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: Mathews Nielsen Landscape Architects

Produced through a four-year collaboration between the Design Trust and the NYC Parks DepartmentHigh Performance Landscape Guidelines: 21st Century Parks for NYC is a blueprint for sustainable design, construction, and maintenance for NYC's 29,000 acres of parkland. 


Part how-to manual and part advocacy tool, High Performance Landscape Guidelines reflects a paradigm shift in thinking about the park system as vital green infrastructure. This 270-page document guides future activity in all 29,000 acres of New York City open space, as the Parks Department has adopted best practices in construction, maintenance, material selection and resource management as its new agency standards.

The third in our trilogy of sustainable design manuals, High Performance Landscape Guidelines has been widely embraced by the local design community, earning accolades from the New York Chapter of American Society of Landscape Architects, and drawing a record crowd of over 400 people to the launch party at the Center for Architecture.


Often thought of as the ultimate urban environment, New York City is actually the greenest city in the country. Over 15% of the city is parkland, managed by the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation (Parks). Healthy parks and landscapes provide a range of ecological benefits and can play a critical role in mitigating and adapting to climate change. 

With New York City's population projected to top 9.1 million in the next 20 years, the Department of Parks and Recreation is undertaking its greatest period of park building since the 1930s, equipping our green space and streetscapes to accommodate 1 million new residents. Building on the Design Trust's previous high performance guidelines, the NYC Parks Department proposed a third set of guidelines focused on promoting sustainable practices for the design, construction, and maintenance of their next generation of parks.


Five Design Trust Fellows collaborated on the research and development of practical strategies and best management practices to create the Guidelines. Throughout the project, the team received invaluable contributions from dozens of Parks employees from every division and feedback from more than 40 city, state, and federal agencies and private-sector professionals who generously offered their comments as peer reviewers. 

From planted traffic islands to urban forests, High Performance Landscape Guidelines promotes cleaner air and water, increased biodiversity, lowered heat island effect, reduced energy usage and, of course, expanded opportunities for relaxation, recreation and environmental education for all New Yorkers.

This manual is truly unique for a municipality, and another step in the history of innovation that defines the parks of New York City.

Adrian Benepe, 2011, Commissioner, NYC Dept. of Parks and Recreation

Key Milestones

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Select project

September 2007

The jury selects the proposal from the NYC Department of Parks & Recreation to create sustainable guidelines into the design, planning, construction and maintenance of NYC's park system. 

Define scope

January 2008

Together with the Parks Department, we set the goals, scope, schedule and budget for the project. 

Assemble team

March 2008

A team of five fellows in the fields of engineering, sustainable design, and landscape architecture is formed.  

Conduct research

May 2008

Peer review

March 2009

Thirty-five experts are invited to review the draft guidelines and give their critical input. 


May 2009

The project team incorporates the feedback from the peer reviewers and synthesizes their research and recommendations. 

Produce publication

October 2010

After extensive research, writing and editing, the guidelines are now ready to be turned into a print publication.  

Photo: Chris Kannen

Release findings

January 2011

A record crowd attends the official launch party for the project publication, High Performance Landscape Guidelines: 21st Century Parks for NYC!

Photo: Chris Kannen

Promote and inform

February 2011

On view for six weeks, a public exhibit at the Center for Architecture showcases key recommendations and case studies from the project publication. 

Advise and advocate

October 2011

The first document of its kind in the nation, the Guidelines garner awards and accolades from the Municipal Arts Society and the NY chapter of the American Society of Landscape Architects.