From Grey to Green: Urban Green Infrastructure

Manhattan's High Line
Manhattan's High Line

Building a green infrastructure is no longer a new idea.  Going “green” is actually becoming quite popular.  However, the ways that people go about doing it can be new and unique.  City developers are beginning to incorporate some creative strategies of their own.  Specifically, there has been a recent spike in the level of interest that communities have had in developing their parks and outdoor recreation areas, as well as housing and building complexes.  While incorporating and maintaining them has always been an important priority, especially within densely populated cities, the latest trends show that community developmental plans are now incorporating “green” design.   Developers are realizing that there is an opportunity to provide people with a necessary recreation area while creating a positive impact on the global environmental crisis.

Urban green infrastructure projects around the country

Currently there are a number of projects taking place in metropolitan areas in an effort to reverse the negative effects that humans have had on the environment. One project that is currently gaining publicity is the green rooftop. Green rooftops utilize commonly unused space atop buildings and convert them into green zones, where gardens or turf are planted. These roofs help reduce the heating and cooling costs it takes to power a building, and also create a habitat for birds and insects.  Additionally, green rooftops reduce the amount of contaminated runoff water that can collect in local sewer systems and waterways.

Even major companies and organizations have taken notice and are beginning to implement similar environmental strategies. The Ford motor company installed a 450,000 square foot green rooftop on their new Dearborn Truck Plant. Recently studies have been preformed comparing green rooftops to conventional asphalt or concrete roofs and results show that temperatures on the green rooftops can be as much as 32 degrees lower than conventional black roofs. This proves that green rooftops could help reduce the “urban heat island effect,” which occurs when black top buildings absorb solar energy and radiate that energy in the form of heat.

Another sustainability initiative that is becoming increasingly popular in urban (as well as suburban) areas is the rain garden. Rain gardens are planted near areas of high storm water runoff. Instead of allowing the excess water to travel into the sewer, (which can cause backup and increased water contamination) water flows into strategically placed gardens, thereby reducing overflow problems.

Currently in the District of Columbia, the Department of Agriculture has been spearheading an initiative to increase the number of gardens that are sustained by the community, termed “people’s gardens.” Rain gardens are among the initiative along with community vegetable gardens where the produce is donated to local soup kitchens. They are also contemplating rooftop bee hives to aid in the pollination of the plants.

In Portland, Oregon local policy makers are taking another approach and creating Green Streets. A number of city and suburban streets were identified as being excessively wide and creating too much run off water. In response to this problem, Portland officials created curbside gardens that allowed for the collection of street storm water. The gardens collect water at the surface and disperse it amongst the vegetation thus allowing for a gradual and natural water filtration process to occur.

The private sector joins in

While the public sector has started to take on green initiatives, private developers have also joined forces to implement change. Even though NYC is literally wall to wall with buildings, architects with a soft spot for the environment have been able to incorporate a green atmosphere in areas that many believe had no room left for design changes.  On the West Side of Manhattan a new park built on the old High Line stands 30 feet above street level.  Landscape architect firm, James Connor Field Operations, and Diller Scofidio + Renfro, worked with designer, Piet Oudolf, to create this elevated oasis. The architects were able to integrate vegetation into the existing structures left from the railroad to create a beautiful natural setting for locals and visitors.

On the lower end of Manhattan stands another structure, The Visionaire, which focuses on bringing New York to the forefront of green initiative. Designed by Pelli Clarke Pelli Architects, it stands as the greenest residential skyscraper in the US. The architects incorporated a highly insulated wall system with insulated glazing and low energy reflective coatings. They also overcame the lack of horizontal space that New York buildings are allotted by successfully creating a number of terraces using green rooftop techniques. The building boasts a wastewater recycling system where all tainted water is cleaned within the building using a membrane filtration system and is then reused in the buildings toilets, green rooftops and cooling towers. Lastly, the building uses solar panels, a natural gas powered turbine and byproduct heat recycling amongst other energy efficient, low impact building and utility strategies.

Cities across the nation are developing creative and effective solutions to our global sustainability problem. By creating and implementing a green infrastructure and building practices, urban and suburban communities can contribute to the overall “greening” of the planet.

Kathryn Brennar is a communications coordinator for Friedland Realty, a commercial realty agency specializing in the lease and sale of Manhattan and Westchester office space.  Friedland has held an exemplary standard of real estate knowledge and expertise for the past thirty plus years and continues to bring their customers the best in commercial real estate service.

Want to start some of your own green infrastructure at home? Consider installing a rain barrel.

Image credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/davidberkowitz/ / CC BY 2.0

  1. Craig Shields

    I’d like to congratulate Kathryn Brennar on an excellent summary of examples of innovative urban thinking.

    Aside from the mentioned and significant benefits of building insulation and runoff capture and filtration, it seems to me there would also be a small but significant contribution to the local O2 vs. CO2 balance as well as increased humidity and reduction of airborne dust.

    Also on the rise are the use of architectural advances like large area rooftop photovoltaic arrays, and building designs that take advantage of a site’s passive solar opportunities to exchange natural light for electric light and solar heating for natural gas usage. Other options, like using building convection and dynamic venting for natural and efficient cooling, are notable as well.

    For a large-scale example, one such project is the stadium recently completed in Taiwan, designed by Toyo Ito.

    Here’s a link to the Guardian story:


    To quote the article: “Not only does the solar system provide electricity during the games, but the surplus energy will also be sold during the non-game period. On days where the stadium is not being used, the Taiwanese government plans to feed the extra energy into the local grid, where it will meet almost 80% of the neighboring area’s energy requirements. Overall, the stadium will generate 1.14 million KWh per year, preventing the release of 660 tons of carbon dioxide into atmosphere annually.”

    This is just one example that, along with all the fine projects that Kathryn Brennar enumerates, serves to illustrate the kind of wise, forward-thinking creativity that is so vital to our survival.

    Craig Shields, 2GreenEnergy.com

  2. Uncle B

    The Great Hulking American Neanderthal, spawn of over two hundred years of selective breeding and force feeding by his Capitalist captors, now, wiggling in oil and pollution and looking for a way out of his dilemma – an oil less world approaching quickly. Will he share nicely with the Burgeoning Asian demand for a larger portion of the world’s finite supply of oil? Will he fight the system as the oil dries up? Will his mighty military roll over and die, for lack of fuel? Can the great fatted calf survive in the oil-free deserts for long? Can he possibly adapt to Solar, Wave, Wind, Hydro, Tidal, Geothermal, and Nuclear resources he controls, but, they convert only to electricity, not liquid fuel at all? Does this great modern ape have sustainability in his genes or will he die off with the first hardship? the first non-air-conditioned battery cars he suffers? The first Aquaponics diet he is forced to survive on? The first cold nights in sustainable dwellings? Will LSD and Mexiczn drugs supplied to him by a very sustainable society be his last hope for sanity as the pain of his unsustainabilities becomes a burning factor in his foreclosed reality? Did the American amedical Cartel really convict all the unemployable Great Hulking American Neanderthals to certain death by refusing them and their progeny basic medical care? In America? Did Gobbles turn in his coffin in delight, as the Jewish/American Doctors wrote this new “prescription”? Will we be greener when this is all over, and oil shortages are an American reality for most the patriots save for the very rich in America who never go without? Can a deomcracy so infested with Corporatism possibly function? Will the Republican come to power in a shower of great glory and turn the Great Hulking American Neanderthal – twice the physical size of his European counter-part, into a slave for wages doing heavy “Smoke Stack Era” jobs in the Southern States, cotton mills, and the like? Can time be turned back? Will the Asian factor evaporate if the Republicand are in power? Will America turn Socialit with the “nationalization” of the Automotive industry and be able to better compete against Asia’s proficiencies? Can we turn America into a self sufficient sustainable garden for all without offending the Capitalists? Corporatists ? Banksters? Lawyers? Republican business men? Military? The Empire will end on this sort of rhetoric.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *