Take several hundred dedicated green roof and green infrastructure practitioners, add a few dozen great trade show exhibitors, mix in scores of highly informative speakers, and you get the 13th Annual Cities Alive Conference that was held in Brooklyn in early October. While the focus was on living architecture such as green roofs and living walls, a significant number of seminars emphasized greater green infrastructure issues. In this and the next issue of NewTerrain I’ll share bullets from the seminars I attended and highlights from tours.
1 billion sq. ft. of green roofs by 2022. Steven Pack, Founder and President, Green Roofs for Healthy Cities (GRHC), conference organizers, threw out a 1 billion sq. ft. by 2022 green roof construction challenge, a 10-fold increase from current construction. Since New York was the conference host city, Steven used them to illustrate. In 2014 GRHC members self-reported building about 350,000 sq. ft. in New York City. If New York City were to contribute their share of the 2022 goal, it would mean an additional 25 million sq. ft. equating to about $682 million in one-time capital cost with $26 million in annual maintenance expense. The public/private eco-services and economic benefit would be $607 million, about $75 million annually. Currently, New York is 5th in green roof construction annually behind Washington, D.C., Toronto, Philadelphia, and Chicago.
New York City plans to capture 10% of all runoff through green infrastructure by 2030. Margaret Castillo, Chief Architect, New York Department of Design & Construction. New York City has the “largest design/build portfolio in the country,” with $17 billion committed to 2018 for construction. “The city is undergoing an unprecedented effort to capture 10% of city runoff by 2030 through managing stormwater and providing community amenities through green infrastructure like bioswales,” she said.
Plant it and humans can’t help but respond positively. Bill Browning, Terrapin Bright Green, is a founding member of the US Green Building Council and an expert on biophilia science and its application in landscape and building design. His career has been about bringing the best of nature into the design of human spaces through evidence-based design. “The physiological benefits of viewing real nature are higher than the benefits of viewing simulated nature.” Brains process images differently in real life, in 3-dimension. People don’t respond the same to visuals that are not 3-dimensional. “Forest Bathing” as the Japanese call it, for just 5 minutes a day by sitting in a natural area reduces cortisol, heart rate and blood pressure, he pointed out. The effects last for a few hours. In another study he mentioned, Barcelona school children playing underneath tree canopy had higher cognitive performance in school. If you can’t get outside, in an office setting, looking up to see nature relaxes the muscles in the eye and viewing green for just 40 seconds shifts mode, relaxing the brain, he said. Biodiversity trumps the area of green he said—“If I can’t do a lot of green, then increasing the level of biodiversity holds attention more than a green wall of all the same thing.”
His take on rooftop urban agriculture is spot on: The amount of food we will get from urban agriculture on roofs is not as valuable as the tie to place through understanding and deeper commitment to quality food that urban rooftop agriculture brings. Place is way more valuable than the nutrients we will get, he said.
You can download Terrapin’s publications, including the “14 Patterns of Biophilic Design,” “The Economics of Biophilia,” and a number of other interesting and useful papers.
Account for vegetation positive climate effects citywide. Cynthia Rosenzweig, from NASA’s Goddard Institute co-chairs the New York City Panel on Climate Change. She told the audience that the summer of 2015 in New York City was 1.9F higher than normal, with the longest ever streak, 62 days in a row, of temperatures above 80F. She added that year-over-year rainfall variability in 2015 was also more pronounced with heavier downpours projected to increase in the future years. To make a difference in climate change she said there’s an effort to look at vegetation and green infrastructure citywide rather than building-to-building.
Parks can capture more stormwater with bioswales/greenroofs. Mitch Silver, Commissioner New York City Department of Parks & Recreation is head of 30,000 acres of parkland with 155 miles of parks coastline. “We estimate almost 100% of our stormwater runoff could be captured.” Subsurface detention, especially in park redevelopment, bioswales and green roofs are tools they are employing. “If we don’t do all three E’s (Environment, Economics, Equity) we are not sustainable.” Three-quarters of all New Yorkers live within a 10-minute walk of a park, but no one has focused on the quality of the parks he said adding that about 215 parks were places you wouldn’t want to children to play. The first priority is transforming parks there. Parks without borders is the theme, bringing the public realm seamlessly to the park and looking at curblines as boundaries. The NYC Parks Deparment operates a green roof living laboratory that comprises the 5th largest green roof in the city. (A full report on the Randall’s Island Green Roof lab will be in NewTerrain No. 7).