Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Green roofs are all the rage… uh, except not here

If this looks like it could be Philadelphia, it couldChicago [right] has had incentives for building green roofs since 1998, thanks to their tireless Mayor, Richard M. Daley. As a result they’re at the forefront of the movement, nationally.

With more than 50 buildings with green roofs, Washington, D.C. isn’t too far behind.

Proponents in New York have been aggressively lobbying City Hall for incentives for green roofs over the past two years. In fact, Long Island City in Queens [below] is a candidate to become a veritable neighborhood of green roofs.

And in Philadelphia — you guessed it — crickets. At least in City Hall. [emphasis added]
Although limited in scope, a recent boom in green-roof construction demonstrates the pressing need for more.

While Chicago and Washington, D.C., lead the way in planting green roofs, broad swaths of the country remain gray. Why the hesitation? In cities without Chicago’s single-minded program of grants, tax breaks, and regulations, the initial expense might seem prohibitive. […] But green roofs’ documented advantages—saving energy, controlling runoff, offsetting urban heat islands, and providing new habitats for wildlife—profit the public as much as building owners. If the experiences of Chicago and Germany are any indication, government needs to provide incentives that address short-term costs before green roofs can begin to ease our increasingly dense, hot cities.
Green roofs across AmericaHello? City Hall? Anyone there? “Provide incentives” means you need to offer things like tax abatements for property owners who build green roofs. That’s why we have you guys, you know — to make sure we, collectively, pay for things that are for the public good and improve Philadelphia’s overall quality of life, but might not be explicitly glamorous enough enough for individuals to monitor and support independently, like, say, public transportation, public health and public education.

We know you can do it. Check out Chicago: [emphasis added]
Two years ago, Chicago began offering a density bonus in the central business district in exchange for green-roof installation. The city uses a complex formula to calculate the bonus, but at least 50 percent of the roof must be covered with vegetation before the bonus starts to apply. More significantly, of the estimated 150 green-roof projects currently in development, only 12 are taking advantage of the city's incentives. The rest are being built because the city requires that new developments that benefit from city financing must install a green roof.
(And talk to our boys at Philadelphia Forward. They literally have, like, a gazillion ways Philly can lower its bad taxes while actually taking in increased tax revenue via good taxes and things like increased economic growth. Honest.)

Why do we need City Hall to take the lead and not leave it up to private developers? Because there has to be a coordinated effort.
"Isolated green roofs are expensive insulation," Ms. Hoffman said. "But when you have a whole community of green roofs, it changes the microclimate of the area and reduces demand for energy. Think about one sidewalk in front of a building. That doesn't make a transportation path. But if everyone has one in front of their property, you have a way to walk around the city. Only a citywide effort can achieve that."
Long Island City in Queens is a candidate to become a veritable neighborhood of green roofs.What's more, government-led efforts actually gets results.
Chicago now has both requirements and incentives in place for private businesses to follow the city's lead. As a result, Sadhu Johnston, Chicago's commissioner of the environment, said there were approximately two million square feet of green roofs already built or in various stages of construction in Chicago.
[…]
"It's a combination of incentives and requirements," Mr. Johnston said. McDonald's built a flagship restaurant in downtown Chicago and installed a highly visible, 3,150-square-foot, bi-level green roof. Target and Apple Computer have also installed green roofs on their stores in Chicago.
Sounds rather awesome. But is it practical here?
“Philadelphia, in particular, is one of the easiest cities to do it,” adds Miller. “A lot of the older buildings in the city have very heavy roof structures. They were designed at a time when builders waterproofed roofs by putting up thick layers of coal, tar and fabric, which was quite heavy.”
Shocking.

Related:
Dear Mayor Daley: Philadelphia has an election coming up next year… any chance you want to come play? [Metropolis]
Don’t you dare call our green roof a "roof garden" [NY Times]
Hey, it’s Philly, so the fact that we even know what a green roof is, like, pretty impressive [PW]
And in case we don't... The anatomy of a green roof [USA Today]

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