Tag Archives: Chicago

Chicago's green roofs and our failed stimulus

I was completely floored (and excited) to read this article about how the Sears Tower in Chicago (recently renamed the Willis Tower) is to undergo a $350M green retrofit that will give it a green roof and it’s own wind turbines. This will reduce the energy consumed by the tower by 80% and its water consumption will drop by 24 million gallons.

As this blog notes:

the U.S Department of State estimates that buildings account for an estimated 36 percent of overall energy use, 65 percent of electricity consumption, 30 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions and 12 percent of water use in America. Green improvements to Sears Tower are aimed at reducing electricity use by 80% in just four years, equating to 68 million kilowatt hours or 150,000 barrels of oil per year. The architects firm responsible for the retro-design, Adrian Smith + Gordon Gill Architecture, has also designed a 50 storey highly sustainable tower to accompany Sears Tower on its south side which will draw power from the improved efficiency measures and work as a net-zero energy development.

So this renovation – which is to start immediately (note the shovel readiness of it) this project will:

  • create a more efficient and thus profitable building (benefiting Chicago businesses and the tax base)
  • reduce US consumption of oil by 150,000 barrels a year (reducing cash outflows and helping America’s balance of trade)
  • will immediately create 3600 jobs yo complete the work (in the construction industry, which has been hard hit by the financial crises)
  • help train and provide practical experience to, construction workers, contractors, design firms & others in creating green buildings (position them for the next economy)

This is a stimulus plan that works. Recently I argued we need a stimulus plan that is low of carbs and fat on data… this is just another example of the types of shovel ready projects that leave a legacy. Canada’s plan to date? Pave some roads and build some bridges all so that we can burn more gas moving cars around.

I live on a green roof – and so should everyone

There has been an exploding interest in green roofs of late. During the recent Vision Vancouver fundraiser I was introduced to Erika Richmond who designed and built my friend Toby B.’s greenroof in the downtown east side. Walking away from the conversation I suddenly realized I may actually live on a green roof.

The building I live in has 4 floors of commercial real estate and a rooftop townhouse development built around a 20,000 sq ft garden and sidewalks. The “sidewalks” have ceders and trees planted along them, the main garden is a grass field and with over 14 decently sized wood garden plots.

Is it technically a green roof? I don’t know. But it does create a beautiful and relatively peaceful living space 25 meters above street in an increasingly busy part of town.

(I realize the photos do not look particularly green but you we are in the midst of what passes for winter here in Vancouver. I’ll try posting some new ones come spring/summer.)

But it turns out the beauty is the least important part of green roofs. For a policy geek like me there is a fascinating and increasing amount of research into the benefits of green roofs – some of the most interesting of which has been commissioned by the City of Toronto and available in a report it published in late 2005.

Savings to the city of Toronto, based the assumption that 100% of available green roof areas over 350 sq m. were retrofitted and that 75% of the roof area was made green, were:

Those are some large numbers.

What an enormous opportunity green roofs would have been for the federal budget. Buildings account for a significant amount of GHG emissions and the financial savings generated by such a plan are obviously enormous. Better still the greening of the aforementioned roofs would not require the equivalent planning of say building a highway, bridge or building and so could be undertaken relatively quickly. In short, they are shovel ready. Equally important, green roofs are probably more labour intensive (as opposed to capital intensive) than many of types of infrastructure projects. This means green roof projects might be better positioned to generate jobs and help lower our rising unemployment numbers. Massive year on year savings? Significant employment? Instant initial savings? An increase in property values? Sounds like a stimulus package winner to me.

Sadly, the trend appears to be catching on more in the United States than in Canada. A cursory exploration of the web reveals that New York City recently passed a city by-law that rewards building-owners who cover 50 percent of available rooftop space with a green roof with “a one-year property tax credit of up to $100,000. The credit would be equal to $4.50 per square-foot of roof area that is planted with vegetation, or approximately 25 percent of the typical costs associated with the materials, labor, installation and design of the green roof.” Philadelphia also has a tax credit (although it appears to be little used). Chicago however is an emerging capital of green roofs with over 200!

It is unclear whether Vancouver or Toronto have such a tax credit (it didn’t appear so, but please let me know if I’m wrong). That said, a growing number of Toronto public buildings now have green roofs and Vancouver will soon be host to Canada’s largest green roof. It’s a start, but given the size of the opportunity, we could be doing so much more.

another reason to love chicago

Was over at Wrigley Field this evening in Chicago to catch the Cubs vs. Reds. What a beautiful old baseball park Wrigley Field is.

ivy2-thumbnailFor those who’ve not been to Chicago or Wrigley Field two quick comments:

First, the group I’m with rented the rooftop of an adjescent building upon which bleachers have been built. It’s like renting an extra big box – you’re outside, there is a barbeque, and a great vantage of the game. With a nighttime temperature of 23 degrees, it was a perfect evening for taking it all in.

Second, it was amazing to see how Wrigley Field is really nestled into a residential neighborhood. More importantly, the City of Chicago has preserved the surrounding buildings so that everything feels like it is coming out of the 1920’s. It is a stunning place to walk around and the charm is almost overwhelming. One can only imagine the number of development applications to transform, modernize, commercialize or densify the neighborhood the city must have turned down.

As an aside, those with some extra cash lying around may be interested to hear that the Cubs are for sale. I was informed that the expected selling price will be a cool $1B US. Too rich for you? Maybe you should have invested earlier. The Chicago Tribune Newspaper apparently bought the Cubs back in the 80’s (again, I was informed by a fan) for a mere $20M.