There is no doubt that buildings make the streetscape of a city. Buildings hold infinite potential. They can create a welcoming space, a barrier, a source of pollution, or a beacon of sustainability. Toronto’s Scott Torrance Landscape Architects created a space that was beautiful, welcoming and a tool of sustainability – a green roof atop the ESRI building located near the Don Valley Parkway. The architecture firm is being recognised with the Green Roofs for Healthy Cities Green Roof and Wall Awards of Excellence at the Cities Alive: 8th Annual Green Roof and Wall Conference in late November 2010.
Greens roofs are being developed all through Toronto, even before the bylaw that mandated that buildings of a certain size make 30-60% of their roof green. Mountain Equipment Co-op is a well known green roof in Toronto. The green roof however is just one of the many aspects that make the building sustainable – for example, 55% of its building material is recycled. The Hugh Garner Co-op is another building developing a green roof. Once completed it will be the largest of its kind in Ontario. The green space provides energy savings but it also creates a space for the community to gather for meals and social events. The Co-op goes beyond its green roof – over the past summer it hired a ‘green champion’ to support sustainability initiatives for the residents in the building such as recycling and sustainable cooking.
Perhaps the most well known green roof is on our very own city hall, which was official unveiled earlier this year. There are many aspects of the roof that are appealing. It is aesthetically attractive, represents many native species and is functional, taking into account patterns of the sun and rain. Former Mayor Miller introduced the roof with pride. He could also be proud of the green roof bylaw which is part of the City of Toronto Act, the first of its kind in North America.
The notable thing about all these organizations is that their mandate of sustainability is far reaching and entrenched in their cultures and green roofs are one of many environmentally friendly policies. This is where criticisms of the green roof bylaw are often articulated. Green roofs are in themselves good, however they are expensive, restricted to certain buildings and may take money away from other initiatives. There are many talented designers in this city – Scott Torrance’s firm is a shining example – which could potentially produce innovative and creative designs that address the issue of green house gas emissions in a better way than green roofs. With the bylaw, however, that choice in design is restricted.
Yet despite the challenges with the green roof bylaw the benefits are significant and it is an excellent start. City-making is a process and green building design can only get better assuming that there is the passion and the will for the continuous improvement.
I worry though that the passion for making a good city will be lost under the new mayor elect. Rob Ford’s voting record as a councillor was less than green. The Toronto Environment Alliance gave him an F on their environmental report card. He voted against the green roof bylaw among other green initiatives. While I am conscious that he is one vote on council, the mayor’s leadership can galvanize a council, for better or for worse.
What I don’t worry about however is the talent in this city. Scott Torrance Landscape Architects competed against firms worldwide for their award and rightfully so – their design is beautiful. I know that they are not the only ones doing amazing things and will continue to do so regardless who is mayor. Perhaps an additional role will be to share that passion with the new council. And if that fails there is always the option of a grassy picnic on the roof of city hall.
Photo by Gabriel Li