Smack dab in the middle of North Brooklyn’s industrial zone lives a breezy, green oasis called Kingsland Wildflowers—a manmade meadow overflowing with flowers and succulents, overlooking New York City’s largest sewage treatment plant on one side and a noisy scrap metal yard on the other. This unexpected green space spans the roof of Broadway Stages, and it is where New York’s leading urban environmentalists gathered Monday, June 24 to share their passion and knowledge at an event called Green Roofs: Changing the Landscape of NYC.
Thanks to the passage of the Climate Mobilization Act on April 18, more rooftop green spaces like Kingsland Wildflowers—aptly named “green roofs”—will appear throughout the city, as per Bushwick’s City Councilmember Rafael Espinal’s bill requiring all new buildings to have 100 percent sustainable roofs in the form of green roofs, solar panels, or some combination of the two. “This shouldn’t be an either-or, this should be a both-and,” said Elizabeth Adams, Legislative Director for City Councilmember Steve Levin, at the event.
This bill and others like it, enacted on May 19, has many in the real estate industry wondering how these new regulations will affect them and what the costs will be. Marni Majorelle of Alive Structures, a Greenpoint-based landscaping company that specializes in designing and constructing green roofs throughout New York, decided to host the Green Roofs event to address some of these concerns.
The event, open to the public but targeted towards “businesses, building owners, the real estate community and anyone interested in learning more about green roofs,” centered around a panel discussion featuring Espinal, Queens City Councilmember and Environmental Protection Committee Chair Costa Constantinides, as well as experts in environmental real estate from government agencies and the private sector. The panel discussion focused primarily on the many benefits of green roofs and financing options for installing them.
According to the panel, green roofs have well-rounded benefits for… well, everyone, it seems. Majorelle’s top reason to install a green roof? They provide access to nature for city-dwellers, which has psychological and health benefits, especially for kids growing up surrounded by concrete.
“The reason why I’ve committed my life to creating green roofs in New York City is because, probably like most of you, I love New York City,” said Majorelle as she addressed the crowd at the beginning of the panel discussion. “And I also love nature. And I hope that we can bring these things together. We have to, actually… We have to have nature in our cities. And green roofs is one of the few places where we can have that. There [are] not a lot of places on the ground.”
Green roofs can also help reduce air pollution, lower buildings’ greenhouse gas emissions, and cut costs significantly on energy bills. Panelist Kenneth Sanchez, Chief Sustainability Officer at the Javits Center, which is home to the second-largest green roof in the country, listed the numerous and occasionally unexpected advantages of the convention center’s 6.75-acre green roof, from halved electricity bills to improved staff morale to providing a habitat for wildlife.
“Today, there’s over 29 bird species that share our green roof with us,” he said, adding that there are five species of bats and 300,000 honeybees that call the Javits green roof their home.”
Attendees also heard about opportunities to finance green roofs, including private loans, tax abatements, and government grants. Panelist Elysa Rothe from Greenworks Lending discussed Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE) Financing, through which Greenworks offers loans for commercial building developers or owners who undertake costly sustainability projects like green roofs.
According to Rothe, PACE financing allows Greenworks to offer competitive rates and long terms—up to 30 years—on the loans, which she says is more than enough time for developers to see returns on their investments.
Panelist Shino Tanikawa, Executive Director of the NYC Soil and Water Conservation District touted the recent reauthorization of a tax abatement for green roof construction by the New York State Assembly, which was set to expire this year and which Tanikawa and other advocates lobbied to extend. Under the renewed legislation, building owners can receive a property tax abatement of $15 per square foot of green roof that they construct, nearly 10 dollars more per square foot than the original abatement.
Though the discussion centered mostly on how to finance green roofs, Majorelle, a Biology Conservationist, said she wished there had been more time to talk about what a green roof actually is and get into the details of installing them.
Attendees, however, experienced the wonder of a green roof first-hand as they milled about Kingsland Wildflowers before and after the panel discussion, sipping locally-produced dandelion wine, gin and tonics from Greenpoint’s Duke’s Liquor Box, and noshing on hors d’oeuvres provided by the Brownsville Community Culinary Center during the networking portion of the evening.
Cory Kantin, a realtor specializing in residential real estate, attended the event out of an interest in sustainable architecture. She said that although the trend is moving towards building greener real estate, buyers do not necessarily place sustainability on their must-have lists when searching for new places to live. LEED-certified buildings are “nice to have,” she said, “but unless the layout is right,” people will not go for it. So educating people on the possibilities for sustainable options, like green roofs, is a great first step.
“You have the capabilities, and some of you have the rooftops—” as she introduced the panel on Monday evening, nonprofit consultant for Alive Structures Diana Zelvin was interrupted by applause and cheers from the enthusiastic crowd, signifying their curiosity and commitment to, as Zelvin put it, “make a profound difference in leading New York City’s future to be the most green, sustainable city possible.”
Photos courtesy of Jeff Harris.
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