Across the country, cities are transforming asphalt schoolyards into spongy, shady community centers. The new playground at PS 184M Shuang Wen in Manhattan’s Chinatown, for example, has a porous grass field that can capture approximately 1.3 million gallons of stormwater runoff.
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The new schoolyard inan elementary school in Manhattan’s Chinatown, it features new playground equipment, a yoga circle, a stage, and basketball and tennis courts.
It also has a porous grass field that can capture an estimatedaccording to the New York City Department of Environmental Protection (DEP).
The grass field sits on infiltration basins, reservoirs capable of containing large volumes of rainwater. These lavatories, combined with a thatched-roof gazebo, a student-run buildingand lots of new trees, can help New York City better absorb extreme precipitation, which is becoming more frequent and severe with climate change.
“Green infrastructure intercepts stormwater before it can reach a drain and allows the soil to absorb it naturally,” a DEP representative explained. “This creates additional capacity in the sewer system and helps reduce flooding.”
Urban planners, architects and designers around the world seek to make—using nature-based solutions to better absorb water. In densely populated cities like New York, where open space is at a premium, officials are rethinking a neighborhood mainstay: the school playground.
“Tilling the space, the actual acreage to create a new park can sometimes be cost prohibitive,” said Danielle Denk, director of the Community Schoolyards Initiative at Trust for Public Land (TPL). “But if there’s a schoolyard, that’s land that’s often not used in the best way, and when it can be transformed…it becomes a really smart strategy for park creation.”
Cities across the country have begun ripping up asphalt in favor of lush green schoolyards, or at least porous grass. TPL has helped transform more than 200 school playgrounds (upgrades including adding play spaces and shaded areas) in New York City over the past 30 years with financial support from various city agencies and non-profit organizations.
The non-profit organization based in Berkeley, Californiahas been collaborating with schools on similar projects around the world for over a decade. And last year, Senator Martin Heinrich (D-NM) introduced the , a bill that would direct federal resources toward greening school grounds. Various states, including , Y have introduced similar laws or guidelines.
According to TPL, most of the— spanning about two million acres — across the country are covered in asphalt, a combination of petroleum products that generates runoff when it rains and bakes in the sun.
Concrete and asphalt contribute toincreasing mean daytime temperatures as much as in hot weather Green lots in cities do the opposite, up to seven degrees. That can mean the difference between life and death during —which are increasing in severity and frequency as the planet warms.
Shuang Wen Public School was a perfect candidate for an upgrade. Located in a floodplain near the East River, his schoolyard was submerged after.
Nine years later, when“There wasn’t a puddle after the enormous amount of rain we had,” said Mary Alice Lee, TPL’s New York City director of playgrounds.
Schoolyards can do more than absorb stormwater and cool neighborhoods. They can also help close the parks equity gap across the country: 100 million Americans, including 28 million children,10 minute walk to a park or green space. Communities of color and low-income neighborhoods to green spaces.
“Schoolyards are an important way to create access to a park,” Denk said. “When they are open to the community after hours, they can serve a lot of needs.” Studies show that access to green spaces.
Officials appear to be taking note. According toin 2022, at least 73 of the 100 largest cities in the country opened school playgrounds after hours to the general public, up from just 44 cities in 2018.
The improvements in the schoolyard are also good for the students.
Studies have linked vegetation in schoolyards toeven after controlling for such as student poverty and minority status. The researchers suggest that these improvements in academic performance may be due to the ability of green schoolyards to .
Shuang Wen principal Jeremy Kabinoff said the new playground has allowed administrators to create clubs and host events that would not have been possible before: new tennis and track programs, a soccer league and an outdoor Halloween festival. open air event that drew more than 1,000 attendees last year.
When COVID-19 restrictions forced classroom closures, Shuang Wen was able to move classroom learning and other events outside to a still comfortable learning environment. Kabinoff said the new facilities, including the stage, “also gave students the chance to experience an authentic graduation experience, especially since COVID-19 has wiped out many in-person events.”
Shuang Wen students helped design the new schoolyard through discussions, surveys and voting. TPL’s Denk, who has worked with dozens of schools to improve playgrounds, said students are enthusiastic about both the green infrastructure and the new playground equipment. He fondly recalls an example from a group of fourth graders in Philadelphia.
“We learned all about water quality issues, flooding in the city, combined sewer overflows, and how the city is working to address it and how challenging it is,” she says. “Students came back feeling very empowered to work on a solution in their schoolyard.”
When it came time for the students to decide between expanding their playground or building ato help control stormwater, the students chose the rain garden. “That’s exciting to me,” says Denk. “When students are given the opportunity to do what is right for their environment and their community, they choose that, and that motivation continues in terms of how they see themselves as environmental actors and in relation to climate change.”
This article was co-published withas part of Fairer and more ecological series. is an editorially independent, non-profit news service covering climate change. follow us .