The newly-created Youth Sustainability Corps will expand the 200,000 square feet of green roofs overseen by the Parks Dept. — rooftops outfitted with features like native plants, hydroponic towers and bee hives — by 50,000 square feet.

NYC Parks Dept.

The roofs will be outfitted with vegetated floor mats, which are able to both absorb stormwater and help mitigate heat islands.

Thirty high school students will help defend the city against the effects of climate change — including flooding and heatwaves — by assisting with the design and development of green roofs in all five boroughs, the NYC Parks Department will announce on Thursday afternoon.

The newly-created Youth Sustainability Corps will expand the 200,000 square feet of green roofs overseen by the Parks Dept. — rooftops outfitted with features like native plants, hydroponic towers and bee hives — by 50,000 square feet.

The paid program, which begins this week and runs through March 5, gives young city students an opportunity to gain hand-on training in green jobs.

A report released last week by Just Nature NYC, a partnership between the New York City Environmental Justice Alliance and The Nature Conservancy in New York, says the city has a growing need for nature-based jobs to combat climate change. These jobs would employ individuals to care for the city’s vast network of green spaces, urban forest and waterfront. 

The Nature Conservancy’s Emily Nobel Maxwell, who worked on the green jobs report and will take part in the announcement Thursday, called the new initiative “bold and ambitious” as less than .1 percent of the city’s buildings are equipped with green roofs. 

“Growing green roofs and the nature-based workforce needed to support them helps to address climate and environmental challenges and will grow our green economy to ensure a healthier, more sustainable future for New Yorkers,” she said in a press release. 

Mayor-elect Eric Adams, who takes office next month, has also campaigned on the promise of vastly expanding the city’s green infrastructure, including through rooftop farms. Gabrielle Fialkoff, the NYC Parks commissioner, told City Limits she believed it was necessary to promote these types of jobs to the city’s youth. 

“I believe that giving young people and students experience and exposure is critical in helping them shape their future decision-making, as well as learning hard skills and soft skills,” Fialkoff told City Limits.

“We must take an active approach now in preparing our young people for both good jobs and green jobs, and New York City has an abundance of opportunities in this area,” she added.

Fialkoff will officially announce the creation of the program Thursday afternoon in Harlem.

The students, who were selected through partnerships with the Children’s Arts & Science Workshops and the Chinese-American Planning Council, come from 18 schools in Queens, the Bronx, Brooklyn, and Manhattan, including Harlem. Construction of the roofs will begin in April.

The roofs will be outfitted with vegetated floor mats, which are able to both absorb stormwater and help mitigate heat islands — pockets of hotter-than-average areas, which research has shown are disproportionately found in the city’s communities of color. 

The students will design the rooftops, but previously installed Parks rooftops include plants, a farm, honeybee hives and other green infrastructure, according to the agency. 

A location for a green roof was chosen in each of all five boroughs: at the Prospect Park Garage in Brooklyn, the Sheltering Arms Pool in Manhattan, the Rockaway Beach 17th Street Operations Building in Queens, the Midland Beach Playground Comfort Station in Staten Island, and Kwame Ture Recreation Center and St. Mary’s Recreation Center, both in The Bronx.

When the projects are completed, the Parks Department’s network of green roofs will be able to absorb nearly eight million gallons of stormwater, the agency said. 

“This summer storm, Hurricane Ida, and the climate events globally were the latest wake-up call that we all must take immediate action,” said Fialkoff.

The city also partnered with Fashion Institute of Technology’s Design and Technology Lab, which designed a T-shirt uniform for the Youth Sustainability Corps. Fialkoff noted she hoped the design would engage other youth and generate interest for the program. 

“Our goal is to make this the greenest big city on the earth,” said Fialkoff. “But what that means is really educating our young people and offering them opportunities and exposure in this area so they can choose, I hope, to pursue a field that will protect us all in the future.”

Liz Donovan is a Report for America corps member.

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