Rooftop Oasis

June 1, 2016, Department, by Samantha Bartram

Green roof atop the NYC Parks Department's Five Borough Administrative Building on Randall's Island.Fruits, vegetables, herbs, sedum, berries — these are not the contents of a robust community garden plot. Rather, they’re among hundreds of plants situated atop NYC Parks Department’s Five Borough Administrative Building as part of its green roof. Since its installation in 2007, park staff members have developed 31 distinct plant systems on the roof — more than any other green roof in the United States. Variety is the spice of life, but these groupings have a larger purpose than simply providing an interesting spot to enjoy one’s lunch break. In an ongoing, living experiment, NYC Parks is attempting to identify plants that will thrive best in New York’s urban environment, as well as educate the public about the benefits of green technology. Assistant Commissioner of Citywide Service Artie Rollins says the community response has been overwhelmingly positive. “During the summer, we host about 15 to 20 tours where we spend about an hour explaining the benefits of green roofs to people. The advantage of having these 31 systems right next to each other is that people can pick and choose the rooftop gardens that are most appropriate for their buildings.” The rooftop’s 4,000-square-foot vegetable garden needs up to four hours of tending a day; its native beds, boasting plants indigenous to New York City environs, require perhaps an hour of work every day; and its sedum beds require only monthly check-ins. All, however, have an incredible impact on energy usage and stormwater mitigation. “Immediately [after installing the green roof], we saw stormwater sequestering, keeping rainfall out of our combined sewer overflow and treatment plants,” Rollins said. “The green roof opens a whole new biosphere with worms, bugs and birds in what would normally be just a barren space. Additionally, it cools the building — on a 90-degree day with a black roof, the heat island effect is 160 degrees around our building. With the green roof, the effect is around 80 degrees — that’s an 80-degree decrease in the heat island effect.” Click here to learn more about NYC Parks’ ongoing green roof initiatives.


Samantha Bartram, Executive Editor of Parks & Recreation magazine