Call it a trend, but "green" hasn't really died down since it hit mass appeal several years back — it might even be fair to say that it's here to stay. Everywhere I look, I see vacant parking lots, parking spaces and rooftops taken over by lush green vegetation. Living walls, rooftop gardens, parklets, and urban farming allow for integration of grasses, shrubs, succulents, and just about all plant-life to thrive through the cracks. These various venues for green life reclaim black top roofs, black tar parking spaces, intersections, and concrete walls, generating a natural ecosystem known to mitigate heating zones while adding natural oxygen production.
Don't worry, this isn't a janky lesson on climate change, gardening or environmentalism (though, as a sustainable interior design firm, we're very knowledgable in green design practices), but this week's post is about re-visiting the green trend in hopes that it continues to grow indefinitely.
Even a modest green rooftop can keep a building cooler in the summer months. And if you're into gardening, that same rooftop could provide fresh edibles in a controlled environment. Black tar rooftops are more than unsightly, and as The Environment Protection Agency tells us, the glut of asphalt in urban areas creates a Heat Island Effect. When buildings, roads, and other infrastructure replace open land and vegetation, surfaces that were once permeable and moist become impermeable and dry. These changes cause urban regions to become warmer than their rural surroundings, forming an "island" of higher temperatures.
A poster child for reversing the effects of the "urban heat island" is the San Francisco Academy of Sciences' green rooftop. This 2.5 acre roof is home to 1.7 million native plants, including the California poppy seen above. More than a rooftop garden, the six inches of soil substrate on the roof act as natural insulation, providing significant gains in heating and cooling efficiency, keeping the building’s interior an average of 10 degrees cooler than a standard roof would. The steep slopes of the roof also play as a natural ventilation system, funneling cool air into the open-air plaza on sunny days.
Back in 2009, French Botanist, Patrick Blanc brought his famous wall instillation to San Francisco's Drew School in Pacific Heights. Ever since, the idea has spread like weeds. A living wall creates a natural, wild surface that is both an aesthetic and environmental boon to the neighborhood.
Though living walls aren't as popular as the other green space-holders, Jeffrey L. Bruce, the Chair from Green Roofs for Healthy Cities (GRHC) notes that as the industry grows, we will see costs come down. According to Bruce, the benefits to building owners is unquestionable — integrated design practices that turn wall and roof spaces into greenery not only create a beautiful look and conserve energy, but can also help to manage storm water.
Cruising around the city, you may have seen dozens of parklets popping up all over the place, on Valencia, Powell, Divisadero, and Castro streets. A parklet is a parking spot turned into a small space for raised garden beds, benches, bikes, or outdoor veranda seating. San Francisco pioneered the plant-centric alternative, with the first parklet in 2005 as an unofficial protest by activists at Rebar art and design studio, who paid the parking meter, rolled out grass sod for a lawn, and placed a planted tree on top. Shortly after, the Pavement to Parks initiative began. Parklets have sprouted all over in places like Philadelphia, Oakland, Los Angeles, Vancouver, and British Columbia.
A collaboration of the Mayor's Office, Department of Public Works, the Municipal Transportation Agency, and the Planning Department, Pavement to Parks initiative has been temporarily converting sizable intersections into parks, plazas, and gardens. The project provides a place for the community to dwell, sure, but maybe more importantly, helps our city to see what adjustments need to be made for a possible long-term community investment. Maybe then, we'll never have to go back to black.