Saturday, July 24, 2010

Heaven is on a Rooftop in Chinatown

The USGBC recently gave a tour of Chris and Lisa Goode's green roof located in the heart of Chinatown. Chris and Lisa designed and installed the roof themselves after buying the building. During the tour they shared some interesting stories about the process, like bringing giant trees onto the roof by using the top of the elevator. Since the installation of their own roof they started Goode Green, a green roof company.

The Goode's roof is a very dynamic outdoor living space. The roof is multi-tiered and has a small house in the center of the main roof which serves as a sheltered lounge space. We didn't get to see the inside of the little house but I imagine it has a kitchen, bathroom, and is heated during the winter. They have a lush green lawn with a formal garden border surrounding it, they have large shade trees one can sit under on a comfortable chair, fruit trees espaliered onto a trellis, vines hanging everywhere, tomatoes and other vegetables, wildflowers, chicken, and fish.

They use a variety of materials to create both a modern and a rustic atmosphere. They have aluminum planters and reclaimed wood paths with grasses and sedum growing in between planks. They use steel troughs to store rainwater and grow aquatic plants.

Coy swim in a small pool. Two chickens have their own little house and runway neatly hid behind the border garden. An irrigation system and a good gardener keeps everything looking great, better than most gardens I've seen this summer after a one month drought and on going heat.

I'll let the pictures do the rest of the talking. Enjoy!

Saturday, July 17, 2010


Those of you in the know need no introduction to Terreform One. They are urban ecological innovators, inventors, architects, scholars, teachers, and hopefully can save us all with their treehouses and soft bubbly cars. Mitchell Joachim won the 2010 TED fellowship award, has been featured in many magazines, and was a guest on The Colbert Report (really funny!) Every summer, at least for the last two, they've held international workshops for young architects at their headquarters at MEx Metropolitan Exchange Building (33 Flatbush Ave) also our headquarters. The event is called Terrefarm; it consists of a seminar series, field trips, and an intensive charrette. This year there have been lectures given by many worthies such as Dickson Despommier, Vito Acconci, and even yours truly got a word in. Some of these images are of the workshop activities and of the MEx building.

Part of what I discussed in my lecture about green roofs was the energy savings, or lack of, green roofs produce based on the recent research. This portion of my lecture got some attention after words in the blogosphere. I'm a passionate green roofer; believing it is one of the crucial solutions to urban pollution and climate issues. I bring up flaws in the industry in my lectures only to promote ways to improve the green roof industry not to put it down.

In 2006 Columbia University's Center for Climate Systems Research published a report on green roofs stating that surface temperatures at the roof membrane on standard roofs can be more than 72 F higher than on green roofs at midday in the summer. The study is filled with great information about hydrology, urban heat island effect, air pollution, and how green roofs are a viable part of the solution to these challenges. This year Columbia came out with another study based on a green roof on The Con Edison learning facility in Long Island City, Queens. A key finding of this study shows that the green roof, consisting of 21,000 plants, on The Con Ed Learning Center reduces summer heat gains by up to 84 percent and winter heat losses by up to 37 percent, compared to a black roof. The white roof reduces summer heat gains by up to 67 percent. The report also stated that this translates into an estimated annual cost savings of $330 to $350 for heating and $225 for cooling. Hhhhhhmmmm.... that’s not too big of a yearly savings.

Today I read a press release discussing the findings of a study on various types of green roofs taking place in Texas by the Lady Bird Johnson Center. The study used metal boxes as mini-roofs to test out the green roofs.During one 91-degree day of the study, for example, a black topped box without air conditioning reached 129 degrees inside. Meanwhile, the green roof replicas produced indoor temperatures of 97 to 100 degrees Fahrenheit.

An even greater temperature difference was found on roof surfaces where black-top roofs reached 154 degrees Fahrenheit on that 91 degree day. By comparison, the soil temperature of the green roofs was between 88 and 100 degrees Fahrenheit.

There is overwhelming data that green roofs significantly lower temperatures in the summer and retain heat during the winter. And yet this hasn’t translated into cost savings nor is there any significant incentive program by NYSERDA, a state agency that offers funds for solar panels and insulation but not for green roofs ☹
So why are green roofs not saving us more energy if they reduce the temperature of the roofs so much during the summer??
I DON”T KNOW… be continued…..

Monday, July 12, 2010


If it doen't rain by this weekend it will be a month since it last rained.

I don't count the short drizzles we've had as rain-they're just teases

that slightly wet the surface of the earth but don't come near to the

saturation plants really need right now.

I've seen some well established trees and shrubs wilting and dropping

their leaves. I've passed many a dehydrated garden full of yellow crispy

yews, shriveled lilacs, needleless pines, and completely wilted

perennials. If this is happening to established gardens with roots deep

into the earth, you can imagine how newly planted gardens and container

gardens are doing...badly to say the least. If you have a container garden

or have plants newly installed you must be thoroughly watering them

everyday and put a layer of mulch around them if you want them to survive.

Even so, these plants are vulnerable and a one month drought may just be

too much for them-expect to lose a few ferns.

If you can't water your plants everyday and can't get a neighbor or

someone to water your plants for you, then you must have an irrigation

system that's on a timer.

Sunday, July 4, 2010


Americans should be proud of our country...or at least of our native fauna. I know those of us lucky enough to have a backyard will be using it for BBQs and parties. Fair enough. But a garden party to plant wildflowers could be fun too.
But those of us too tired to plant or do much of anything may just be sitting back and wondering on this July 4th, 'What does it mean to be American?' (maybe not so much as pondering who's getting the next six pack). But nonetheless a relevant questio
n. How can we define our country? Lady Bird Johnson famously said "I want Texas to look like Texas and Vermont to look like Vermont."

I think one of the greatest aspects to this country is it's diversity and tolerance of differences--at least in NYC ! 'So if diversity is so great why do we need to stick to native plants? What's wrong with planting Japanese Barberry?' you may be asking. Well diversity is great and necessary on many levels. That's why we have to be so wary of monocultures. Speaking of culture, a good example of a culturally invasive species is McDonalds. It
comes into a foreign place with unique cuisine and traditions and flattens it into a hamburger that tastes the same as the hamburgers they serve in Sweden, Chile, Japan, and Kansas. Do we really want the people of Kabul to eat the same as the people of Kansas? W
hen I travel I see the same stores next to highways all over the globe; McD's, H&M, Burger King, Starbucks, Target, etc....Not only is culture being eroded by commercialism but so is language. The rate of language extinction has now reached the unprecedented worldwide level of 10 every year. Some people predict that 50 to 90 per cent of today’s 6,000 spoken languages will disappear during this century.

All of this is just a way to help you understand that celebrating what's native, and what's unique is celebrating diversity. Just as McDonalds can be found almost anywhere on the globe, displacing completely unique and culturally important cuisine, Japanese Barberry can be found almost anywhere displacing native woodland species, both beautiful and ecologically important. The tragedy of invasive species is that what's displaced now may never be able to come back. It may also take many other aspects of life down with it. For example, the Spicebush Swallowtail needs the Spicebush (Lindera benzoin) to feed its larvae. So if the spicebush is displaced by the Barberry then no more Spicebush Swallowtail. This insect disappearance can seriously effect the whole ecological food chain.

One species I always appreciate on the Fourth of July, more than the fireworks, are the fireflies in the backyards of Brooklyn. I hope those lights will never go extinct.