National Geographic : 2009 May
EDITOR'S NOTE PHOTO: DIANE COOK AND LEN JENSHEL We talk a lot about the hardware of environmentally responsible buildings, like double-pane windows, energy-efficient heat pumps, and compact fluorescent bulbs. Those are unarguably important and necessary, but it's difficult to feel uplifted by the sight of a roll of R-38 fiberglass insulation. That's what makes this month's story on green roofs so engaging. Here is where being responsible and attuned to the environment pairs up with spiritual satisfaction. I defy you to look at the image on pages 86-87 of the cottage-like garden atop a Manhattan apartment roof and not smile. There's nothing new about the idea. The Greek historian Diodorus Siculus wrote about the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, a lavish profusion of greenery constructed by laying reeds set in tar on stone beams, then layers of brick, lead, and finally "enough topsoil was heaped to allow the biggest trees to take root." What is new and current is the force of will displayed by cities like Stuttgart, Germany---the Germans are leaders in green-roof technologies and subsidize research---or Basel, Switzerland, where greenery is mandatory on new flat roofs. It's the best kind of quid pro quo, writes Verlyn Klinkenborg. It turns the negative space of an arid roofscape into a positive---a collaboration with, instead of usurpation of, nature. In return, one harvests this: wildlife habitat, a moderating force for the high temperatures of asphalt rooftops, a buffer against destructive runoff, and most tellingly---smiles. High atop a building on the Avenue of the Americas, a secret garden thrives outside the offices of a New York City architectural firm.