Green Roofs
Published by Long Island Compost on September 22, 2021

Custom Green Roofs Key to Combating Urban Heat Island

Green roofs are critical to combating the urban heat island effect, but they require custom designs to thrive. The New York City mayoral election may ultimately determine their proliferation in the metropolitan area.
garden on the roof top of a building in a city


While the summer heat subsides, climate change brings the promise of increasing heat waves in years to come. A recent landmark report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) predicts that if we continue on our current trajectory, the world will see a more than 2 degree Celsius increase within the 21st century, which is equivalent to 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit. This number may not seem significant on its own, but we have already witnessed rising sea levels, deadly heat waves, and other extreme weather events. These issues are likely to only increase in frequency and severity with rising temperatures.

Damage is already done, but swift action can prevent even worse from happening. In urban areas, green roofs may be the secret weapon to not only reducing greenhouse gas emissions,  but also combating the urban heat island effect that keeps large cities such as New York warmer than surrounding rural areas. 

The Necessity of Custom Design for Green Roofs

Ecological knowledge about green roofs remains incomplete, but one thing is clear: They require thoughtful design to achieve their maximum effect. 

Weather conditions, climate, irrigation, and even solar radiation and wind levels may affect what plant and animal life can survive on rooftops. This necessitates not only focusing on supporting native species, but also assessing which are likely to succeed in the unique microclimate of a specific building’s roof. 

Resilience is essential. Even in extreme climates subject to sun, heat, and drought, some plants can survive. However, in arid climates, shallow substrate is likely to become hotter and drier than the ground itself. Therefore, you may need to favor plants that also grow in warmer and drier climates than yours. Growing multiple varieties of plants native to different microclimates can also improve the likelihood that some will thrive even amid ever-changing weather conditions. 

Targeted Adaptations Support Local Wildlife

While plant life is often the main focus of a green roof, these areas can also act as much-needed refuges for animals whose habitats are increasingly limited by growing urban sprawl.

Innovative accommodations, including bee bricks, nesting boxes, and bat boxes, can provide homes for local fauna. However, it is important to remember that the rooftop ecosystem must be in balance. Any wildlife will need not only shelter, but also sustainable sources of food and water. 

Why the New York City Mayoral Election Matters for Green Roof Development

In New York City, 70% of the greenhouse gases emissions can be attributed to powering, lighting, and heating buildings. Local Laws 92 and 94 of the Climate Mobilization Act require new constructions and buildings undergoing extensive renovations to install green roofs and/or solar panels. In addition, Local Law 97 places limits on the permissible greenhouse gas emission levels for large commercial and residential buildings. While these laws were adopted in 2019, much of the implementation will fall on the shoulders of the new mayor. 

In addition to being a climate issue, reducing temperatures also has social justice implications. In New York City, the urban heat island effect disproportionately affects areas that are home to people of color and/or low-income residents due to structural inequalities.  

Climate change is unlikely to be a deciding factor in the mayoral election, but the winner will likely determine whether the city meets the targets outlined in the Climate Mobilization Act, which could ultimately save lives

The right soil is crucial to sustaining green roofs. Long Island Compost develops custom organic blends to help green roofs in the New York metropolitan area flourish. Contact us today to discuss how our high-quality soil can support your rooftop ecosystem. 

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