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Happy Earth Day! How Ecologists Are Using Surveys to Support Urban Green Roof Architecture

Happy Earth Day! How Ecologists Are Using Surveys to Support Urban Green Roof Architecture

It’s Mother Nature’s big day–Earth Day!

Here to talk with us about how surveys are helping advance their research on green roofs in urban environments are Mark Simmons, PhD, Director of Ecosystem Design Group at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, and Christine Thuring, PhD researcher at University of Sheffield (UK) and Principal of Chlorophyllocity. Both ecologists are focused on uniting the ecological process with the design of roofs and walls, rivers, urban green spaces, and natural parks.

A healthy future for this planet depends on biodiversity and its continued provision of ecosystem services (e.g. drinking water, pollinated crops). Considering the planet is becoming increasingly urbanized, and the fact that more than half the world’s population lives in cities, green roofs–or “living roofs”–can serve as ecological stepping stones for urbanites.

Happily, this healthy future is being realized as we speak. Remarkable projects around the world are constantly demonstrating what is possible. After decades of research, the demonstration and development of green technologies have brought us to a point in time where we’re living within our own progress–the stage is set for our transformation from the industrial to the ecological age!

Since the 1990s, green roofs have expanded around the world as valuable tools for urban planning. In Toyko, they’re used to offset the urban heat island and to provide green space, while New York City and Montreal are using them for urban agriculture. The city of Portland sponsors green roofs for stormwater mitigation in order to protect salmon rivers, while London requires living roofs to help protect the needs of an endangered breeding bird, the Black Redstart.

There are as many types of green roofs as there are benefits. However at times the full range of ecological potential is often overlooked in the design and/or specification of green roofs. The most common applications are as minimal as these engineered systems get. In many cases, this is due to limitations in loading capacity, budget and/or maintenance provision. A roof covered in flowering Sedum is definitely better than a roof covered in gravel. Valuable ecological associations can easily be accomplished with only very small adjustments, whether working with regionally meaningful species lists or small mounds of natural soil.

That being said, with all the knowledge, experience and conviction of how important living architecture and green infrastructure is, why is integrated ecological design for green buildings not a fundamental standard to how we do things? Why is ecological thinking embraced more fully in some new green roof markets and less so in others? Do opinions and experiences vary by culture or discipline?

We used SurveyMonkey to create a brief 10-question survey that seeks to identify the challenges and opportunities for ecological design in the built environment. This video gives you an introduction to urban ecology with examples of ecological urban design and outlines our survey’s goals:

We hope you get a chance to step outside, enjoy the day and do something a little green for the earth. Whether you take public transportation to work instead of driving or remember to recycle that plastic water bottle, every effort that you take to be green helps, big or small.

Are you a living architecture student or professional? We invite you to take our survey here.

For more information about green roofs and living architecture in general, please visit

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