Urban Canopy was founded with a vision in mind of an immersive, sustainable urban landscape, that reintroduces some of the natural environment back into the urban space. Traditional views of progress and the urban space tend to focus more on dramatic forms and materials, which is often reflected in shiny, steel clad Hollywood visions of the future. But more and more, developers and city planners are embracing the benefits and aesthetics of a greener, more sustainable urban space, incorporating green public space, recycled and reused materials, and green infrastructure to create cities than are healthier, more sustainable, and more pleasant to spend time in.
In order to further this vision, we need to make the materials and technologies accessible and affordable to the general population. Left alone, the natural environment will re-invade and reclaim the urban space without help – all that’s required is attention and direction, and nature can be safely and positively reintegrated into the urban space.
We recently presented a collection of ideas and strategies for affordable sustainable living to an excited audience at the Ballard Library, with help from Sustainable Ballard. Ballard Library incorporates an extensive green roof, solar power, natural lighting and renewable materials to create an award winning sustainable public space, which has inspired the neighborhood and surrounding properties to adopt similarly sustainable building practices.
The City of Seattle has embraced a push for green infrastructure, especially in the area of stormwater management, an increasingly important concern in many cities as the climate changes, cities expand and existing infrastructure ages. Green roofs like the Ballard Library’s can reduce stormwater runoff by up to 80%, reducing strain on the cities stormwater management system, and keeping toxins collected from city hardspace out of the local water basin. The EPA recently released a report showing a marked decline in the water quality of the Salish Sea, and their number one recommendation was stormwater management, with systems like green roofs.
Green roofs are gaining popularity in the United States, with a 115% industry growth in 2011, and another 24% last year. Nearly half of all new commercial construction in Seattle incorporates a green roof. In other cities, like Washington DC and New York, governmental incentives like tax credits or stormwater runoff penalties have helped stimulate the growth of green roofs. Chicago, the nations leader in green roofs, has spearheaded a successful grassroots effort without the help of financial incentives. Overseas, green roofs have long been common practice, and with the help of recent incentives the industry has grown steadily, with 10% total coverage in Germany.
In addition to managing stormwater, green roofs sequester carbon, provide insulation benefits and energy cost savings, protect and extend the life of existing roof surfaces, provide pollinator pathways and habitat for bird and bees, and reduce the urban heat island effect. Green roofs fall into two general categories: garden-type intensive green roofs, which are heavier and more expensive, and cheaper, lower maintenance extensive green roofs, like the one on the Ballard Library. Extensive green roofs are more popular because of their versatility and ease of installation and care. Most commonly using sedums, extensive roofs require little weeding or water, and can be supported by many existing roof structures. While new construction green roof installations require multiple layers for waterproofing, insulation and root protection, retrofits make use of the existing roof surface, and can eliminate the need for many of these costly elements.
Despite the growth of the industry, options for owners of existing structures are limited, especially residentially. Modular systems such as ours seek to fill this gap, by providing retrofittable, affordable, readymade systems that are designed for existing roofs. By terracing our modules, we allow for installation on a wide variety of roof slopes and surfaces. The system is scaleable, allowing for customized installation sizes and shapes, and pregrown plants allow for easy installation and low setup maintenance requirements.
Though green roofs absorb much of the available rainfall, some does get through. This water is filtered and cleansed of much of the toxins that may otherwise be present, and can be collected in rain barrels for later watering and washing use. There is an increasing array of affordable options for further purifying this water, many designed for developing countries. Systems like slow sand filtration and solar purification can produce potable water for reuse in the household. Rain garden’s can collect excess runoff from the surrounding area, creating a lush, water tolerant garden space. Seattle’s RainWise program offers grants to private property owners for green projects that manage stormwater, such as rain garden and green roofs.
Excess runoff water can also be integrated into a hydroponic system, which circulates nutrient rich water over the exposed roots of plants, producing an efficient and high yield growing environment for edible plants. With the addition of a fish tank, a closed cycle aquaponics system can be created, recycling the waste water from the fish as nutrients for the plants, producing even higher yield and even allowing for the production of edible fish in larger systems.
On a smaller scale, vertical gardens and living walls can provide a space saving and attractive use for excess runoff, and allow for the growth of edibles even in apartments and other small urban living spaces. Urban farming, whether it be with living walls, window boxes, green roofs, or small yard gardens, can reduce your carbon footprint, save on groceries, and provide an engaging natural space in the urban environment.
One of the biggest contributors to carbon footprint is transportation of goods, so urban farming, buying local and reusing materials can make a huge impact. Salvage stores and repurposed home products can be an engaging and money saving way of reducing your environmental impact.
By embracing and adopting these affordable sustainability projects and practices, normal home and business owners can reduce their carbon footprint, save money, and bring a bit of nature back into the urban space. If we all do even just a little, together we can move towards a more enjoyable and sustainable urban space and a better future.