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Natural Systems

New York City has remarkable natural assets. We are situated on a great tidal estuary, sculpted with gentle hills and rocky outcroppings, and conditioned by four distinct seasons. But building New York involved leveling hills, burying springs, and felling trees. While we are proud of the great city we built, we have paid a price for burying nature. 

The natural systems we discarded performed essential functions. The trees and vegetation allowed the rain to percolate into the soil; now we spend billions on infrastructure to prevent flooding. The wetlands protected our coasts, cleaned our waters, and provided marine habitat; now we need seawalls and jetties, and import our fish from distant waters. The trees and vegetation provided shade and free cooling; now we rely on air conditioning.  

However, our view of the relationship between city and nature has begun to shift, and the edges between the two have begun to blur. We better understand the workings of natural systems, and can engineer such systems within an urban setting.  Weaving through the Plan are initiatives that recreate effective natural systems, coexisting within the broader urban context.  We are planting a million trees, which will cool our city and slow down stormwater.  We are restoring our wetlands, which will protect our coast and clean our waterways.  No longer forced to choose, we can enjoy the benefits of both urbanity and nature.

PlaNYC report on Natural SystemsPlaNYC 2011 report on Natural SystemsDownload the topic (in PDF)