Making Roofs the New Gardens in New York City

green roofs

When I was in high school, I participated in a robotics competition sponsored by FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology), which was founded by inventor Dean Kamen. Every year, the competition chooses a theme that team members have to complete a research project on in addition to the robotics portion of the competition. In my first year participating in the competition, the challenge was called “Power Puzzle.” My team had to audit a building and propose alternative energy solutions and methods the building or company could implement to improve its energy sources, ultimately to benefit the environment and conserve energy.

We came up with a range of solutions, including solar panels, more common solutions like energy-saving lights, having the temperature as close to the outside temperature as possible (within reason), and we also suggested various methods of heating and cooling water in the building more efficiently. The proposal that stuck with me most, however, was placing a rooftop garden on the building. It was my first encounter with the idea and I didn’t think much about this source of energy long after the competition, but I recently heard someone talking about putting rooftop gardens on buildings in New York, and was enthralled by the concept all over again.

A rooftop garden, or a green roof, is when the top of a roof is covered with plants and other types of vegetation. The benefits of a rooftop garden are that they can absorb rainwater and provide insulation for the building. In urban environments especially, they can even lower temperatures and decrease greenhouse gases.

However, criticism of rooftop gardens is that they can be difficult to maintain, and that buildings may not be able to tolerate the pressure of the gardens. Something else to be wary of is the soil that people are using to harvest these plants. Often, people use soil or a base that may in fact have the opposite of the intended impact and be even more harmful to the environment. Many buildings do not take this into consideration and use sedum – which may even absorb heat instead of reflecting it.

There have been various proposals and ideas from residents and environmental organizations to implement green roofs in New York City. New York state also provides incentives for individuals and buildings to implement green roofs through tax benefits and legislation.

With so many skyscrapers and flat-roof buildings, I personally think the benefits would significantly outweigh the costs of rooftop gardens. It would be a productive use of the space, especially in a city with so much pollution. Green roofs would undoubtedly have a positive impact on the New York City environment.

It’s important to remember, however, that green roofs require attention and sustenance. They are also expensive to implement. Like solar panels, people often do not consider the long-term benefits of this alternative energy source and its positive environmental effects. People are unfortunately often only concerned about their money and instant gratification.

Regardless, I think rooftop gardens are something that New York City should look into and advertise more. People don’t realize the benefits rooftop gardens can reap. Not only that, but they are often aesthetically pleasing. People can use them for vegetation and growing their own fruits and vegetables in an urban space that often makes that difficult as well. I am confident that if green roofs were implemented across New York City, it would change the environment dramatically and positively.