Case Study

Community Schoolyard in Brooklyn

Sector: Built Environment; Education; Arts, entertainment and recreation
Highlights: Community wellbeing, community engagement, inclusivity, biodiversity
Project owner: City of New York
Project start: April 2022​ – 2023
Location: Brooklyn, New York City
Community impacted: Urban
Hazards mitigated: ​ Flooding, Heat stress
Number of people made more resilient:​ 32,000
Case study provided by:  Trust for Public Land

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A newly renovated schoolyard in Brooklyn features green infrastructure, permeable pavers, and subsurface storage to absorb stormwater runoff, reduce neighbourhood flooding and protect the health of the nearby Gowanus Canal. The project is part of a city-wide initiative by Trust for Public Land (TPL) to transform schoolyards into vibrant, verdant spaces and multi-purpose hubs while enhancing the climate resilience of school children and the wider community.

About the Project

New York City is home to America’s largest public school system, serving about 1.1 million students. But for many of these students, it’s difficult to grow and play outside of school hours – in part because of New York City’s tight urban landscape. Every neighbourhood has a public school, most of which have outdoor yards. But many of these are covered in heat-capturing asphalt and look more like parking lots than playgrounds. In a city as densely built up as New York, built and natural environments must serve as many needs and uses as possible.

TPL has long recognised schoolyards as an ideal community resource for meeting this imperative. As such, it has spearheaded an ambitious, decades-long plan to reinvent schoolyards across the city by turning them into vibrant, modern parks where children and community members can gather, play, explore, and soak up the benefits of time spent outside—even after school hours.

Since 1996, TPL – alongside countless partners – has helped design and build 225 school and community playgrounds across the five boroughs, making the most of available space and giving the gift of social connection and nature-play back to the communities. The goal for every schoolyard is to turn blacktop ‘playgrounds’ into green spaces and community hubs. These hubs are open to the public after school hours and are designed to meet the needs of the entire neighbourhood, in addition to students. New play spaces, athletic courts, and features for New Yorkers of every age have been incorporated, such as shaded seating and exercise tracks in all five boroughs.

One of these transformed schoolyards is at the Pacific School (P.S. 38K) in Brooklyn, recently opened by TPL, in partnership with the New York City Departments of Environmental Protection and Education, the Mayor’s Office of Climate and Environmental Justice, and other funders. This is the first Brooklyn project completed through the Mayoral Extreme Weather Task Force, but is part of a much longer and larger project to uplift New York City’s schoolyards.

P.S. 38K includes many green infrastructure elements that also serve to meet the recreational needs of the school and community. The design includes a large turf field and three smaller turf pods, all of which include stormwater capture capabilities. Gravel under the turf stores stormwater and allows it to slowly infiltrate the ground below. Over 20 trees at the site, situated between pervious paver, provide shade and also capture stormwater, alongside rain gardens near the outdoor classroom and green roofs on the shade gazebo and storage unit.

Sports elements at the site include half-court basketball and two practice hoops, as well as a kickball and softball multipurpose area. Additional elements include various play equipment areas, a stage, game tables, a drinking fountain and recycling station. The site is also decorated with jungle-themed art designed by the students during the participatory design process.

Achieved outcomes

Social

These Community Schoolyard projects are improving the health, equity, and climate resilience of neighbourhoods across the country and transforming the lives of students, families, teachers, and the whole community. The programme has given 4 million people access to green space within ten minutes of home. Moreover, with each new playground, the entire community is engaged in the planning, building, and opening and stewardship of these public hubs – harnessing the creativity and energy of the local residents.

Once a site is complete, TPL works with the school to help activate and steward their space, by providing a suite of resources and community programming partners in the areas of physical education, health, outdoor learning, gardening, environmental education, art and culture. Schools are invited to attend trainings on tree care, gardening, and green infrastructure.

Opening all of America’s public schoolyards during non-school hours would put a park within a 10-minute walk of nearly 20 million people—solving the problem of outdoor access for one-fifth of the 100 million people across the country who don’t currently have a park close to home.

The P.S. 38K schoolyard project will give quality park access beyond school hours to 32,357 residents within a 10-minute walk of the school.

Environmental

The environmental impacts of these schoolyards are significant. They play a vital role in mitigating climate change at a local level, capturing stormwater to reduce flooding and combatting the urban heat island effect by increasing the amount of shade canopy and replacing heat-capturing blacktop with natural surfaces. The P.S. 38K schoolyard features green infrastructure that will manage nearly 1.2 million gallons of stormwater per year, helping to reduce both neighbourhood flooding as well as pollution in the nearby Gowanus Canal.

Economic

A TPL study on the role of economic benefits of parks, including community schoolyards, found that parks in NYC provide significant recreational value to residents, worth $9.1 billion annually and $1.14 billion in avoided health care cost savings. Parks in NYC also provide natural goods and services, protecting water quality through stormwater runoff and improving air quality, resulting in respective savings of $2.43 billion in avoided green stormwater infrastructure construction costs and $26.5 million in health care costs each year. Additionally, proximity to parks increases the property value for nearby residences by at least $15 billion and increases property tax revenue by $101 million.[1]

At a number of NYC community schoolyards, TPL has partnered with YouthBuild, a programme of Queens Community House since 2021. YouthBuild works with young adults ages 18-24, training them in construction trades while they finish high school. YouthBuild participants build the raised beds for community schoolyards, while learning about the larger construction project and green infrastructure. At P.S. 38K, YouthBuild participants have constructed six raised garden beds near the outdoor classroom.

The creativity and innovation of the students who helped to design the playground, while learning about climate change, just goes to show how climate education and engaging our youngest New Yorkers is part of the solution to a resilient, sustainable and just future.

Victoria Cerullo, Acting Executive Director of the Mayor’s Office of Climate & Environmental Justice


[1] Values reported in 2021 dollars. https://www.tpl.org/wp-content/uploads/2022/09/033022_Economic-Benefits-NYC_Final_v2.pdf


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