Growing the Green Roof Industry in North America

Green roofs are great! They help alleviate a lot of issues that arise in urban living while making cities more beautiful. There is growing interest in making sure that urban green roofs take off and it looks like it is working.

While other countries like Germany have been using green roofs since the 1980’s, North America has been playing catch up. Toronto, however, is a city enamoured with renewable energy and sustainability. Ryerson’s engineering building on Church St., the new Forensic Services and Coroner’s Complex and Toronto City Hall are all notable examples of green roof early adopters.

A pioneer in North America, the city requires all new builds with a minimum gross floor area of 2,000m2 to include a portion of vegetation on roof surfaces. It also offers a grant of up to $75/square metre to offset the cost of green-roof installation. Similar incentive programs are being instated in Washington DC, NYC and Chicago, but Toronto is the first to actually mandate builders to include a vegetated roof – or face a hefty fine.

And with good reason. Green roofs divert waste, help manage storm water, moderate ‘urban heat island’ effects and improve air quality. They also reduce noise and can save significant amounts of money. In a warehouse complex, for example, the evaporation characteristics of a green roof can lower the inside temperature from between three to five degrees celsius.

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New York City’s Simple, and Green, Flood Prevention

New York, like other large cities, has a lot of impermeable services which means that when it rains there is little to contain the water. By using green infrastructure of soil, broken stone, shrubs, trees, etc. the bioswales can capture a lot of water. This green infrastructure is good for water management and obviously benefits the local environments through cleaner air and more pleasant views.

The Big Apple’s pretty new bioswales, built into city sidewalks much like standard tree pits and more modest in size than their suburban brethren, will join about 250 of these aesthetically pleasing drainage ditches that have already popped up around the city as part of the city’s stormwater management-focused Green Infrastructure Program. The price tag attached to this aggressive — and much needed — onslaught of vegetated swales is $46 million.
While that might seem like a hefty wad of cash for the city to dedicate to curbside rain gardens, it’s nothing compared to the costs associated with upgrading New York’s aging combined sewage system (a system that handles both storm runoff and domestic sewage) and cleaning up after perfectly foul combined sewage overflow (CSO) events that strike following heavy rainstorms (and, of course, hurricanes).

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Thanks to Shealyn!

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Condesned Forests for an Urban Canopy

Shubhendu Sharma has found a way to get a small area of land to become a thick forest nearly impossible to walk trough. The idea is to take useless spaces in cities (like car parking) and turn them into miniature forests. These mini-forests can cool the local temperature, clean the air, and increase local happiness.

What’s more, the process uses native plants so it is a self-sustaining setup of plants. Sharma has created a company, Afforestt, to sell the plant-growing service to cities.

“It’s the natural process of growth, but amplified,” says Afforestt founder Shubhendu Sharma. Through an intensive process of building nutrients three feet deep in the soil and carefully plotting out a mix of trees, Sharma’s team can fill up an entire plot of land with a forest so thick it’s impossible to walk inside.

The technique was originally developed by Japanese scientist Akira Miyawaki, who demonstrated it at Toyota while Sharma worked there. The engineer was so inspired that he ended up building a similar forest in his own backyard, and eventually left Toyota to start building small super-forests everywhere.

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The Rise of Urban Agriculture

Industrial agriculture is not kind to the environment and has been attributed to deforestation of the rainforest to the massive bee die-off. Yet, we find ourselves attached to this 20th century model of centralized production. Lucky for civilization, this is changing!

Small scale urban agriculture is getting large enough as an industry to compete with the large scale industrial production.

Urban agriculture in large cities goes a long way in redefining the food industry, he said. Piloted by Alvarez and fellow Humber College Graduate Craig Petten, Aqua Greens is trying to do just that with an innovative yearlong growing cycle. They use a process call “aquaponics” to produce basil, chives and arugula for restaurants and grocery stores around the Greater Toronto Area (GTA).

Aquaponics is a hybrid of hydroponics and aquaculture, Alvarez explains. Hydroponics refers to growing in soil-free mineral nutrient solutions, usually water; aquaculture describes the farming of fish and other water-based organisms. Aqua Greens uses a closed-loop ecosystem composed of both processes to grow their produce. Plant roots are placed in the tank that contains a fish called tilapia; water containing waste materials from the fish is absorbed by the plants, who use the waste as a sort of fertilizer. The water is then recycled back into the tank.

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Even More Evidence That Bike-Friendly Cities Are Better Cities

Bicycles are wonderful contraptions that help people be healthier, have better commutes, and are a wonderful solution to car-based traffic jams. Yet, there are still cities out there that hate cyclists (like Toronto and it’s crack-smoking mayor). In a more civilized place, Aukland, they are embracing bike-friendly infrastructure to make the city better for people and for businesses!

The researchers looked at Auckland, New Zealand, which is currently not a particularly bike-friendly place, and used computer simulations to model different scenarios for new bike-related investments, including regular bike lanes, lanes shared with buses, and fully separated lanes.

They found huge differences: If the city built a network of separated lanes and slowed down traffic speeds, it could increase cycling by 40% by 2040, but adding a few lanes in a few places might only increase bike traffic by 5%. The more people ride, the more the cost savings would add up for Auckland–the biggest factor being a reduction in health care costs. A smaller investment would have little impact at all; the city is so bike-unfriendly that major changes are needed.

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