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Transforming Our Urban Spaces – Green Roofs and Public Spaces

Thinking of how our Urban Spaces can be designed brings me back to my youth and the memory of my Aunt’s home in Beirut, Lebanon.  Back then I had grown up in a small mountain town but would visit my Aunt often.  She lived in Beirut, a city full of high buildings and small streets.  Her home was a hidden treasure to me because she had a secret garden.  This was a 4 story building and you walked in from the busy, dusty streets to a normal apartment home but then you walked to the other side and you were on a balcony surrounded by plants of all kinds, grape vines and tree tops – looking over the edge of the large balcony to a courtyard that was all green.   Even then it amazed me, the beauty of such a place in the mites of such a city, it was beautiful and magical at the same time.  I have such fond memories of those days and I remember back then saying how I would love to have such a space one day.  And now our industry and government is pushing to have such spaces accessible to others and see the benefits of these spaces.  As the green building movement has been gaining ground so has out door green spaces.  With LEED pushing for the reduction of heat island effect, storm water management, rebuilding our eco systems and more; Green spaces and open spaces have been developing.

In NYC,  green roofs and rooftop gardens are being pushed by Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s PlaNYC which lays out a strategy to meet several environmental challenges by 2030.  One initiative gives subsidies of up to $100,000 for green roofs.  There are plans to also invest in enhanced sidewalks, tree beds, and porous sidewalks and parking lots as part of a strategy to reduce sewer overflow and clean up polluted waterways like the Gowanus Canal and Newtown Creek.  Green roofs will add nature to city spaces, help create outdoor spaces for communities, help redevelop eco systems and much more.


There are also incentives for privately owned public spaces in NYC on top of the PlaNYC initiatives.  Some of these spaces can be indoor, street level and roof tops.   NYC has many of these privately owned public spaces that are used by many every day; here is a link to more info about these incentives and a map of all location of privately owned public spaces in NYC .

Green roofs have a lot of benefits to the building owners and residents, as well as the community at large.  Some of these benefits are:

Storm-Water Management – Ordinary roof tops shed rain water through storm drains into the sewer systems.  Green roofs decrease runoff and reduce the amount of debris and pollutants that wash into lakes, streams and rivers.

Energy Savers – Green roofs help improve energy efficiency by helping to insulate the building. They reduce the work for HVAC equipment.  Green roofs reduce heat gain so that the HVAC system does not have to work as hard, which conserves energy thus increasing the lifespan of the system.

Reduction of Heat Island Effect – Conventional building materials absorb and retain heat from solar radiation and release it at night.  On a green roof, plants absorb solar energy and convert it to food.  They also absorb and emit moister, clean the air and reduce the heat on roof tops.  An urban environment with many green roofs will be cooler overall then an urban area with only conventional roofs.

Resources for Urban Wildlife – As development has increasingly depleted wildlife habitats, green roofs can provide food and protection for birds and insects and act as a safety zones for species that migrate through urban areas.

Amenity Space – Green roofs can add new outdoor spaces for recreation in cities.  Even inaccessible green roofs can provide a visual break from the grays and blacks of city streets and rooftops.

Longer Roof Life Conventional roofs are exposed to sunlight ad temperature extremes that degrade the roofing materials.  A green roof shields the underlying layers, expanding the lifespan of the roof.  Because a green roof is replaces less frequently, fewer roofing materials enter the waste stream.

People are happier when they are connected to the natural world, the theory of biophilia emphasizes this concept.  Green design pushes the concept of “Biophilic Design”, by creating interiors that help the inhabitants have this experience with the proper use of materials selected, use of organic forms to the allowance of day-lighting and outdoor views for all.  Green Roofs help others living in urban environments by creating these natural visuals for others, so not only helping the initial project but the community at large.  To learn more about this subject, check out the white paper “The Economics of Biophilia” by Terrapin Bright Green LLC.

There are non-profit organizations that are pushing these initiatives such are Green Roofs for Healthy Cities, they increase the awareness of the economic, social and environmental benefits of green roofs and green walls, and other forms of living architecture through education, advocacy, professional development and celebrations of excellence.  As well as informative websites that such as Greenroofs.com promotes and inspires the earth friendly technology of organic greenroof architecture through the interchange of ideas, projects, news, video, travel, research, organization and government updates, marketing opportunities and exclusive features.  For more information of other organizations and news sites pushing sustainability initiatives check out my green” Green Info “ page under the Resource Tab at M3D-Consulting.com.

Transforming our urban spaces has many dynamic and levels we need to think about and look at the connection from one area to another.  Green roofs and privately owned public spaces, if designed right, can have a multitude of benefits for our environment, community and overall bottom line of our built environment.