Types of Green Infrastructure

In New York City, Green Infrastructure describes an array of practices that use or mimic natural systems to manage stormwater runoff. Green Infrastructure controls stormwater by using it as a resource rather than a waste. Stormwater is either directed to engineered systems for infiltration or detained at a slower rate before it enters the Sewer System. For more information, watch our Green Infrastructure Video and view our Green Infrastructure Photos.

Rain Gardens

Rain Garden

The word rain garden is generally used to describe planted areas that collect rainwater. We use the term rain garden to describe planted areas in the sidewalk that are designed to collect and manage stormwater. Rain gardens are vegetated or landscaped depressions designed with an engineered soil layer that promote infiltration of stormwater runoff into the underlying soil. Learn more about Rain Gardens.

How Rain Gardens Work

Rain Garden Diagram

When it rains, rainwater or “stormwater runoff” flows down the street gutter along the curb and into the rain garden. The collected stormwater is absorbed by the sandy soil on the top (engineered soil) and stone layer at the bottom, and seeps into the ground underneath in a process called “infiltration”. Some of the water will be absorbed by the trees and plants through evapotranspiration, and any remaining water will evaporate after the rain event is over. During a heavy rainstorm, stormwater goes into the rain garden, but some water may go past the inlet and go straight into the catch basin. If the rain garden reaches capacity, the stormwater will overflow at the outlet and go into the catch basin the way it normally would.

Infiltration Basins

infiltration Basin with a grass top

Infiltration Basins are designed to store rain water beneath a surface that closely mimics its surroundings, like grass or concrete. They are similar in functionality to Rain Gardens. The inlet opening on the curb face collects the stormwater, which fills a chamber, or ‘sump.’ Once the sump is partially filled, openings on its walls feed into pipes, which convey the stormwater to an underlying stone layer; the stormwater then seeps into the ground underneath in a process called “infiltration.” Download our Green Infrastructure Infiltration Basin Design.

Stormwater Greenstreets


Stormwater Greenstreets, like Rain Gardens, are planted areas designed to collect and manage stormwater that runs off the streets and sidewalks. However Stormwater Greenstreets are typically constructed in the roadway, are usually larger than rain gardens, and have varying lengths, widths and soil depths based on the characteristics of the existing roadway.

Green Roofs

Green Roof

Green roofs are made up of a top vegetative layer that grows in an engineered soil, which sits on top of a drainage layer. A green roof can be intensive, with thicker soils that support a wide variety of plants, or extensive, covered in only a light layer of soil and minimal vegetation.

Blue Roofs

Blue Roof

Blue roofs are designed without vegetation for the primary purpose of detaining stormwater. Weirs at the roof drain inlets create temporary ponding and gradual release of stormwater.

Permeable Paving

Permeable Paving

Permeable paving is a range of materials and techniques, such as permeable pavers or porous concrete, which allow water to seep in between the paving materials and be absorbed into the ground. Permeable paving can be used instead of traditional impermeable concrete or asphalt.

Download the Porous Pavement in NYC Brochure

Subsurface Detention Systems

Subsurface Detention System

Subsurface Detention Systems with infiltration capability provide temporary storage of stormwater runoff underground. These systems have an open-bottom and can incorporate perforated pipe and stormwater chambers for added detention volume. Systems are primarily designed with a gravel bed that stores water until it can infiltrate into the ground.

Rain Barrels and Cisterns

Rain Barrels

Rain barrels and cisterns are watertight receptacles designed to catch and store stormwater off of roofs and other impervious surfaces. Cisterns are often larger than rain barrels and can be located underground, at ground level, or on an elevated stand. Rain barrels are connected to the existing downspout of a roof and reuse the stormwater for watering plants and other landscaping uses. Learn more about our Rain Barrel Giveaway Program.