The High Line
The High Line is an abandoned elevated rail line transformed into a horticultural oasis. Opened in 2009, the park conjures a calming haven in the midst of metropolitan grit. The popular trail has created a habitat for birds and insects; it’s naturally cooling; and its greenery provides shade and oxygen for city dwellers.
Jacob K. Javits Convention Center green roof
The Javits’ marvelous 6.75-acre green roof, completed in 2014, attracts wildlife, provides insulation that cuts the building’s energy use by 26 percent, and absorbs stormwater, preventing runoff that overwhelms storm drains. Plus, it’s darn pretty to look at. Visitors can arrange a tour at javitscenter.com.
Barclays Center green roof
Barclays Center has life above and beyond sporting events and concerts—literally. On top of the structure is a 3-acre green roof whose sedum plants flower in summer and that has environmental and noise-dampening benefits. A street-level green roof, also covered by sedum, slopes over the venue’s subway entrance.
Traveling the thousands of miles of NYC’s subway and bus routes is eminently low-impact; if city riders drove instead, they would create 15 million metric tons more emissions each year. The system is more than a century old and has faced major infrastructure challenges of late, but public officials are working to fix them.
Brooklyn Children’s Museum
This museum’s 2008 building earned a Silver LEED certification for its eco-friendly features, which include solar-generated electrical power, recycled rubber flooring and geothermal heating and cooling. The venue also teaches kids about ecology through hands-on exhibits.
Restaurants like Blue Hill and the Fat Radish source from local farms, taking advantage of fresh produce and meats while avoiding the waste of shipping food long distances. Some spots, like Roberta’s and Bell Book & Candle, grow herbs and veggies on-site.
The Gowanus Canal is the unlikely center of an environmentally friendly renaissance. Atop Whole Foods, powered by solar energy, a rooftop farm grows lettuces sold in-store. Nearby, the Gowanus E-Waste Warehouse sells refurbished computers and Big Reuse stocks reclaimed architectural materials and furniture.
Battery Park City
Horticulturalists manage the neighborhood’s parks without pesticides and follow rigorous low-impact practices. A large-scale composting operation generates fertilizer and “compost tea”—a special liquid fertilizer made by culturing liquid with compost—used to improve soil and ward off bugs. Think of it as probiotics for plants.
St. Patrick’s Cathedral
St. Patrick’s Cathedral has a cutting-edge geothermal heating and cooling system, completed in February 2017, that trims the church’s carbon emissions by 94,000 kilograms annually. The underground temperatures of 10 wells, some drilled to a 2,200-foot depth, are used to cool and warm the building, sometimes simultaneously.
Brooklyn Navy Yard
At Brooklyn Navy Yard, known for soundstages and studios, some 3,000 solar panels generate 1.1 million kilowatts of electricity. Also in the Navy Yard heights: Rooftop Reds has a 14,800-square-foot vineyard—complete with tasting room, hammocks and superb views of the City—that helps absorb stormwater and cool the roof.
The City has asked buildings to cut greenhouse gas emissions 30 percent by 2025. Nineteen hotels—including the Grand Hyatt New York and The Peninsula New York—have signed on. Through upgrades like high-efficiency boilers and LED lighting, these venues are shrinking their carbon footprints.
Empire State Building
In 2009, the Empire State Building’s owners completed a green-minded retrofit of the iconic 1931 skyscraper. Improvements like highly insulated windows and a micro-targeted temperature control system have reduced energy use by more than a third since the renovation—a case study showing that an old classic can learn new, green tricks.
This island has few cars, plenty of parks and a slew of cutting-edge green buildings. Cornell Tech’s in-progress campus includes the “net zero” Bloomberg Center and “The House,” the world’s largest LEED-Platinum passive house structure. Tour the campus, which has 2.5 acres of publicly accessible green space.
Vertical green walls
Tadao Ando’s magnificent building at 152 Elizabeth Street features a green wall that’s 55 feet high by 99 feet wide and changes color with the seasons. The Union Square location of makeup store Innisfree has a 1,820-square-foot vertical garden with nearly 10,000 plants. Such installations improve air quality, cool temperatures and look great.
Governors Island is an exemplar of adaptive reuse. That trend will continue this summer, as the island’s performance and exhibition pavilion will be made of reclaimed grain silos. Other sustainability highlights include a teaching garden with vegetables, fruits, and herbs; and a composting operation complete with “we’ll eat anything” goats.
Whitney Museum of American Art
The Whitney Museum's building has garnered kudos for its environmentally conscious architecture. It received LEED Gold certification for its energy-saving measures, green roof, recycled materials used in construction and public spaces that encourage community interaction. There are even two beehives on the roof.
Through efforts led by the Broadway Green Alliance, Wicked has switched to rechargeable batteries for microphone packs—saving more than 130,000 batteries since the change in 2008. In addition, the Gershwin Theater and other Broadway venues have begun using LED bulbs for their marquees; 100,000 have been replaced, eliminating 700 tons of carbon emissions. Encore!
This development’s first completed building, 10 Hudson Yards, received LEED Platinum certification. Residential structures will use low-VOC paints and organic-waste collection for composting. The complex contains 14 acres of gardens and public spaces, rainwater-collection infrastructure to reuse 10 million gallons per year and an on-site, hyperefficient power plant.
NYC LEEDs the way
NYC’s LEED buildings are models of sustainable urban architecture. Battery Park City’s The Visionaire has rooftop gardens, solar power and rainwater recycling. One World Trade Center is one of the world’s tallest LEED-certified buildings. NYC’s green affordable housing includes the Bronx’s Arbor House (Platinum LEED), with a rooftop hydroponic farm.
Bet You Didn’t Know These NYC Attractions Were Green
New York City aims to eliminate its net greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, and you can see those efforts throughout the five boroughs. Some of the City’s most popular sights showcase innovative efforts to protect the planet: there’s a park suspended above city streets; a sea of solar panels on a museum exterior; and a geothermal system that warms and cools historic St. Patrick’s Cathedral. For more on these and other green attractions, view our gallery.