The City's Alive: Steven Peck & Green Roofs for Healthy Cities
October 27, 2010
By Maisha B. Tyler, OurEarth.org Intern
By Maisha B. Tyler, OurEarth.org Intern
Green Roof: A system that consists of water proofing, root repellent, and drainage systems, with a filter cloth, a lightweight growing medium and plants.
For many people, “green roofs” are a relatively new concept. However, for Steven Peck, founder of Green Roofs for Healthy Cities, promoting them has been a decade-long journey. His organization has been devoted to creating a viable market for green roof infrastructure and policy since 1999, and according to Peck, the vision for such an undertaking “…evolved out of the report (Greenbacks from Green Roofs) completed for Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation on green roof industry development. In order to really get the industry going, we needed private sector companies to pool their resources to address the lack of technical performance data, the lack of training and the need to advocate for green roof investment among governments.” Why? Peck asserts green roof systems have proven to be both economical and eco-friendly, with benefits including reductions in heating and cooling costs, reductions in urban heat island effects, food production, and improved aesthetics—all of which benefit cities and their residents—a cool idea for what to do with hot roofs in cities all over the world.
Amazingly, in the 10 years since GRHC's founding, Steven Peck's vision has blossomed into an association of over 5,000 members, whose ranks are represented by individuals and corporations; students, researchers and industry professionals; and large roofing contractors, manufacturers, irrigation companies and nurseries—all with the common goal of promoting green roofs and living architecture. This broad coalition of committed and like-minded stakeholders, Peck believes, is why GRHC has been so successful. In his experience, leaders and policymakers within certain communities have combined their resources to make Green Roofs a priority and that’s why it’s working. Specifically, Peck cites Toronto as an example where “the community was instrumental (in) providing the political will for the City to pass the Green Roof By-Law, which consists of a construction standard that describes how a green roof is to be designed and maintained, requiring green roofs on most classes of new buildings, the first in North America.” And Pecks says, it all follows similar mandatory design standards in Europe.
The surge in popularity of green roof systems has increased the numbers of projects and activities that GRHC supports. One such endeavor is the 8th Annual CitiesAlive event which is scheduled to be held in Vancouver, BC from November 30 to December 3, 2010. According to Peck, GRHC will be conducting professional training, launching new training courses, and having the Awards of Excellence luncheon to celebrate fantastic people and projects from across North America. There will also be tours of new and old projects, such as the Olympic Village and Robson Square, as well as a presentation of research, policy, and design papers. Peck also notes that “the GRHC annual conference is great place to network and visit manufacturers and designers of the Trade Show (itself).” This year the event will be held directly under the new Green Roof on the Vancouver Convention Center. Visitors can expect an all-day policy workshop on options available to support and invest in green roof systems throughout Canada and the United States.
So, what can the average person do to support or start a Green Roof project in their community? Mr. Peck recommends that individuals find a qualified Green Roof Professional (GRP) in their area, or a local planner, environmental advocate or politician who will assist in the establishment of a green roof group. Invite speakers to present, charge the group to conduct an inventory of existing green roofs, and find out what policy options might work to support installations in the local area. Work towards creating a demonstration project, also, an important feature to any collaboration, since this is how the real impetus for explosive expansion of such an initiative happens—real world application of the technology and impacts. Peck is a big believer in collaboration: “(the) more that cities can embrace green roofs by developing supportive policies and supporting the new Green Roof Professional, or GRP designation, the more readily governments could potentially use these professionals in decision-making and planning as well as support the use of GRPs by people who are seeking public funding for their green roof projects.”
Finally, when asked what he sees for green roofs in the future, Steven Peck is decidedly optimistic: “There's a tremendous amount of energy and enthusiasm for the development of green roofs and walls in North America, and around the world for that matter. We've created a new, green roof family and it’s getting bigger each day....We need to work to ensure senior levels of government recognize that green roofs, walls, and other forms of leafy green infrastructure (like bioswales and urban forests) have an important role to play in generating ongoing green jobs.” All this Pecks says, “(while) addressing important civic infrastructure issues such as adapting to climate change and managing urban hydrology. We need these governments to step up and begin to invest public funds into far more green infrastructure capital and maintenance investment (than they do on average), because of the great social, economic and environmental returns that will result...The future is in our hands.” Or perhaps the future is is quite literally on our roofs?
For more information on GRHC, green roof systems, and finding a Green Roof Professional, go to greenroofs.org.