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Environmentally Friendly Green Space - Roofs - The New Urban Frontier

Updated on May 17, 2015

As an avid gardener who can be found often in muddy garden boots along with a trusty trowel in hand, I remember first hearing about roof tops going "green" in urban Chicago. I was thrilled. What is right about a "green" or an Eco-friendly roof? A myriad of items are right - right for our community, right for our environment and right for the occupants of the building. Our urban landscape needs the relief of green roofs.

Green roofs are an important trend that we must learn more about - even if we don't live in an urban city. Rural residents and urban residents alike need to understand not only the construction but also the potential impact upon the environment.

Most of us have experienced extreme humid, heat during the summer time. Then what we find when we walk on black asphalt when shopping at the marketplace often is double the heat. Now, imagine that same shopping mall parking lot and multiply this heat effect in the urban setting. This is what our urban skyscrapers do.

We need to recognize the environment we live in and appreciate the many resources the natural environment gives to us. One of the best practices we can do with our human intelligence, is to be smart enough to mimic Mother Nature. What better method than with green roofs?

Journey with us as we see the urban roof tops turned green. Learn the terms of "green" roof and "blue" roof - understand the differences. Stay tune until the end and see a bus, yes, you heard me right - a bus with a green roof! And that is not all, also see firsthand the goats on a green roof top. Take our poll and let us know what you think about the urban world we live in and how we can best manage our resources. Is mimicking Mother Nature the best way? Why or why not?

Green Roofs - Source of Heat in Urban Landscape

colorful diagram of Green Roofs - Source of Heat in Urban Landscape
colorful diagram of Green Roofs - Source of Heat in Urban Landscape | Source

Layers That Make Up the Roof Top Green Space for Urban High Risers

Layer that make up the roof top green space for urban high rises
Layer that make up the roof top green space for urban high rises | Source
green layer diagram showcasing how to build a green roof top
green layer diagram showcasing how to build a green roof top | Source

Impervious Pavement is a Problem

Storm water is a concern for every urban area in the world. Even arid locations such as the desert must consider the impact upon their environment and plan for storm water.

When I was in Dubai I asked where the storm water facilities were and the experts almost laughed at me. They were much more polite than that to my face but I could see them questioning. Yet, two week after I returned back to the United States, there was a reported flood in an urban area near where I asked that very question.

The problem with urban areas is the impervious pavements we create. The man-made asphalt and concrete is low maintenance, yet it destroys the natural balance Mother Nature has provided. Drainage is always needed when you are clogging up the soil beds that Mother Nature has created. More importantly, you are creating a hot spot with lack of vegetation. Adding in the vegetation on the roof tops is not a cheap endeavor. Yet the value to the environment is immense. Returning what is correct in the landscape helps reduce the hot spots, generates oxygen for us humans and the accompanying animals that we share our urban neighborhoods with. Remember, oxygen is needed for all life. Water that is stagnant has no oxygen and it turns a terrible green and foul smell in many cases. Additionally, oxygen is the close cousin to ozone that protects our planet. It is ozone that kills bacteria without chemicals.

city has paralleled the growth of impervious surface, meaning that volume of both sewage and stormwater run-off have risen beyond the capacity of New York’s 14 waste water treatment plants.

Raw Sewage in Our Waterways

What happens when we don't plan adequately for storm water? Our infrastructure is overloaded. Storm water flows into sewage and sewage overflows - sadly this sewage flows into our natural waterways.

Lack of Infrastructure = Many Problems

Lake of planning and lack of infrastructure causes many urban problems. Yet, if we take our cue from Mother Nature, we can build building with green roof tops that help absorb some of this rain runoff. This absorption helps alleviate the overflow during dramatic downpours of rain.

Proper Planning = Less Problems

Proper urban planning equals less urban problems and less expense in the long run. Larger storm sewers and drainage ponds are not the answers we need. The answer is to build the storm sewers and drainage ponds in conjunction with mandating green urban roof tops.

Urban Green Inspiration

Green roof inspiration
Green roof inspiration | Source
Green urban roof with flowers and walking path in NYC
Green urban roof with flowers and walking path in NYC
Beautiful garden on a roof top - green urban landscaping
Beautiful garden on a roof top - green urban landscaping | Source

Investing in Green Roof Tops Faces Resentment

Understanding our environment and the costs we must incur to build our dwellings and our cities properly takes a paradigm shift, a new understanding of how we are hurting our environment, hurting ourselves by not building the urban areas with foresight. Intelligent building is more than just storm sewers and drainage ponds; intelligent urban planning as Mayor Daley and Bloomberg has promoted needs green roof tops for water absorption and for added oxygen.

Green Roof Top for a Garden Shed

beautiful green roof top on a green painted shed with a multitude of Sedums
beautiful green roof top on a green painted shed with a multitude of Sedums | Source

Green Roof Tops in New York City

New York City greenscape on their rooftops
New York City greenscape on their rooftops | Source

A Green New York City - Green Roofs

Check out the aerial photo of New York City and see what a difference green roofs can make. In stead of the black top, flat roofs, there are beautiful green spaces. Not only does this look better from above, but Eco-friendly roofs save energy, provide much needed space for storm water management and exude oxygen into the air we breath. Additionally, these green roof tops give the residents a green space to visit. Imagine a real, green roof - a park like setting right in your own building on the roof top.

As you can see, a few roof tops not only have green roof tops but also have swimming pools. Oh, the best of both worlds - greenery and refreshing water.

Green Roof Project

Green Roof Dog House

Green Roof Revolution

Green Roof Images

Door county Goats on a Green Grassy Roof Top

Door county Goats on a Green Grassy Roof Top
Door county Goats on a Green Grassy Roof Top | Source

Green Roofs and Blue Roofs - Intensive Roofs and Extensive Roofs

In some ways, "Green Roofs: and "Blue Roofs" accomplish similar things. Green roofs consist of growing plants on rooftops and can be divided into two groups: Extensive and Intensive. The former refers to systems that usually have 6” or less of growing medium and often are placed on top of the roof in either trays or bags. Intensive roofs are deeper installations that include full continuous soil over an integrated drainage mat and water proofing. These roofs can be anyway from 8” to multiple feet deep.

Conversely, the label “Blue Roof” has been coined to refer to systems that focus on rainwater collection. By using catchment pools, rain barrels and more discreet water-hungry plantings, the goal of the roof system would be to minimize the amount of storm water that a building site sheds to the rest of the city.

Goats and Various Types of Eco-Friendly Roof Tops

Green roof tops are a possibility for our urban environments. Even green urban roof tops will probably never have the grace of the Door County goats on their roof tops as shown in the photo above, yet the green tops in the urban setting help our environment which in turn helps us. The green roof tops are something we as citizens must be knowledgeable about. We need to understand the issues and the many possible solutions.Learning about storm water and how lack of infrastructure affects us and our natural waterways is one piece in this knowledge bank. The other piece is know the possible solutions. The solutions have been categorized as green and blue roofs. These colors and descriptions provide a quick road map of what our options are and how to implement them for our urban roofs capes. For you see, an Eco-friendly roof top could be "green" or it could be "blue".

A Green Roof on a Mass Transit Bus

Green Roof on Top of a City Transit Bus

This is beyond words - only the photo will do it justice. I wonder if they have to water in between rain falls? I wonder if they dispense with the covered garage. I wonder what the extra weight is. I wonder if it affects the bus's gasoline mileage. I wonder if the roof ever leaks. I wonder what it looks like when you see the bus coming down the street. I would love to hear the comments of the bus driver and the passenger.

Proposed Green Dome in Seoul Korea

proposed green dome in Seoul Korea - 131 acres of the perfect marriage of urban plus green
proposed green dome in Seoul Korea - 131 acres of the perfect marriage of urban plus green | Source

Your Opinion Counts

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Green Future for Our Children

The world is changing rapidly. It is up to us to change along with it and create a community that is better - for all of us. Managing imperious pavement, using resources wisely, leaving a great future for our children and grandchildren is something that each of us can contribute. Your opinion counts. If you found this information valuable, please take the time and select the share button below and share with your friends and family. Let's make the future green - on the roof tops too!

Share Your Green Urban Story

Have you lived in a green or blue roof top building? Does your urban city have new regulations in regards to the roof tops? Share with us your experiences so that we all may learn what is happening on our urban roof tops.

© 2011 Ken Kline


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    • GmaGoldie profile image

      Kelly Kline Burnett 

      7 years ago from Madison, Wisconsin


      From England to the United States to all urban areas, there is something to be learned about a complete environment that is kind and green from all angles - even up above.

      I am glad to hear England is on board with this practice.

      I love gardens so this is long overdo. I can only imagine what the birds think!

    • 2patricias profile image


      7 years ago from Sussex by the Sea

      We live in SE England. Many people think of England as a place where it rains all the time, but over the past 10 years or so this is no longer true. In fact, this summer we will not be able to lawfully use a garden hose because of a water shortage. Part of the problem has been an increase in paved surfaces, so less water going into the reservoir system.

      Green roofs are being added to a few new buildings, but not nearly enough.

      Also they look attractive, so are good from an aesthetic point of view.

      Thanks for an interesting hub.

    • GmaGoldie profile image

      Kelly Kline Burnett 

      7 years ago from Madison, Wisconsin

      Dolores Monet,

      Oh, I love succulents. My last garden had as many sedums as I could find. You make a good point, the xeriscaping needs to be an important part of the equation - both for maintenance, water usage and valuable dollars.

      For my new vintage home, I wish to create a succulent wreath for the sunny back door. This will be a major undertaking but against the vintage stone, I think it will be a show stopper.

      I will try to enhance my country home with more greenery - even vertical is good thing.

    • Dolores Monet profile image

      Dolores Monet 

      7 years ago from East Coast, United States

      Okay. For a moment there I thought, wow. But still wow. The green roof I saw was planted with succulents and small plants that don't need a lot of water, because it would be really stupid to have to water the roof.

      Good for you, going out to the country!

    • GmaGoldie profile image

      Kelly Kline Burnett 

      7 years ago from Madison, Wisconsin

      Dolores Monet,

      The roof tops, especially the blue of the swimming pools do look digitally enhanced. Sadly, I have no way of knowing. The world of photos can be anything - real or fake. I hope it is a combination.

      I haven't seen a green rooftop myself, I have a new chapter in my life and am now mainly in living in the rural realm whereas before I would be mainly in the urban world.

      Thank you very much for voting up - greatly appreciate the support.

    • Dolores Monet profile image

      Dolores Monet 

      7 years ago from East Coast, United States

      Hi, Goldie! Is that photograph of NY digitally enhanced, made to look like NY roof tops would look if they were green roofs, or is it for real?

      Saw some examples of green roof tops in person, not long ago, and they were so beautiful! Voted up!

    • GmaGoldie profile image

      Kelly Kline Burnett 

      7 years ago from Madison, Wisconsin


      I love greenery - always have. When I was a young girl, the Girl Scout Leader drove me home and I showed where I lived not by the color of the house, but because we had great looking evergreen bushes!

      We adorn ourselves, we build lavish building and yet we leave spaces barren - it makes me sad. I wish all roof tops were at least functional with solar or best yet with plants from Mother Nature.

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      GmaGolden, What an imaginative, innovative, interesting summary of environmentally friendly blue and green roofs! It will be interesting to see how green-roofed mass transit buses do.

      Thank you for sharing,


    • GmaGoldie profile image

      Kelly Kline Burnett 

      7 years ago from Madison, Wisconsin

      Dim Flaxenwick,

      You are too kind. I am so glad. The earth deserves to be treated with respect and we have forgotten that over the enthusiasm of the industrial age and pure greed. Returning to values is where I pray that humanity is headed.

    • Dim Flaxenwick profile image

      Dim Flaxenwick 

      7 years ago from Great Britain

      I was fascinated to see goats on the rooftops...!!!! The whole article gave me a warm glow. ..... a real ´lift´. Thank you, for the wonderful photos too.

      We and the earth , need more people like you.

    • GmaGoldie profile image

      Kelly Kline Burnett 

      8 years ago from Madison, Wisconsin

      The Best Mouse Trap,

      Animals never cease to amaze me - how do they know not to go off the cliff. I wish to hear more - please stop back and give us a link to see these houses. I believe they are called envelop houses? The augmentation to the house for the tornado alley must also offer many energy benefits.

    • The-BestMouseTrap profile image

      Pam Valentine 

      8 years ago from The Heartland, USA

      Living in tornado alley, there are several homes in our spacious development that are underground homes, well most of it is; usually only one side of the house is visible, the front door side (which could be the back door!). I love driving past the one across the street from me. From afar, it looks like a cliff until you get close. This morning Mama Horse and foal were playing around on top of the roof. It's amazing they know where to stop at the edge of the cliff (roof edge) because its at least 12 feet down to the pavement. Very interesting, I love the bus garden.

    • GmaGoldie profile image

      Kelly Kline Burnett 

      8 years ago from Madison, Wisconsin


      I am thrilled with your City's Park and Recreation Department - they are leading the way to an "eco-friendly" environment. That is great!

    • GmaGoldie profile image

      Kelly Kline Burnett 

      8 years ago from Madison, Wisconsin


      Great point which I didn't address at all. "Eco-friendly" could be combined with "xeriscaping" which refers to a method of landscape design that minimizes water use. Personally, I love sedums and other succulents that are more tolerant of drought conditions. I think palm trees on roof tops would look sweet! I believe grass is way over rated and over used. Sadly, landscapers often use high maintenance plants.

      When I designed my front lawn for the home that I built, I included only evergreens that needed minimal amount of trimming. Forethought and planning is the key.

      Fantastic point you made - don't know IF Florida has any green roof tops. Arizona, Texas and Florida would be more challenging but I believe very possible. Of course, you know me, I would love to see every rooftop with a mandatory swimming pool - that would be really cool!

    • stephhicks68 profile image

      Stephanie Hicks 

      8 years ago from Bend, Oregon

      We have a green roof, covered with vegetation, on our City's Park and Recreation office building. It helps with water runoff, insulation and more. Super, interesting hub. Rated up!

    • lmmartin profile image


      8 years ago from Alberta and Florida

      The first thought that comes to my mind is the need for water. Living in Florida, which is basically a desert with a rainy season, I know how much water is required just to keep a few tomato plants alive. In the dry season, green roofs would be subject to intense dehydration from the sun and wind. The need for irrigation would be equally intense. Your thoughts? Lynda


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