Natural New York: Like everything in this town, blink and you might miss it

Brooklyn Bridge Park
© Jonathan Grassi/The Nature Conservancy

The Nature Conservancy’s new awareness campaign connects New Yorkers with the nature that’s all around them.

By Bill Ulfelder, Executive Director of The Nature Conservancy in New York

More than 8.5 million people from all walks of life live in New York City, and there are many things that unite us all. Appreciation of a good cup of coffee. Walking and talking fast. A love/hate relationship with mass transit. A unique sense of style. And most importantly, true love for this dynamic, fast-paced city that we cannot imagine leaving.
New York City has been my home for nearly eight years, and I know firsthand that it’s easy to get lost in the city’s frenetic energy. But we New Yorkers shouldn’t forget our place in the bigger picture – as big a concrete jungle as New York City is, our lives depend on the health of the natural world around us. 
Our city has more than 500 miles of coastline spread across the five boroughs. Protected forests, farmland, mountains, rivers and streams in the Catskills provide us with some of the cleanest and most delicious drinking water in the world. Our street trees and parks clean our air, absorb carbon pollution and shield us on the hottest summer days.

In general, New Yorkers are savvy when it comes to being green, and there’s a lot we do to help the planet just by living in this city. Most of us live in energy-efficient apartments and homes, and we use mass transit and walk everywhere, resulting in our carbon footprint being one-third of the average American’s. We have access to local and/or organic produce and farmers’ markets. More than 25% of the city is parkland and forest.  Our waterways are cleaner than they have been in over 100 years, and we're seeing humpback whales in the Hudson River below the George Washington Bridge and bald eagles nesting in the city once again. The city is doing its part to combat climate change with a recent commitment to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 80% by 2050. 
And there’s room for improvement. Our research showed that while many New Yorkers feel strongly about the environment and climate change, more of us can recognize nature’s impact on our daily lives.
That’s why The Nature Conservancy developed a new awareness campaign, “New York Depends On Us.” The campaign, launched this month, seeks to bring home the connection between the everyday lives of New Yorkers and nature. Because once people become aware of something’s importance, they are more likely to hold it dear and protect it.
As part of the campaign, I had the pleasure of meeting New Yorkers who are advocates for creating a world where nature and people thrive together. I had thoughtful and revealing discussions about the history of New York Harbor, the resilience of our city’s coasts to storm surges and sea level rise, and the importance of water quality for swimming and surfing with New Yorkers, many of whom are small business owners, who see an intersection between their livelihoods and nature. Check out our conversations at
Nature is important to our quality of life and our health. Nature is actively cleaning our water and air. Nature is protecting our shorelines and coastal communities. And nature helps absorb carbon pollution to fight climate change.

Can you imagine New York without seasons?

The runway depends on us© The Nature Conservancy

Or New York without its delicious, clean water?
Good mornings depend on us© The Nature Conservancy

Or New York with frequent flooding?
That view depends on us© The Nature Conservancy
The challenges in a climate changing world are bigger than ever, but thankfully there are smart ways to address them. The Nature Conservancy and our nearly 4,000 conservationists around the world are working with leaders, local communities and businesses to do just that. We all rely on nature to thrive, and the more people who appreciate this the better of both people and nature will be.

The world we depend on depends on us, and we depend on New York.

Bill Ulfelder is the Executive Director of The Nature Conservancy in New York

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