Green Roofs, a Growing NYC Trend

Image courtesy of

Image courtesy of

Shortly after Con Edison installed its first green roof atop its training center in Long Island City in 2008, New York State’s tax abatement program was started to encourage New Yorkers to follow suit. With an estimated 1.6 billion square feet of rooftops, New York City has plenty of available space for these rooftop gardens. The city just announce a $3m green roof initiative for Brooklyn. Urban farming in New York is really starting to take off and it won’t be long before many of us will be able to get truly local produce as you can see from this example just across the Hudson

The vegetation on green roofs absorbs rainwater, provides insulation, combats the heat island effect, and improves air quality by capturing airborne pollutants and filtering noxious gases. Green roofs reduce heating and cooling costs for buildings by providing shading in the summer and insulation in the winter. These temperature moderating effects can reduce demand on power plants, which face almost impossibly high demand during the hottest and coldest times of the year. Most importantly, green roof systems collect and filter storm water, which significantly reduces pollution in New York City’s waterways. The filtered water can be reused to keep the green roof hydrated.

Image courtesy of

Image courtesy of

Initial costs for building a green roof can seem expensive but the benefits outweigh the costs and the costs continue to fall.  Companies like Gotham Greens are partnering with local restaurants, grocery stores, and building owners to find space for planting and customers for produce. This provides income and reduces energy costs for landlords while providing locally-grown organic produce to shoppers and customers in NYC. Whole Foods recently announced that it will build a greenhouse farm atop its Gowanus, Brooklyn location, which will be the nation’s first commercial scale greenhouse farm integrated within a grocery retail space.

As the urban agriculture trend continues to spread across the boroughs, some farms are offering classes in gardening and beekeeping to garner community involvement. However, rooftop gardening isn’t just for large-scale operations like Gotham Greens. Do-it-yourself gardening systems like the NooCity GrowBed are made from lightweight materials and require no tools for assembly, making it possible for anyone with access to a rooftop to start their own garden.

Interested in building your own green roof? The Greenbelt Native Plant center has compiled a list of species that will thrive on NYC’s rooftops, and The Kitchen outlines how the process works from start to finish here. You can also contact this week’s guest interviewee, Oisín Clancy at

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