Green Roofs

Taking Back the Beachhead

By Cameron Davis

Part of what makes our cities and towns around the Great Lakes so important is our beaches. During the seasonable months—and even in the not-so-seasonable months, when a growing cadre of surfers shred the waves —big cities like Chicago get tens of millions of visits to their lakefronts. Great Lakes towns have some of the best beaches in the world…some with legendary “singing sands” (sand that makes noise when it is walked on), fresh water that doesn’t burn your eyes, and of course, no sharks or stinging jellyfish. Just ask organizations like the Great Lakes Beach Association that work to keep our beaches great.

But, from time to time, swimming advisories go into effect because of high pathogen levels. Nearby runoff drains, parking lots, and attractions for birds and wildlife (leftover picnics, overflowing garbage from trash cans, intentional wildlife feeding, wastewater overflows, the list goes on…) result in microbial pollution that can turn a day at the beach from a blast to a bummer.

This week in Sandusky, Ohio, I joined U.S. Rep. Marcy Kaptur and several mayors to announce more than $2 million in Great Lakes Restoration Initiative (GLRI) funding to protect beaches and shoreline areas by using green infrastructure. That is the use of nature—green roofs, wetlands, rain gardens, bioswales and other plants to capture polluted runoff—to protect and improve nearby water quality.

As  Dave Ullrich, executive director of the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Cities Initiative said at the time of the announcement, “Cities all along the Great Lakes are working hard to connect with the water in ways that are good for the Lakes and good for the quality of life and economic well-being of the people who live there.  These investments are yet another example of how the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative is making a huge difference on the shores and in the Lakes.”

These projects won’t rescue all the beaches around the Great Lakes in every way. However, little by little, thanks to the GLRI—the largest Great Lakes-only investment in ecosystem health in U.S. history—the beachhead assaults we experience will be about fewer swimming advisories and instead, result in cleaner water for recreation.

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations.

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The Bronx’s Via Verde Wins a Well-Deserved Smart Growth Achievement Award

The exterior of Via Verde, showing off its stepped roof

The exterior of Via Verde, showing off its stepped roof

By John Martin

For people old enough to remember, it’s hard to believe how far the Bronx has come since the 1970s.

Between 1970 and 1980, the South Bronx lost over 300,000 residents, as crime spiked and people made way for the suburbs. The borough became synonymous with urban decay, a stigma it continues to fight decades after it began its dramatic rebound.

Today, the Bronx is flourishing, as the public and private sectors continue to make the borough a healthier and more pleasant place to live. It’s hard to find a better example of how far the borough has come than Via Verde— the mixed-income housing development in the Melrose neighborhood that opened in 2012. Since then, it has earned international acclaim for its bold design and its focus on creating a green urban environment for its residents.

The project, which sits on a cleaned-up former rail yard, provides 222 units of living space, views of the Manhattan skyline, and healthy-living amenities galore. A string of green roofs dot the building’s terraces, as do solar panels, which provide electricity to all the building’s common spaces. Residents have access to shared gardening beds, a children’s playground, a fitness center, and an outdoor amphitheater. Throw in the building’s easy access to subway and bus lines and it becomes easy to understand why Via Verde has been held up as a model for environmentally sustainable development.

As of today, we can add the EPA to the list of those who have officially recognized Via Verde’s accomplishments. This morning, the EPA announced that Via Verde received an Honorable Mention for the 2013 National Award for Smart Growth Achievement in the category of Built Projects. Of the 77 Smart Growth Achievement applications the EPA received from across the country, Via Verde was just one of seven to be recognized.

For a borough that has come so far and fought so long to create livable, thriving communities, Via Verde is a crowning achievement and an inspiration to urban areas everywhere.

To read more about Via Verde and the other projects receiving National Award for Smart Growth Achievement, visit: http://www.epa.gov/smartgrowth/awards.htm.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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A Philadelphia Story: Using Green Infrastructure to Slow the Flow

By Tom Damm

Philadelphia Water Department Commissioner Howard Neukrug, Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter, EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson, Region 3 EPA Regional Administrator Shawn Garvin, U.S. Rep. Allyson Y. Schwartz, and Deputy Mayor Rina Cutler at the signing of the partnership agreement; photo courtesy of the Philadelphia Water Department.

Philadelphia Water Department Commissioner Howard Neukrug, Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter, EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson, Region 3 EPA Regional Administrator Shawn Garvin, U.S. Rep. Allyson Y. Schwartz, and Deputy Mayor Rina Cutler at the signing of the partnership agreement; photo courtesy of the Philadelphia Water Department.

The only good thing about sitting through a miserable, wind-blown drizzle watching the Phillies lose to the Dodgers Monday night was that the rain wasn’t heavy enough to bring out the tarp.  That would have meant a later night than expected for our EPA group and a groggier commute in the morning.

When it comes to downpours in Philadelphia, though, there are much greater concerns than some inconvenienced baseball fans… maybe even greater concerns than the Phils’ slow start to the 2012 season.

More than half of the city’s sewers carry both storm water and sewage, and when the system gets inundated during a rain event it can overflow, sending a stew of contaminants into streams and rivers.

What to do? In Philly’s case, the goal is to slow the flow.

Our EPA Administrator, Lisa P. Jackson, came to Philadelphia in April to sign an agreement with the city that represents a $2 billion investment in methods to intercept rainwater before it chugs into the sewer system with pollutants in tow.

Considered a national model, the 25-year Green City, Clean Waters plan will sprout green roofs, tree-lined streets, porous pavement, grassy swales and other features, transforming many of the city’s hard surfaces into absorbent green areas.

The city’s spongier footprint will not only mean fewer sewer overflows, it’ll also help spruce up the community and give a boost to the economy.

If eventually one of the biggest concerns from a storm is waiting out a rain delay at Citizens Bank Park, I can handle that.

About the Author: Tom Damm has been with EPA since 2002 and now serves as communications coordinator for the region’s Water Protection Division.  Prior to joining EPA, he held state government public affairs positions in New Jersey and worked as a daily newspaper reporter.  When not in the office, Tom enjoys cycling and volunteer work.  Tom and his family live in Hamilton Township, N.J., near Trenton.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Higher Education: Messaging with Green Roofs

By Nancy Grundahl

2012 marks the 40th anniversary of the Clean Water Act, the nation’s law for protecting our most irreplaceable resource.  Throughout the year, EPA will be highlighting different aspects of the history and successes of the Clean Water Act in reducing pollution in the past 40 years.  The month of May will focus on Clean Water, Jobs, and the Economy.

Green Roof Art at Southern Illinois University in Edwardsville

Green Roof Art at Southern Illinois University in Edwardsville

Green roofs have much to offer.

  • They hold rainfall that would otherwise run over impervious surfaces carrying pollutants to our streams.
  • They act as magnificent insulators, significantly lowering the HVAC needs of a building.
  • They provide habitat for birds and insects such as butterflies and bees.
  • And, some may provide a park-like escape for people working in the building.

So, it’s no surprise that green roofs are gaining in popularity. And, it figures that someone would start designing green roofs to be like works of art or to convey a company’s message. I don’t mean by using signs or statues, but by using plants and soils with different colors and textures.

It makes sense.  There’s an audience out there – or, rather, up there.  People in nearby taller buildings, pilots and their passengers.  There were 448,129 aircraft takeoffs and landings at Philadelphia International Airport in 2011. Multiply that by the number of people with window seats and you get a tremendous number of potential onlookers.

So, we’re calling on all “higher-ups.”  Have you seen green roofs that you’d like to tell us about?

About the author: Nancy Grundahl has worked for the Philadelphia office of EPA since the mid-80’s. Nancy believes in looking at environmental problems in a holistic, multi-media way and is a strong advocate of preventing pollution instead of dealing with it after it has been created. Nancy likes to garden and during the growing season brings flowers into the office. Nancy also writes for the EPA “It’s Our Environment” blog.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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