Green roofs are red hot in North American cities, with Chicago, Portland, Philadelphia, and Toronto leading the charge. In 2010, Toronto became the first city in North America to require the installation of green roofs on new commercial, institutional, and multifamily residential developments across the city. Is San Francisco next?

A green roof is basically a contained green space on top of a human-made structure, typically involving waterproofing, drainage, substrate, and plants. These spaces provide a wide range of public benefits that go beyond aesthetic improvement. Some of the plusses: Waste diversion, stormwater management, temperature moderation (cooling cities during the hot summer months), refuge for animals and insects adding to urban biodiversity, and air quality control (filtering noxious gases and capturing airborne pollutants).

A recent event on the subject of green roofs at swissnex San Francisco brought together experts from Switzerland and San Francisco to discuss how public policies could help continue to green urban spaces, and a green roof bus tour took participants to some of the city’s most innovative rooftop oases.

Green Roofs Sprouting Up

San Francisco has recently had a surge of interest in developing public policy around green roofs and living architecture in the city. Various groups from policy makers to practitioners to activists are motivating to make the Golden Gate more green.

Corporations are hiring LEED specialists and energy advisors focused on innovative building ecology. And the city is focused on greening and creating more public spaces, such as the 5.4-acre elevated park atop the new Transbay Transit Center being built in downtown San Francisco.

Lisa Lee Benjamin of the consulting firm EvoCatalyst, for example, works on advocating interest in all aspects of the green roof world from the perspectives of practice, research, urban planning, policy, and design. She is also a member of UG Lab, a collective of experts in the green roof and urban greening field who provide professional consultancy services, research, and education. EvoCatalyst worked on green roofs at 620 Jones bar and restaurant in the gritty Tenderloin neighborhood of San Francisco, and at the Heron’s Head Eco Center, which sits on the site of a former toxic dumping ground.

Kay Cheng and Jeff Joslin of the San Francisco Planning Department are pushing projects like the Pavement to Parks initiative, which aims to temporarily reclaim unused swathes of land and inexpensively turn them into new public spaces through its parklets program. The Pavement to Parks projects are inspired by the success of similar programs in New York City and each project is intended to be a public laboratory for the city to work with local communities to temporarily test new ideas in the public realm.

Switzerland, it turns out, is ahead in terms of policies that allow urban spaces to come alive. After all, Swiss architect Le Corbusier set the installation of roof gardens as one of his five principal requirements in establishing a new architecture in the early 20th century. Green roofs became popular parts of ecological construction in Switzerland in the 1970s. And in 1995, the European Nature Conservation Year provided the impetus for the city of Basel’s first campaign and subsidization of green roofs. In 2005, Basel also passed a Building and Construction Law requiring green roofs on all new developments with flat roofs.

At swissnex San Francisco, it seemed the perfect moment, therefore, to connect and bring together experts in this field from both Switzerland and San Francisco to discuss advancing green roof policy in the hopes of getting more of them to take root.

Connecting Global Expertise

In March, the panel discussion Greening My City served as a call to action for San Franciscans to join forces in pushing green roof policy to the forefront.

Energy and building ecology experts, city planners, landscape architects, and others joined the Swiss leader from the Green Roof Competence Center at Zurich University of Applied Science, Stephan Brenneisen, to consider how policies and standards in Switzerland might inform the decisions we make in San Francisco.

The result was a lively conversation with the conclusion that everyone needs to work together and utilize each other’s knowledge and information.

This event was the first of a series on green and living architecture. It will be followed in June by a study tour to Switzerland for a select group of policy makers and activists and culminate in a number of events around the Cities Alive conference held in San Francisco in October, 2013. Cities Alive is North America’s only conference dedicated specifically to green roofs and walls.Green roofs are red hot in North American cities, with Chicago, Portland, Philadelphia, and Toronto leading the charge. In 2010, Toronto became the first city in North America to require the installation of green roofs on new commercial, institutional, and multifamily residential developments across the city. Is San Francisco next?

A green roof is basically a contained green space on top of a human-made structure, typically involving waterproofing, drainage, substrate, and plants. These spaces provide a wide range of public benefits that go beyond aesthetic improvement. Some of the plusses: Waste diversion, stormwater management, temperature moderation (cooling cities during the hot summer months), refuge for animals and insects adding to urban biodiversity, and air quality control (filtering noxious gases and capturing airborne pollutants).

A recent event on the subject of green roofs at swissnex San Francisco brought together experts from Switzerland and San Francisco to discuss how public policies could help continue to green urban spaces, and a green roof bus tour took participants to some of the city’s most innovative rooftop oases.

Green Roofs Sprouting Up

San Francisco has recently had a surge of interest in developing public policy around green roofs and living architecture in the city. Various groups from policy makers to practitioners to activists are motivating to make the Golden Gate more green.

Corporations are hiring LEED specialists and energy advisors focused on innovative building ecology. And the city is focused on greening and creating more public spaces, such as the 5.4-acre elevated park atop the new Transbay Transit Center being built in downtown San Francisco.

Lisa Lee Benjamin of the consulting firm EvoCatalyst, for example, works on advocating interest in all aspects of the green roof world from the perspectives of practice, research, urban planning, policy, and design. She is also a member of UG Lab, a collective of experts in the green roof and urban greening field who provide professional consultancy services, research, and education. EvoCatalyst worked on green roofs at 620 Jones bar and restaurant in the gritty Tenderloin neighborhood of San Francisco, and at the Heron’s Head Eco Center, which sits on the site of a former toxic dumping ground.

Kay Cheng and Jeff Joslin of the San Francisco Planning Department are pushing projects like the Pavement to Parks initiative, which aims to temporarily reclaim unused swathes of land and inexpensively turn them into new public spaces through its parklets program. The Pavement to Parks projects are inspired by the success of similar programs in New York City and each project is intended to be a public laboratory for the city to work with local communities to temporarily test new ideas in the public realm.

Switzerland, it turns out, is ahead in terms of policies that allow urban spaces to come alive. After all, Swiss architect Le Corbusier set the installation of roof gardens as one of his five principal requirements in establishing a new architecture in the early 20th century. Green roofs became popular parts of ecological construction in Switzerland in the 1970s. And in 1995, the European Nature Conservation Year provided the impetus for the city of Basel’s first campaign and subsidization of green roofs. In 2005, Basel also passed a Building and Construction Law requiring green roofs on all new developments with flat roofs.

At swissnex San Francisco, it seemed the perfect moment, therefore, to connect and bring together experts in this field from both Switzerland and San Francisco to discuss advancing green roof policy in the hopes of getting more of them to take root.

Connecting Global Expertise

In March, the panel discussion Greening My City served as a call to action for San Franciscans to join forces in pushing green roof policy to the forefront.

Energy and building ecology experts, city planners, landscape architects, and others joined the Swiss leader from the Green Roof Competence Center at Zurich University of Applied Science, Stephan Brenneisen, to consider how policies and standards in Switzerland might inform the decisions we make in San Francisco.

The result was a lively conversation with the conclusion that everyone needs to work together and utilize each other’s knowledge and information.

This event was the first of a series on green and living architecture. It will be followed in June by a study tour to Switzerland for a select group of policy makers and activists and culminate in a number of events around the Cities Alive conference held in San Francisco in October, 2013. Cities Alive is North America’s only conference dedicated specifically to green roofs and walls.

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