Greening The Capital

As a new law has just been passed in France that says that all new buildings in commercial zones must have either plants or solar panels on its roof, it is time to reflect on how we too can make our capital city more green; how we can transition to an ethical and sustainable future.

The two pillars of sustainability are energy self-sufficiency and local food production. With the former, it is clear that we will have to dramatically increase our use of renewables, and soon. Old, finite, polluting fuels are on the way out and whatever exactly the time-scale may be, it is clear that the time of energy abundance is coming to an end. Community engagement is key to making sure that we can transition to renewables without losing the comforts of the modern world on which we have come to rely. Agriculture must also change dramatically if we are to sustain a reliable supply of food.

In cities, it is easy to become distanced from where our energy and food come from. We can often have a tendency to think that both food and energy production are not things that happen in a city centre but rather occur somewhere 'out there'. A re-think is required and all around the world cities are rising to the challenge. Cities are moving to the forefront of the charge towards a sustainable future.

In a city, space is often the biggest challenge. But there is a lot of space not currently utilised as it could and should be. This space includes not just the roofs, which can be used for solar panels, living roofs or even food-growing areas but also areas of scrub land and waste ground, public parks, lawns, even city streets. All of these spaces can be made to work better for the use of the whole community and aid efforts to become more self-reliant and sustainable.

Parks can become edible forest gardens, run by and for local people. Verges and edge space can be made to look nicer, yield more, and increase bio-diversity in the city. Those without gardens can share community growing spaces and allotments, while those with even small gardens can use vertical gardening and permaculture techniques to grow fruits and vegetables. We should stop thinking of food production as something that happens outside a city. In the 21st Century, local food production in urban environments will increasingly become familiar and necessary.

Change could begin with civic space, government and public sector buildings before it spreads by example or incentive to individual businesses and homes. Solar panels on all these would be a big step forwards towards energy sufficiency. Tidal hydro and wind farm technologies off the coast would further aid efforts. Activists and politicians can work with community leaders and local people to create a green city that works for all. It is only through this co-operation, and a move towards this radical re-think of our cityscape that true and lasting change for the better can be achieved.


Paul Clarke, Independent

Greening The Capital

A new law recently passed in France mandates that all new buildings that are built in commercial zones in France must be partially covered in either plants or solar panels.

Green roofs, as they are called, have an isolating effect which helps to reduce the amount of energy needed to heat a building during the winter or cool it in the summer. They are capable of retaining rainwater and reducing problems with runoff, and also offer birds a place to call home in the urban jungle.

French environmental activists originally wanted to pass a law that would make the green roofs cover the entire surface of all new roofs. However, partially covered roofs make for a great start, and are still a huge step in the right direction.

Some say the law that was passed is actually better, as it gives the business owners a chance to install solar panels to help provide the buildings with renewable energy, thereby leaving even less of a footprint.

Green roofs are already very popular in Germany and Australia, as well as Canada’s city of Toronto! This by-law was adopted in 2009, by the city of Toronto which mandated green roofs on all new industrial and residential buildings.

Benefits of Green Roofs

There are so many benefits to green roofs. Here are just a few:

1. Adding natural beauty and major aesthetic improvement to buildings, which in turn increases the investment opportunity.

2. Helping contribute to landfill diversion by prolonging the life of waterproofing membranes, using recycled materials, and prolonging the service of heating, ventilation, and HVAC systems through decreased use.

3. Green roofs assist with storm water management because water is stored by the substrate, then taken up by plants, and thus returned to the atmosphere through transpiration and evaporation. They also retain rainwater and moderate the temperature of the water and act as natural filters for the water that does run off. They delay the time at which runoff occurs, which results in decreased stress on sewer systems during peak periods.

4. The plants on green roofs do a great job of capturing airborne pollutants and other atmospheric deposition. They can also filter noxious gasses.

5. They open up new areas for community gardens, commercial and recreational space in busy cities where this space is generally quite limited.

France is definitely on the right track, but it should be a mandate that all new buildings being built in North America, and even worldwide, adopt this amazing idea to reap all of the potential benefits.


To learn more about green roofs, please click here.

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