Public green spaces are a vital part of our communities, providing aesthetic appeal and health benefits to those who use them. Unfortunately, these spaces are not equally accessible to all. Low-income communities and communities of color face many barriers to accessing public green space, largely due to systemic racism. Governors Island, a 172-acre oasis in the middle of New York Harbor, is one of the city's most popular summer parks.
According to the Office of Climate and Environmental Justice of the City of New York City's Office of Climate and Environmental Justice, there are over 20,000 acres of natural areas with 7,300 acres of forest within the jurisdiction of New York City parks. The high levels of pollution faced by black and Latino New Yorkers in their communities have led to higher levels of respiratory problems compared to their white counterparts. These communities are still predominantly low-income and underserved in terms of resources, including green spaces. The Bluebelts offer a natural and effective solution for stable and robust stormwater management as New York City prepares for rising sea levels and heavier rains due to climate change.
Priority is given to those who are considered worthy of having access to these valuable resources, and locations are usually white, wealthy residents of the city. Parks in more affluent areas, such as Central Park and Riverside Park, receive significantly more maintenance and funding than parks in historically black communities in Manhattan and other New York City districts. In order to combat this environmental injustice, two new municipal programs have been created to provide technical assistance and other resources to improve the maintenance of squares and the condition of medium-sized ones planted in communities with low to moderate incomes or with few resources. The Stormwater Resilience Plan has also published the first stormwater flood risk maps: a citywide analysis of flooding caused by extreme rainfall to illustrate where New York City is most at risk.
The City will expand the Initiative to include additional sites, with the goal of impacting more than three million New Yorkers in 24 community districts, focusing on low-income, growing, high-density neighborhoods. The framework aims to ensure safe, high-quality public access to nature for all New Yorkers and to protect New York City's biodiversity and unique forest communities.