Last month’s unusually high temperatures had New Yorkers taking shade in parks and even taking an early trek to the beaches of the still- chilly Atlantic. The preview of sizzling heat anticipated for this summer was a rude awakening to what some say is a stark reality: There isn’t enough green space to keep the city’s residents cool.
The Bronx Initiative for Energy and Environment is hoping to change that. The group is a non-profit established by the Bronx borough president and the Bronx Overall Economic Development Corp. Borough President Ruben Diaz has been involved in efforts to reduce pollution in the Bronx, going so far as to require designs that are certified as sustainable for any housing development receiving capital financing. On May 17, as part of Bronx Week, New Yorkers can tour five of 13 grant-sponsored “green rooftops” in the Bronx.
“We’re open every day from April through October, and anyone who wants to come see a green rooftop can just call me up and I’d be happy to give them a tour,” said Kate Shackford, executive vice president of the Bronx Overall Economic Development Corp.
Shackford says that when she was first shown the plans for the green rooftops, it was love at first sight. “Holistic environmental technology that addresses water and air pollution, doesn’t get any better than that,” Shackford said. The earliest installations are from 2006 and are modeled after German guidelines and initial technology for rooftop gardens. “Their guidelines, work and weather patterns are similar enough to the northeast that we don’t have to reinvent the wheel too much, though in Germany the cost is about one tenth of what it costs here,” Shackford said.
The U.S. Green Building Council developed the “green” building certification system known as LEED, or Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design. “Green buildings save energy, reduce CO2 emissions, conserve water, improve the health of their occupants, increase productivity, cost less to operate and maintain and increasingly cost no more to build than conventional structures,” said Ashkley Katz, communications manager at the council.
Since 2001, LEED has become a nationally accepted benchmark, providing building owners and operators with what Katz called an “objective, verifiable definition of green,” along with the tools they need to have an immediate and measurable impact on their buildings’ performance. LEED promotes a whole-building approach to sustainability, which has become highly popular in the past decade for saving water, materials and energy.
Rooftop gardens reduce a ” heat island” effect by roofs that absorb heat and radiate it into the air.
“On a hot summer day the black membrane on a rooftop will be at 170 degrees,” Shackford said, “but with the garden, the roof is cooled down to almost 98 degrees lowering ambient temperature, while reducing pollution.”
By pollution, Shackford is referring to the thick black smoke dumped into the Bronx air from buildings all around. Particularly important was the need to see a reduction in high rates of asthma in Bronx County, which also has the highest levels of air pollution.
In a January article in the Daily News, Kevin Cromar, a public health fellow at the New York University Law School’s Institute for Public Integrity, said that lowering the pollutants released into the air by heating fuels could lower health risks for everyone. “Every time we cover an acre of land or vacant lot with a building we are destroying the ability for land to filter water and air; that is unless we put green resources around it that can restore natural ability to clean up pollutants,” Shackford said.
A city contract only adds to the sustainability of the entire project, Shackford said. Sustainable South Bronx’s Smart Roof Project has been training staff in the hope of launching a business that would employ local residents to install and maintain the smart roofing technologies. For at least the first four years, some gardens must be constantly irrigated and weeded if not planted as early as April.
One of the green roofs to be toured is an intensive green roof complex for low-income grandparents raising grandchildren. Located on 851 Prospect Ave., the 8,000-square-foot space serves as a getaway for the elderly residents, while the children in their charge are at school. “It’s an oasis for them,” Shackford said.