Tag Archives: green roof

My home, winning prizes and making the news

As long time readers of my blog already know I live on a green a roof (which is so amazing I wrote about it twice). I also live above a couple of box stores including a Winners and Home Depot and not to mention a sushi restaurant, a cellphone shop, and a Starbucks as well as a Save-on-Foods.

As I tell my friends, I have the world’s largest pantry and workshop in my basement… I just don’t own anything in it yet.

Sounds weird? It would. And, it is awesome.

The building is called The Rise and yesterday, a few more people across the country got a chance to read about how great it (and other mixed-use developments are) are with the publication of Frances Bula’s piece in the Globe about it.

The piece (oddly) doesn’t even mention the green roof and garden we have in the middle of our complex. It does however go into significant detail about mixed use developments. Also odd is that the piece has the weird subtitle of “but not everyone is on board” where the reservations are few and limited to people in Toronto who, I suspect, have never seen the building:

In spite of that, many Torontonians, such as Mr. Klein and Mr. Jackson, are skeptical about Vancouver’s radical experiments in putting people on top of giant stores.

“The jury is very much out on the idea of residential on top of big box, like we’re seeing in Vancouver,” Mr. Klein says.

But Vancouver’s planning director, Brent Toderian, said he believes the Rise is a wonderful new example of mixed use. It’s one that the city went out of its way to encourage.

From my perspective, the jury is only out for those who’ve never lived or visited this place.

I Live on a Green Roof – and you should too! (summer update)

A few months ago I blogged about how I lived on a green roof, how much I enjoyed it, and outlined some of the economic benefits green roofs create (as well as why they should be part of our stimulus package).

At the time I promised to repost pictures of the roof in the summer since – at the time – it was winter and so it wasn’t that vibrant. Part of me wished I’d taken these in the spring when the cherry blossoms were bursting but these pics are pretty nice too.

5 months later I can confirm that this building still is an example of urban planning done right.

The nicest thing about the roof is that it’s just an inordinate amount of green space to have just outside your apartment/townhouse in a urban setting. I confess that unlike some of the other tenants I haven’t played bocce or croquet in the green space in the middle of the building but at some point this summer I hope to. I do however use the collective BBQ’s quite frequently which is a real joy. Indeed, running across the street to the Whole Foods Paycheck and grabbing a pre-made burger and dropping it on the grill is just awesome.

Mostly though it is nice to open one’s door to a quiet city side walk, trees, grass and shrubs – despite being on a 5th story rooftop.

Now that it has gotten quite hot here in Vancouver I’d be curious how much lower the electrical bill is for the Winners, Starbucks, Save-on-Foods, Home Depot, TD Bank and other stores that are below us. (Of course, I wonder the same in winter as I’m assuming they are better insulated from both the heat and cold. One the downside my apartment (it is really more like a row house that is on the building’s roof) does not have a green roof above it and on warm days it gets pretty hot – especially the loft office space where I do most of my work/writing. Of course, this is probably true of many Vancouver apartments give  buildings here don’t tend to have central AC.

Also apologies for the stitching job with these photos – I’m working with some pretty rudimentary tools.

Roof 2c

This is the BBQ I use most, gives me a great view of downtown at the mountains, on the other side I look up at City Hall.

This is the BBQ I use most, gives me a great view of downtown at the mountains, on the other side I look up at City Hall.


I (embarrassingly) don’t use any of the planters but from what I can tel some residents grow herbs and vegetables, others just grow flowers…

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.

Articles I'm digesting – Feb 13 2009

New Planets & an Unknown Object Discovered Beyond the Solar System

Future telescopes such as NASA’s Kepler, set for launch in 2009, would be able to discover dozens or hundreds of Earth-like worlds. The Space Interferometry Mission (SIM), to be launched early in the next decade, consists of multiple telescopes placed along a 30 foot structure. With an unprecedented resolution approaching the physical limits of optics, the SIM is so sensitive that it almost defies belief: orbiting the earth, it can detect the motion of a lantern being waved by an astronaut on Mars.

The last sentence says it all. My mind = blown.

Fareed Zakaria – Worthwhile Canadian Initiative (via Sameer Vasta)

Canada has done more than survive this financial crisis. The country is positively thriving in it. Canadian banks are well capitalized and poised to take advantage of opportunities that American and European banks cannot seize. The Toronto Dominion Bank, for example, was the 15th-largest bank in North America one year ago. Now it is the fifth-largest. It hasn’t grown in size; the others have all shrunk.

So what accounts for the genius of the Canadians? Common sense. Over the past 15 years, as the United States and Europe loosened regulations on their financial industries, the Canadians refused to follow suit, seeing the old rules as useful shock absorbers. Canadian banks are typically leveraged at 18 to 1—compared with U.S. banks at 26 to 1 and European banks at a frightening 61 to 1. Partly this reflects Canada’s more risk-averse business culture, but it is also a product of old-fashioned rules on banking.

I’ve always thought Zakaria was one of the smartest commentators in the US. I’ve unbelievably excited he has his own show on CNN. Finally a show where real ideas are discussed not by pundits but by actual wonks. His show single-handedly elevates the entire CNN brand. Now he’s saying nice things about us. Hopefully we won’t let it go to our heads.

How the Crash Will Reshape America: The Last Crisis of the Factory Towns by Richard Florida.

When work disappears, city populations don’t always decline as fast as you might expect. Detroit, astonishingly, is still the 11th-largest city in the U.S. “If you no longer can sell your property, how can you move elsewhere?” said Robin Boyle, an urban-planning professor at Wayne State University, in a December Associated Press article. But then he answered his own question: “Some people just switch out the lights and leave—property values have gone so low, walking away is no longer such a difficult option.”

Perhaps Detroit has reached a tipping point, and will become a ghost town. I’d certainly expect it to shrink faster in the next few years than it has in the past few. But more than likely, many people will stay—those with no means and few obvious prospects elsewhere, those with close family ties nearby, some number of young professionals and creative types looking to take advantage of the city’s low housing prices. Still, as its population density dips further, the city’s struggle to provide services and prevent blight across an ever-emptier landscape will only intensify.

Many of the old industrial clusters are dying and we’ll have to manage this decline while helping figure out what the next wave will look like. This is part of the reason why think the federal government’s failure to invest in green technology/innovation will stand as one of the biggest lost opportunities of the century. At the peak of a financial crises and at the moment when our cities – particularly our mid-sized cities – need to think about what their economies will look like for the next 100 years (think renewable energy, green roofs/architecture, mobile computing, next-generation social services) we’ve plowed $30B into 20th century buildings and roads. Hopefully the good news of Zakaria will outweigh the bad news from Florida. I hope so, since it appears this crisis won’t be sufficiently significant to spur us to rethink our future.

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.