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How to Create a Green Roof

Explore the reasons — beyond curb appeal — for installing a green roof.

| August 2014

  • "The green roof has been around for centuries, as evidenced by the old homes and barns in European towns and countryside."
    Photo by Fotolia/alisonhancock
  • “Breaking Through Concrete” by David Hanson and Edwin Marty documents 12 successful urban farm programs with beautifully illustrated essays full of advice for the new community gardener.
    Cover courtesy University of California Press

People have always grown food in urban spaces — on windowsills or sidewalks, in backyards and neighborhood parks — but today, urban farmers are leading a movement that transforms the national food system. In Breaking Through Concrete (University of California Press, 2012) David Hanson and, experienced urban farmer, Edwin Marty illustrate twelve thriving urban farms. The following excerpt looks at the economic and conservation advantages of the green roof.

How to Create a Green Roof

The green roof has been around for centuries, as evidenced by the old homes and barns in European towns and countryside. The modern version of the manufactured living roof evolved in Germany in the 1960s, and it has taken a few modern steps in its last half century of engineering. The steps are simple and green roofs will certainly continue to become more efficient and affordable as the young technology matures.

Today, landmark living roofs sit atop the city hall buildings of Chicago, Atlanta, Seattle, and Toronto and on the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Whitten Building in Washington, D.C. Governments and corporations see long-term dollar savings in the energy-conservation numbers of green roofs, plus there’s the added bonus of good PR when you grow organic food on your building. With the increasing attraction of farm-to-plate food items on many restaurant menus, especially in progressive cities like New York, entrepreneurs are looking at rooftop farms as opportunities for social and economic benefit.

The largest rooftop farm in America was completed in 2010, across town from Eagle Street, in Queens. Ben Flanner, who cofounded Eagle Street with Annie Novak, developed the idea after leaving Eagle Street. Brooklyn Grange occupies an acre, or 40,000 square feet, atop a 1919 building. It holds 1.2 million pounds of soil, or 30 pounds per square foot. In its first summer, it is estimated the farm produced 16,000 pounds of fruits and vegetables for sale at markets and to restaurants. In other words, rooftop farms are not just a feel-good, look-good architectural gimmick. And it’s not too crazy to imagine flying into a city in ten years and seeing a puzzle of green patches with hoop houses and chicken coops coloring in the once-dreary rooftops. Indeed, don’t be surprised if you find yourself falling asleep underneath the roots of your salad in the not-too-distant future.

Sometimes the most challenging part is determining whether the initial cost of constructing the green roof will be worthwhile in the long term, so we include three reasons, economic and conservation based, for taking the plunge.

Three Reasons to Go Green Roof

Green-roof installations are pricey, ranging from ten to fifty dollars per square foot, but there are significant economic and societal benefits that offset the cost.

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