In the last five years a super-phenomenon has been rising from the mists as urban sprawl decays around the globe. In the midst of a sea of concrete and tar, a mirage of living, breathing architecture is forming before our very eyes, taking shape and emerging as an Oasis.
No longer just a place to escape from the maddening crowds and stress of inner city life, the hit song “Up On The Roof” takes on a fresh new meaning as we — the citizens of our collective home — strive to tidy up the planet and green up our world. Our survival as a species just might depend on this action.
The bigger picture reveals that Green Roofs, as they are called, reduce the amount of energy needed to cool and heat buildings during summer and winter months. Rooftop gardens are also a practical way to combat air pollution and global warming (in case it is true!) and deliver a more peaceful environment. Some spaces are being used for beautification and atmosphere, but more importantly, many hands are busy transforming these spaces into lush and vibrant vegetable gardens.
Rooftop gardens help with storm water management: the water is stored by the substrate, taken up by plants, and returns to the atmosphere through evaporation. Rainwater retention by the plants also acts as a natural filter for any runoff and helps decrease stress on sewer systems during peak rainy seasons.
Cleaner air, lower temperatures, beauty beyond belief, and the practical matter of encouraging local residents to help raise fruits and vegetables and become part-time volunteer urban farmers are just a couple of great reasons to take this new human energy to the limits.
Add to that the sense of community and well-being that is fostered through a shared concern, and once again plants step in to help save the day. Green Roofs offer a habitat for micro and macro organisms and release more oxygen into the atmosphere.
In the most literal sense, the rise of rooftop gardening is flourishing all over the planet. More than 50 percent of the world population lives in metro areas, so it stands to reason that growing food within the cities simply makes sense.
Rooftop farms attract people like bees to honey and butterflies to flowers. There is an undeniable connection between humans and “soul food.”
Now We Are Getting Somewhere
The Europeans have been on top of this gig and are way ahead of the curve. In 1997 theEuropean Federation of Green Roof Associations (EFB) was founded by Austria, Germany, and Switzerland. Since then, the EFB has grown to include other associations: Dutch, Belgian, Scandinavian, Hungarian, Italian, Polish, British, and Greek
In 2009, Toronto beat everyone in North America to the punch and mandated Green Roofs for all new commercial and residential buildings. Rooftop gardens and farms now grace restaurants and hotels, senior and rental housing, condominium towers, industrial buildings and supermarkets, schools and university buildings, community centers, office towers, and urban homes. If there is a flat surface on a building there will be a feasibility study to determine what needs to be done to start a garden or farm.
“Five years ago (2014) there were virtually no rooftop farms. Now they are starting to appear across the globe.” ~ Steven Peck, founder and president of Green Roofs for Healthy Cities, Toronto, Canada.
Following suit, France has recently mandated a law for all new commercially zoned buildings to sport a rooftop partially covered with plants or solar panels.
In New York City, top Green Roof designers are currently entering into Phase I of the Harlem Green Infrastructure Design Charrette Legacy Project. The development committee hopes to demonstrate that Green Roofs and Walls have an unrealized potential to spur economic transformation through the creation of jobs coupled with community-based participation.
In Australia, the Green Roofs and Walls policy was adopted by the City of Sydney, citing all the reasons for a more sustainable future. Their website is loaded with answers to questions about building, designing, and maintaining rooftop gardens.
It’s Good To Be Alive
Imagine renting an apartment or condo with a hands-on community garden. The “Space Available” sign on the property says: You will dig this! No doubt, but there is also a grassroots involvement on all levels that gives rise to a shared responsibility to play well with others and help our neighbors thrive.
New advancements take time and effort and include a lot of trial and error before the process is perfected. Because they are the “new kids on the block”, Green Roofs are not without their faults and foibles. To undertake such a monumental endeavor, there are strict engineering assessments in place to avoid hazardous situations for those living or working beneath the weight of these gardens. Then there’s the planning stage of what to grow, with a lot of other considerations.
What Grows Up Must Come Down
There is so much positivity surrounding the potential of using rooftops for gardens and farms that sophisticated businesses and organizations are mushrooming to help catapult and advance this timely movement.
The start-up cost to get the project going can be enormous. Since all rooftop gardens are in their infancy stage, the sharing of ideas around the world is very cordial and an exciting time for those involved.
Perhaps there is reason to have great hope for the future of life on earth. With allies such as plants that are willing to share their secrets with us, we just might turn our mistakes around, learn to cooperate fully with each other, and whisper back to the plants that we, too, know that Love is the Answer.