed with a green roof, an outdoor classroom, a rain garden, rain barrels, an open play area, trees in porous concrete pavers and a synthetic turf field with a gravel base that allows water to be absorbed into the ground. Other playgrounds may incorporate different features, depending on their design.
Other groups have also been working on projects to soak up rainwater before it hits the Gowanus. Dland Studio, in collaboration with the Gowanus Canal Conservancy, has conceived a “Sponge Park” greenway designed to absorb runoff from streets around the Canal. Construction of this $1.5 million project is expected to begin in 2014. Several neighbors have also planted gardens in an effort to stop water from flowing into the Canal.
The green playgrounds, however, will help manage excess rainwater at waterways across the city. The first three, to be completed this fall, are all located in Brooklyn: at P.S. 261; at J.H.S. 218 in East New York, an area which suffers from basement flooding; and at P.S. 65, which drain into Jamaica Bay.
Over the next year, the partnership will build up to ten more playgrounds that will improve the health of the Gowanus Canal, Newtown Creek, Westchester Creek, the Bronx River, Flushing Bay, and Jamaica Bay.
The green playground program grew out of a partnership between The Trust for Public Land and the City of New York. Under Mayor Bloomberg’s PlaNYC 2030 initiative, older asphalt schoolyards are being transformed into modern playgrounds and community parks, with the idea that every child in the city will have a safe outdoor play space within a ten-minute walk.
NYC Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott said in a statement, “We have opened 221 schoolyards to the community during after school hours and on weekends, and we have 345 school gardens. Just last year, we opened the High School for Energy and Technology, which offers students a curriculum that incorporates conservation and preservation.”
“The Trust for Public Land has been steadily decreasing the amount of asphalt in city schoolyards and replacing it with trees, gardens, permeable surfaces, and turf fields,” said Mary Alice Lee, director of The Trust for Public Land’s New York City Playgrounds Program.
“We are pleased to partner with The Trust for Public Land and contribute up to $5 million a year towards green playground projects that will manage millions of gallons of stormwater, reduce local street flooding, and improve the health of our local waterways,” said DEP Commissioner Carter Strickland. “These projects will also help raise awareness in the next generation of New Yorkers about the connection between planted beds and fields that absorb stormwater and a cleaner harbor.”
To date, The Trust for Public Land’s New York City program has designed or built 178 playgrounds across the five boroughs.