This Simple Change to Curbs Is Going to Make Gotham a Whole Lot Greener

New York City is investing $46 million in bioswales, special sidewalk gardens that keep storm water from flowing down the sewer.

A bioswale at 4th Avenue and Dean Street in Brooklyn. (Photo: NYC Water/Flickr)

Nov 14, 2014· 1 MIN READ
Culture and education editor Liz Dwyer has written about race, parenting, and social justice for several national publications. She was previously education editor at Good.

Gotham’s aging sewage system is finally going to get a break, and some of the city’s sidewalks are about to get a whole lot greener too. This week the New York City Department of Environmental Protection announced that it’s going to be replacing traditional curbsides and sidewalks with an innovation called a bioswale.

It’s an odd name, but the benefits of installing bioswales are pretty significant. The special curbside gardens allow storm water to soak vegetation instead of flowing into sewers.

“In order to improve the health of local waterways, we need to better manage the precipitation that falls on city streets, rooftops, parking lots, and sidewalks,” said Department of Environmental Protection commissioner Emily Lloyd in a statement. “Investing in green infrastructure is a cost-effective way to manage storm water that also delivers multiple benefits to local communities, including a greener landscape, cleaner air, and increased shade and cooler temperatures during the summer.”

The Big Apple currently has about 250 bioswales in operation. According to the department, over the next few months, the city plans to spend $46 million to install an additional 2,000 bioswales across Brooklyn, Queens, and the Bronx. Given current rainfall averages for the area, it’s estimated that 200 million gallons of storm water per year will provide plenty of hydration for the greenery planted in the bioswales.

That will certainly help remove the concrete jungle look of some neighborhoods. And while those communities will begin to be greener (and prettier) because the water won’t be flowing into the sewers, it’s expected that pollution levels in waterways such as the Bronx River and Jamaica Bay will also drop, because some of the trash that’s on the street will no longer flow down sewage drains.

Want to see what a bioswale looks like in action? Check out the video below of one in Brooklyn. Given all the benefits of these souped-up curbsides, it sure does seem like they should be installed across the nation.