Bronx Green Roofs Tour
This rolling meadow is actually on top of the Bronx County Courthouse. On Monday, May 17, I went on the Bronx Green Roofs Tour, which was one of the official events celebrating Bronx Week. I was surprised to learn that the Bronx has the largest area of green roofs in New York City. The leader of our tour, Kate Shackford, is the Executive Vice President of the Bronx Overall Economic Development Corporation. She can give tours of the green roof on top of the Bronx County Building any business day from 9-5. I would highly recommend this if you are in the area and have some time to kill, because as you can see in the picture above, it's gorgeous. If you have a group and would like to have the big green roofs tour, you can arrange that with her as well.
Anyways, the idea behind green roofs is that they help to capture some of the carbon released by urban centers, and more importantly, they help to reduce the urban heat island effectcaused by our concrete and asphalt jungles. Green roofs have also been shown to lower a building's heating and cooling costs by providing insulation and increasing the efficiency of air conditioners, and they capture a lot of storm water runoff.
We visited four green roofs: the Bronx County Building at 851 Grand Concourse, Mount Hope Community Center at 55 East 175th Street, the St. Simon Stock School at 2191 Valentine Avenue, the Fordham Bedford apartment building at 2241 Webster Avenue, and the WSFSSH Grandparent Program at the corner of 163rd and Prospect Avenue. Each roof had a different design and flavor.
The first, at the Bronx County Building, was designed to sustain itself. They also received a grant from the EPA to study the temperature and runoff differences between green roofs and traditional blacktop roofs and have two experimental setups for this purpose. The roof is primarily planted with setum plants that naturally cover meadows and does not routinely need added irrigation to sustain the plant life. At the Mount Hope Community Center, the roof has a more designed look with walkways and setup and plans to put sitting areas. This roof is also planted with setum but is less established and still requires some irrigation.
The St. Simon Stock School green roof is set up to be a learning experience for the children as well as an economic and environmental asset. This green roof features non-native flowering plants and a vegetable garden planted by the children, which both require added irrigation. In this location, we had the opportunity to speak to Peter Spartos of the Gaia Institute. The Gaia Institute is a non profit organization that assists with the implementation of green roof technology and has also designed a soil that is mixed with styrofoam to create a lighter load for roof tops than existing soil mixtures. The Gaia Institute also hopes to revitalize the New York area farming industry for the purpose of creating materials for green roofs. Peter did a much more detailed job of explaining this. This guy is a real scientist, and it was awesome to talk to him. He plans to add green walls to the fences surrounding the roof (basically grow ivy up the fences) which already have bird houses. The Fordham Bedford green roof was built basically to reduce temperature control costs, and it wasn't that impressive. It also wasn't planted as well (used much less soil medium) and may not be able to take off the way it should.
The WSFSSH Grandparent Program is subsidized housing for grandparents who are the primary caregivers to their grandchildren. This green roof was designed to be an oasis of calm for its residents and features walkways and permanent benches. We were able to eat lunch on top of this roof on a gorgeous May day in the Bronx. It was awesome, and I'm so glad that something like this exists in my burrough.
Overall, if you can arrange or attend one of these green roof tours, you absolutely should. It was enlightening, and it made me really proud to live in the Bronx. The one sad thing was knowing that the funding is not currently available to subsidize and expand these programs to all the box stores in the burrough and eventually the entire city.