Verlyn Klinkenborg, a noted non-fiction writer and member of The New York Times editorial board, wrote about green roofs for National Geographic. The typical roofscape for an urban building, says Klinkenborg, is “a little like hell—a lifeless place of bituminous surfaces, violent temperature contrasts, bitter winds, and an antipathy to water.”
Klinkenborg says green roofs aren’t new, but the driving impetus for creating them in cities is rooted in contemporary issues. “Living roofs aren’t new. They were common among sod houses on the American prairie, and roofs of turf can still be found on log houses and sheds in northern Europe. But in recent decades, architects, builders, and city planners all across the planet have begun turning to green roofs not for their beauty—almost an afterthought—but for their practicality, their ability to mitigate the environmental extremes common on conventional roofs.”
Green roofs may reflect changing views about the city’s relationship to nature. “Another factor driving the spread of green roofs is our changing idea of the city. It’s no longer wise or practical or, for that matter, ethical, to think of the city as the antithesis of nature. Finding ways to naturalize cities—even as nature itself becomes more urbanized—will make them more livable, and not only for humans.”
An important next step is to ensure green roofs’ environmental benefits match their social and economic benefits — they need to be accessible and also cost-efficient. “The goal for some researchers now is to find ways to build living roofs that are ecologically and socially sound in every respect: low in environmental costs and available to as many people as possible. What matters isn’t only whether living roofs work. It’s how to make them work in the most sustainable way, using the least energy while creating the greatest benefit for the human and nonhuman habitat.”
Klinkenborg also discusses the Vancouver Convention Center green roof, which, at 6 acres, is one of the world’s largest, and the tax and regulatory incentives many governments have used to spur development of green roofs.
Image credit: California Academy of Sciences, ASLA 2009 Professional Honor Award