Building a green roof is all very well, but what happens next? If the answer isn’t “amazeballs stewardship,” then you’re doing something wrong.
Much of our collective cultural focus on green roofs has to do with “getting one.” As though simply installing a roof is enough to win you the Medal of Ongoing Environmental Awesomeness for All Time.
No, that’s not a real thing.
Yes, some people act like it is.
Truthfully, though, while it’s fantastic to build green infrastructure, it’s not enough to simply do so, dust off your hands and walk away.
The same goes for any other type of green infrastructure: bioswale, rain collection system, low-water landscape, rooftop garden, or what have you. These systems are tightly structured to achieve specific goals, and they often exist in harsh environments. They need careful stewarding, or they won’t achieve those goals and they will suffer.
The confusing part? While plenty of cities now mandate green roofs, not many of them have regulations in place for what happens next.
The stewardship phase is sadly neglected, and that just won’t do.
Here’s why we need to enforce green roof programs and goals after the build/handoff phase.
The Problem with Green Roofs: A Lack of Post-Handoff Oversight
If we don’t steward green roofs after they’re built, we lose their supposed benefits quick.
Goodbye, stormwater retention and detention.
Ta ta, animal habitats.
Au revoir, mitigation of the urban heat island effect.
With the exception of DC, however, no city has put parameters in place for assessing a green roof’s health after their installation. You’re required to have that green roof, but no one is there making sure it does its job.
The problem? Green roofs need stewardship, or in addition to losing the above benefits, they also fall apart. That can mean:
- Invasive plants and pests
- Standing water and clogged drains
- Degradation of roof or components
- All of the above
By not assessing systems on a routine basis, we’re totally missing the point of installing those systems in the first place.
The Answer: Regular Checkups to Ensure Green Roof Performance
There is precedent for checking up on green systems.
In other Illinois towns – Schaumburg and Orland Park come to mind – have landscape ordnances requiring regular checkups to ensure that each plant, tree and shrub is installed and living as originally intended, per the landscape plan approved by the city. If they detect problems, they’ll nab that surety bond right back, cash it in and give it to someone else.
Yet also, happy face.
Because at least that’s an example of a system whose overseers care about it continuing far into the future, and bringing all those green infrastructure benefits along with it – not least of them economic.
This doesn’t represent an undue burden, either. Take permeable pavers: All they need is an annual or semiannual cleaning to remove debris and ensure water can still pass through them. It’s not super hard.
Ditto checking on green roof components, fertilizing rooftop plants and stewarding natural habitats in the urban sphere. We just need to put those routines in place.
Remember, a wetland in the middle of NYC won’t “take care of itself.” It can thrive, but only if we keep in mind that we placed it in a high-stress environment and will need our help doing so.
Our goal: To mimic nature and provide those environmental benefits, and to avoid having to rebuild the system through lack of care.
Our vote: To implement mandated stewardship measures immediately. Until that happens, though, we suggest the milder approach of partnership with a knowledgeable, active urban ecologist and green roofer.
Ecogardens is happy to help, so get in touch today.