High Performance Series 1998–2011

Our High Performance Guidelines series – Buildings, Infrastructure, and Landscape – have changed the way New York City designs and builds its public buildings, streets, and parks. 

  1. Phase I
  2. Phase II
  3. Phase III
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Photo: Matthews Nielsen Landscape Architects 

After a two-year investigation into the most cutting-edge sustainable practices for the public right-of-way, the Design Trust released a comprehensive set of best practices for making NYC's streets, sidewalks, public utilities, storm water management, and urban landscaping more environmentally responsible and sustainable. 


The best practices outlined in the High Performance Infrastructure Guidelines address air-quality improvement, mitigation of the urban heat island effect, noise pollution, hydrologic disruption from development, ecological and vegetation health, and overall health and quality-of-life opportunities, as well as life cycle cost effectiveness.

The Infrastructure Guidelines, together with our High Performance Building Guidelines (1999), led to the passing of Local Law 86 in New York City, and heavily influenced Mayor Bloomberg's sustainability plan for the city (PlaNYC) as well as the recent Street Design Manual produced by the NYC Department of Transportation.


The public right-of-way organizes the massive flow of energy and matter that courses through the city on a daily basis. Right-of-way components include the roadway, sidewalks, sub-grade systems and landscaped areas, and the design of each of these components profoundly affects our experience of the city. By undertaking coordinated, sustainable approaches to streetscape design, construction, operations and maintenance, cities can promote safety, reliability, cost effectiveness, public health and quality of life.

In NYC, the right-of-way comprises over 20,000 paved lane miles – approximately 1.2 billion square feet – or an area nearly double the size of Manhattan. Given the size of this asset and the scope of NYC's annual infrastructure investments (over $2 billion), even modest improvements in the right-of-way can yield considerable benefits. 


The goal of this project was to develop guidelines for building city streets, sidewalks, infrastructure, and urban landscaping that conserve energy, reduce pollution, and are otherwise more environmentally sustainable.

Three Design Trust fellows, experts in the field of environmental sustainability, worked with New York City's largest building agency, the Department of Design and Construction (DDC), to assemble a range of progressive “best practices” (BMPs) in landscape architecture, civil engineering (roadway/sidewalk paving and subgrade), water, stormwater, and other utility delivery systems.

Much of our Street Design Manual was directly inspired and informed by the Design Trust's High Performance Infrastructure Guidelines, itself an indispensable reference on designing and building streets intelligently.

Mike Flynn, Planning and Sustainability, New York City Department of Transportation, 2013