The Living Roof Takes Root

Sourced from the New York Times

Over the past decade, acres of living roofs have appeared in New York City, as commercial building owners have transformed their rooftops into meadows of wildflowers, sprawling beds of sedum, and even vegetable farms, reaping the environmental benefits. Now individual homeowners — those lucky enough to have a roof or terrace that can accommodate a patch of dirt — are beginning to follow suit.

About 1,200 buildings in the city have green roofs, covering almost 60 of the nearly 40,000 total acres of rooftops, said Michael Treglia, an urban spatial planner with the Nature Conservancy, which has been working to create a comprehensive map.

Susan and Neil Whoriskey have one of those green roofs, in Brooklyn Heights. Last fall, the couple hired Inger Staggs Yancey, of Brooklyn Greenroof, to install a sedum garden on a 250-square-foot section of their townhouse roof.  
“We wanted to capture as much of the rainwater as possible before it ended up in the sewer system, and we thought it would look nice to have plants in place of a drab-looking roof,” said Ms. Whoriskey, a lawyer who represents nonprofit companies. “It’s really kind of magical to have such lush-looking plants that require literally no attention.”

The upside of landscaping your roof is well documented: Green roofs not only retain rainwater, decreasing sewer discharge, but they also help reduce air pollution. “New York City’s sewers are all ancient, and one just collapsed on our street last summer,” Ms. Whoriskey said. “With the crazy rainstorms we’ve been getting lately, it would make a big difference if more people had green roofs. Even if you don’t want to give up your entire roof, you can still do a partial roof like we did.”

But what about the downside? We talked to New Yorkers who have green roofs — and some who specialize in installing them — to find out what it takes to plant and maintain a living roof.

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