Wednesday, April 21, 2010

From Grey to Green by Kathryn Brennar (guest post)

Building a green infrastructure is no longer a new idea. Going “green” is actually becoming quite popular. However, the ways that people go about doing it can be new and unique. City developers are beginning to incorporate some creative strategies of their own. Specifically, there has been a recent spike in the level of interest that communities have had in developing their parks and outdoor recreation areas, as well as housing and building complexes. While incorporating and maintaining them has always been an important priority, especially within densely populated cities, the latest trends show that community developmental plans are now incorporating “green” design. They are realizing that there is an opportunity to provide people with a necessary recreation area while creating a positive impact on the global environmental crisis.

Currently there are a number of projects taking place in major metropolitan areas in an effort to reverse the negative effects that humans have had on the environment. One project that is currently gaining publicity is the green rooftop. Green rooftops utilize commonly unused space atop buildings and convert them into green zones, where gardens or turf are planted. These roofs help reduce the heating and cooling costs it takes to power a building, and also create a habitat for birds and insects. Additionally, green rooftops reduce the amount of contaminated runoff water that can collect in local sewer systems and waterways. Even major companies and organizations have taken notice and are beginning to implement similar environmental strategies. The Ford motor company installed a 450,000 square foot green rooftop on their new Dearborn Truck Plant. Recently studies have been preformed comparing green rooftops to conventional asphalt or concrete roofs and results show that temperatures on the green rooftops can be as much as 32 degrees lower than conventional black roofs. This proves that green rooftops could help reduce the “urban heat island effect,” which occurs when black top buildings absorb solar energy and radiate that energy in the form of heat.

Another sustainability initiative that is becoming increasingly popular in urban (as well as suburban) areas is the rain garden. Rain gardens are planted near areas of high storm water runoff. Instead of allowing the excess water to travel into the sewer, (which can cause backup and increased water contamination) water flows into strategically placed gardens, thereby reducing overflow problems. Currently in the District of Columbia, the department of Agriculture has been spearheading an initiative to increase the number of gardens that are sustained by the community, termed “people’s gardens.” Rain gardens are amongst the initiative along with community vegetable gardens where the produce is donated to local soup kitchens. They are also contemplating rooftop bee hives to aid in the pollination of the plants. In Portland, Oregon local policy makers are taking another approach and creating Green Streets. A number of city and suburban streets were identified as being excessively wide and creating too much run off water. In response to this problem, Portland officials created curbside gardens that allowed for the collection of street storm water. The gardens collect water at the surface and disperse it amongst the vegetation thus allowing for a gradual and natural water filtration process to occur.

While the public sector has started to take on green initiatives, private developers have also joined forces to implement change. Even though NYC is literally wall to wall with buildings, architects with a soft spot for the environment have been able to incorporate a green atmosphere in areas that many believe had no room left for design changes. On the West Side of Manhattan a new park built on the old High Line stands 30 feet above street level. Landscape architect firm, James Connor Field Operations, and Diller Scofidio + Renfro, worked with designer, Piet Oudolf, to create this elevated oasis. The architects were able to integrate vegetation into the existing structures left from the railroad to create a beautiful natural setting for locals and visitors.

On the lower end of Manhattan stands another structure, The Visionaire, which focuses on bringing New York to the forefront of green initiative. Designed by Pelli Clarke Pelli Architects, it stands as the greenest residential skyscraper in the US. The architects incorporated a highly insulated wall system with insulated glazing and low energy reflective coatings. They also overcame the lack of horizontal space that New York buildings are allotted by successfully creating a number of terraces using green rooftop techniques. The building boasts a wastewater recycling system where all tainted water is cleaned within the building using a membrane filtration system and is then reused in the buildings toilets, green rooftops and cooling towers. Lastly, the building uses solar panels, a natural gas powered turbine and byproduct heat recycling amongst other energy efficient, low impact building and utility strategies.

Cities across the nation are developing creative and effective solutions to our global sustainability problem. By creating and implementing a green infrastructure and building practices, urban and suburban communities can contribute to the overall “greening” of the planet.

Kathryn Brennar is a communications coordinator for Friedland Realty, a commercial realty agency specializing in the lease and sale of Manhattan and Westchester office space. Friedland has held an exemplary standard of real estate knowledge and expertise for the past thirty plus years and continues to bring their customers the best in commercial real estate service.


Maureen said...

Love it! I have heard a few comments recently where people seem to be feeling rather pessimistic about the environment, or I should say our ability to conserve it. It is great to see examples of people forging ahead with thoughtful, positive plans.

One really interesting comment the other night from a friend was that she said people are being very arrogant when they say that we are killing the planet. She believes instead that the planet is killing us, that as parasites we have become unsustainable and the planet is moving to eradicate us .. and the planet itself will be just fine, balance will be restored, it will be lush and beautiful again, just no humans.

Sounds reasonable to me.

I plan on choosing to 'save the planet' anyway, even if it doesn't need me to. I'd like my children's children's children to live here.

SF Girl said...

Thanks, Maureen! Interesting comment by your friend. The planet is, of course, a diverse mixture of interacting components and relationships that include humans, other life and matter and energy. I cherish the day we all decide to no longer be the bully in the sandbox and play fairly, respecting everyone and everything... It starts with a healthy outlook, respect for all things, faith in ourselves and in others, and an optimistic spirit.

There is no doubt in my mind that we are changing the nature of our planet; we are doing this by changing ourselves (we are part of this planet, which in turn is part of something much larger). There is nothing more certain than change. And as Lao Tse once said, "change takes place one step at a time"... and every single step counts. Just like every single smile, every single "thank you" every single hug...

Thanks for your comment and your optimism, Maureen.

Jean-Luc Picard said...

That green rooftop looks good. I haven't seen any of those in this country.. Could be a good thing.

Anonymous said...

FYI....the City of Vancouver sponsors a site that connects people with green initiatives here...entitled "one day...small steps towards a cleaner, greener, healthier city" - great place to start if you are wanting to get involved at the local Vancouver level. See

I'm also happy to report that the newly built Vancouver Conference Centre has a green rooftop!

Like Lao Tse said...."change takes place one step at a time"

Baby Brie

SF Girl said...

Thanks for the info, Babie Brie! Glad to hear that Vancouver is going green too... :)

I like their conference centre too...

And that quote by Lao Tse is one of my favorites... Thank you...

Your friend,

Dalifan said...

A pretty interesting concept! It goes to show that we can make progress one rooftop at a time;-)

Great article!


SF Girl said...

Well said, Teresa... One rooftop at a time. Fundamental change has always been at the level of the individual. My recent trip to Zurich at the Mind and Life conference on Altruism and Compassion in Economics with the Dalai Lama gave me great insight about Buddhist thought and Buddhist economics (more on this later)...

Thank you Kathryn for a great article!

Forestation UGM said...

Hello, nice to see your post :)

SF Girl said...

Coolio... Thanks!