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Seattle considers greener townhouse and landscaping standards

Thursday, January 22nd, 2009

Proposed legislation in Seattle aims to make mulitfamily housing more environmentally sensitive in both its built form and landscaping.  Among the highlights of the proposal are better townhouse design, protection of single-family neighbourhoods, green construction and landscaping, and affordable housing. Of particular interest for the green roof industry is the proposed modification to current landscaping requirements, which would increase landscaping by 15-20%, often include green roofs and vegetated walls, and require LEED Silver or Built Green Four Star construction standards for projects where additional development capacity is allowed. For the full story, click here.

Green Roof Tax Incentive Introduced to US Congress

Sherman Plaza green roof, Evanston, IL (American Hydrotech)
Sherman Plaza green roof, Evanston, IL (American Hydrotech)

New proposed legislation would provide financial incentives for commercial and household green roof installationin the US. Senator Maria Cantwell from Washington State introduced the Clean Energy Stimulus and Investment Assurance Act of 2009 (S.320) January 26th.  Section 506 of the bill, which would provide residential and commercial property owners with a 30% tax credit for qualified green roof expenditures, was written in collaboration with Green Roof for Healthy Cities and the American Society of Landscape Architects.  The bill would apply to both new and retrofit projects and would require at least 50% of the roof to be covered with a green roof.  For more information, click here.

New rating system for sustainable landscaping proposed

A new initiative, called Sustainable Sites, has been developed by the United States Botanic Garden, the American Society of Landscape Architects and the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center. This proposed model addresses the lack of guidelines for sustainable landscaping in building design, and is meant to be a rating system similar to the current top green building guidelines, LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design).  The report, which is open for comments until January 20th, is hoped to be incorporated into LEED

Prairie grass,
Prairie grass,

2011. To see the full article, click here.

To go directly to the Sustainable Sites Initiative site, click here.

New Research on the role of nature in reducing stress on your brain

The city might be good for business but it may not be good for your thinking skills or stress levels, according to recent research.  Drawing on the work of environmental psychologists and psychologists who study the brain, Johan Lehrer discusses how incorporating nature into our daily urban environment can reduce stress and improve our ability to concentrate and think creatively.   Click here for the full article (published January 2nd in the Globe and Mail).

New York promotes green roofs through tax credits

State legislation passed in June 2008 allows New York City building owners who install vegetation on at least half their buildings’ available rooftop space to offset $4.50 in property taxes for each square foot of green roof they install, for one year. The credit covers about a quarter of the cost of installation and is capped at $100,000. To see the full article in the current GreenSource, please click here: New York Green Roofs.

Green roof on Earthpledge's building, NYC
Green Roof on Earthpledge's offices, NYC

Toronto considering innovative green roof legislation

Toronto debates making green roofs mandatory for some buildings

The last few years have seen Toronto make huge strides in their green roof policy. With 8,300 square metres (83,000 square feet) of green roofs installed in 20o7 alone, Toronto has become the top Canadian city for green roof implementation, and has jumped to seventh place in North America Annual Green Roof Survey.  Traditionally hampered by a lack of power vis-a-vis the province of Ontario (typical of many Canadian cities), the new City of Toronto Act (COTA) is changing this, and the City of Toronto seems to be taking its new power seriously.  Section 108 allows Council to pass a by-law requiring and governing the construction of green roofs as an exception to the Building Code Act of 1992, a power which the City previously did not have.

COTA also potentially will give the City the ability to mandate green roofs through their Toronto Green Standard (2007) and their Climate Change Plan (2007) .  Significantly, Toronto is as of late 2008 considering making green roofs mandatory for some industrial, commercial, and institutional (ICI) buildings as well as governing their construction. Should this pass, they would be the first city in North America to both require green roofs and govern their construction.  Toronto is also considering mandating green roof construction standards. Open houses for public comment for both proposals were held in December 2008 and the proposal is currently under discussion.  Toronto’s Green Roof Policy.

Chicago’s Green Renaissance

Mayor Daley’s leadership puts Chicago on the map for urban greening initiatives

Chicago has become nationally known for its leadership in the environment…. It improves public health; it beautifies the city; it enhances the quality of life; it saves money; and it leaves a legacy for future generations.
Mayor Daley, (City of Chicago: Department of the Environment 2006)

Chicago has been getting greener thanks in large part to the leadership from Mayor Richard M. Daley. Traditionally known more for its architecture, gritty industrial roots and gangster history, Chicago has been showing a greener side to both visitors and locals alike. In addition to having one of the largest public-access waterfronts in North America, Chicago has recently been adding seasonal planters to main boulevards, planting millions of trees, greening schoolyards, increasing parkspace, and greening rooftops.

Chicago Cultural Centre green roof overlooking Millennium Park
Chicago Cultural Centre green roof overlooking Millennium Park

Originally intended to beautify the city, the City is realizing that greening the city provides multiple benefits that go beyond aesthetics. Green initiatives are now a cornerstone of Daley’s administration, and have won him both international leadership awards and recognition. Daley was initially criticized for spending money on planting trees when some of Chicago’s poorest and most segregated neighbourhoods face significant challenges in violence and unemployment. In light of both the multiple benefits these urban greening projects provide and the international recognition they garner, however, even some of Daley’s critics admit that these greening initiatives have proven to be a powerful symbol of change and revitalization.

Green = Investment and Revitalization

Adding greenspace to the city has proven to be a smart approach to signify investment and pride in neighbourhoods in Chicago. Developers hunting for the next up-and-coming neighbourhood keep a close eye on investment by the City in the form of planters along boulevards, upgraded parks, and street beautification. With the largest number of TIF (Tax Incremental Financing) districts in the U.S., City Hall has also been able to mandate green roofs, increased greenspace and green building features on schools and new developments that receive money from the city. Landscape ordinances mandate that parking garages be covered with vines or vegetation, while laneways are being greened through the City’s Green Alley Program. Bringing this all together is the City’s new Green Urban Design Guidelines (GUD) (2007) that form the first comprehensive, interdepartmental greening plan. The GUD lays out urban greening criteria based on hydrology, neighbourhood, air quality and other factors that influence the required level of greening for a particular devleopment. Chicago has also been selected to pilot one of a handful of Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design Neighbourhood Design (LEED ND) projects in the U.S. which aims to blend green building and smart growth objectives. With these initiatives urban nature is beginning to be equated with revitalization, care, and investment, turning a midwest city into a symbol of progress, innovation, and health.

Along Michigan Avenue
Along Michigan Avenue

Green Roofs

“We do this not because it’s fashionable, but because it makes sense. It improves public health; it beautifies the city; it enhances the quality of life; it saves money; and it leaves a legacy for future generations.”

Mayor Richard Daley

Perhaps the most famous of Daley’s greening initiatives are Chicago’s green roofs. Leading the way with an award-winning green roof on their City Hall, Daley’s tough green roof incentives and requirements have made Chicago the North American leader for green roof implementation for four years running (Green Roofs for Healthy Cities). Known for their ability to reduce stormwater runoff and reduce the urban heat island effect, green roofs have also proven to be perhaps the most symbolic of all Daley’s initiatives. Other cities wishing to implement green initiatives have admired Daley’s use of green roofs as a symbolic figurehead for his other greening initiatives, and is perhaps a good lesson in public perception. Green roofs are sexy and innovative, and easily capture the public imagination. The most famous green roof in Chicago may not even be recognized as one- Millennium Park.

The multi-million dollar green roof/park that covers sections of the railway that had previously cut off part of the lakefront from downtown has boosted tourism and become a centerpiece of the Loop. Combined with favourable incentives to bring housing downtown, the loop has for the first time been seen as a popular place to live and the residents are moving in. Though green roofs have also been criticized as merely symbolic, they are but one of a number of features that can make a building green* and have paved the way for further greening initiatives such as the current LEED-Gold standard for all new City buildings and LEED certified for all renovations for City buildings.

View from green roof of the Chicago Center for Green Technology, first LEED Platinum building
View from green roof of the Chicago Center for Green Technology, achieved LEED Platinum

Still dependent on coal and suffering from raging sprawl outside the city like many other North American cities, along with a still-lagging recycling program, Chicago still has a long way to go before being considered truly “green.” With the increasing awareness and acceptance of Daley’s green agenda by Chicagoans and the international community alike, however, Chicago may be a good lesson for other cities wishing to move green initiatives forward- don’t forget the vegetation in green.


Chicago’s Green Roof and Green Building Policies

Chicago’s Green Roof Policies

Chicago’s Environmental Initiatives