The Greening of City Rooftops

July 8, 2009 at 3:51 am 2 comments

A 6,000-square-foot roof atop Broadway Stages, a stage and lighting company in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, has at least 1,000 plants in 16 beds, each about 60 feet long.  The roof was designed by Goode Green, a green-roof design and installation company.

A 6,000-square-foot roof atop Broadway Stages, a stage and lighting company in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, has at least 1,000 plants in 16 beds, each about 60 feet long. The roof was designed by Goode Green, a green-roof design and installation company.

Two years ago, while researching a story on green roofs, I discovered what at the time must have been the cutest rooftop garden in the city — the one atop St. Simon Stock Elementary School in the Bronx.  The green oasis had 20 species of native wildflowers and grasses, plus tomatoes and green beans planted by school’s first graders.  Sparrows and turtle doves fluttered about the rooftop grasses that April morning as naturally as they would in places closer to the ground.

To my amazement, the plants and flowers grew from soil covering the surface of the roof. I searched the city for similar roofs but most of the ones I found were more functional than esthetic, designed primarily to capture rainwater and possibly lower energy bills.  The green roofs were predominantly light or “extensive” roofs growing low-maintenance succulents, the rooftop equivalent of grass.   

Times have changed in two years.  I recently looked at the some of the projects handled by Goode Green, a green-roof design and installation company.  The company had a fair number of “intensive” roofs — the kind with enough soil to support edible gardens.  One of the most dramatic was a 6,000-square-foot roof atop Broadway Stages, a stage and lighting company, in Greenpoint, Brooklyn.  In an article in the New York Times, Lisa Goode, co-owner of Goode Green, notes that the roof has at least 1,000 plants in 16 beds, each about 60 feet long.  The produce is being grown for local restaurants and shops. 

Without question, the number of green roofs in New York City has increased steadily over the last three years, more than tripling in 2008 from 2007.  In 2008, 359,000 square feet of green roofing was installed in New York City, up from 103,000 square feet of green roofing installed in 2007, according to Green Roofs for Healthy Cities, an industry association that promotes green roof technology. 

Much of the jump is no doubt attributed to a city tax incentive introduced in 2007 for the development of green roofs.  Under the program, building owners are eligible for a property tax abatement of up to $100,000, helping to defer green roof installation costs.

Still, green roofs are the exception rather than the norm.  A view from the roofs of most city high-rises is still dominated by black asphalt, not fields or even small patches of green. 

And many of the roofs that are dubbed “green roofs” are in fact no more than rooftop gardens with potted plants.  In the New York Times article about rooftop farming, some of the people cited were actually growing from containers rather than directly from the surface of the roof.  

Richard Heller, CEO of Greener by Design, a landscape design company that designs, builds and cares for green roofs and sustainable gardens in New York City, says that he hasn’t gotten any requests for edible green roofs but nevertheless expects DIY food growing to spread.

“With the economy being what it is, there is an all-around push towards home agronomy across the country,” he wrote in an e-mail message.  “I think rooftop farming is brilliant, and I would expect we will see a lot more of it down the line.”

Who knows what we might see in a few years.  Rooftop vineyards?  With the progress I’ve seen in just two years, I wouldn’t be surprised at all.

To read an article I wrote about green roofs for New York Resident magazine, go to www.resident.com and search under the “home” tab.  The article was published on June 19, 2007.

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Entry filed under: Local Food Production, Rooftop Gardening, Urban Agriculture. Tags: , , , , , , , .

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