Roof garden – A space to grow

Jo Hintz, a participant on this year’s Journey summer school blogs about her visit to the Austenborg Botanical Roof Garden in the city of Malmö. 

Nowadays cities still can be very noisy, polluted or full of concrete.

Often green spaces are rare or not created as high quality space for humans, insects, other animals or plants. With the huge challenges like biodiversity loss, air pollution and energy demand there is a need for innovative, holistic  solutions. Impossible? Well, keep on reading to find out.

Currently, I am a participant in the Journey 2016 of Climate KIC, which is a summer school focussed on the task to find innovative solutions to pressing challenges connected to climate change and sustainability. Within the programme we visited the Augustenborg Botanical Roof Garden in the city of Malmö. Getting there as pedestrian was not fun, because of busy traffic, industrial companies and too much asphalt. When we accessed the roof garden, however, I felt a bit as I could breathe again. It was green, calm and beautiful.

The botanical garden is part of a larger project. The EcoCity Augustenborg is basically a revitalisation of a residential area – from a deprived area towards more sustainability. The neighbourhood now has a stormwater drainage system, urban farming, local energy production through renewables as well as beautiful spaces. The roof garden, therefore, is a crucial part of a larger system.

Let’s talk benefits

Roof gardens or green roofs tend to have multiple benefits. As such they contribute to a better micro-climate, store CO2 or help to mitigate the urban heat island effect. Furthermore, those roofs insulate buildings and actually save energy. There is also the option to include solar panels in the garden. So, you can produce the energy yourself. Additionally, roof gardens support the local biodiversity in plants as well as animals. Also, in time of heavy rain – which we will experience more frequently due to climate change, the garden is able to reduce or even slow down the water through its’ storm water management (approx. 50% of the rain fall). Generally, green roofs contribute to a healthy city life and they are just amazing to look at, aren’t they?

Where there is yin there is yang

You might wonder: if it is that great, why do I have no green roof, yet? There could be several reasons. Roof gardens are not that easy to create. For example you have to find the right substrate and nutrients, plants and structure that fit the roof and the surrounding. Depending how much your roof can take, there is an extensive, semi-intensive or intensive possibility. As such, extensive roofs can only bear 50kg per square meter. And if you do not use the right substrate for the right plants, all the nutrients might leak out of the ground. However, the plants you can see in the included pictures are those that are very resistant for areas with hard wind and plenty of rain. Therefore, if you plan to install a roof garden, talk to a specialist first. The place we visited even as its own research institute called “Scandinavian Green Roof Institute”. They will provide you with technical details, tours and courses.

My impressions

As stated earlier, to me it was quite a surprise to find such an oasis in the middle of industry. I felt a bit more down to earth, even if I was standing on a roof. To me, it makes a lot of sense to use the space of  roofs in this sustainable manner. With all the benefits, I can imagine that roof gardens will play a crucial role for cities embarking towards sustainable development. Nevertheless, I am wondering about their impact for the whole city, if they cannot be installed everywhere. Also, I can imagine that every roof needs individual assessment on which type of green roof suits its characteristics –that can take a while. However, those places are important, again, for multiple aspects. For me, it was a great experience to get insights in the system and installment of such roofs.

Everything you need is time

Close your eyes for some seconds and image a sustainable city. What do you see? I see loads of green, everywhere. However, we can’t just plant anything anywhere. Which is why, we need holistic, well-installed systems that really do a great job as urban ecosystems. To conclude, just a side note, it is us, half of the world’s population living in cities, that are in need of urban greenery that would help US to achieve sustainability in urban settings. Have you ever been on a green roof? What are your thoughts on this? If not, I strongly encourage you to explore a roof garden if you have the opportunity.

Blog written by Jo Hintz, a student on this year’s Journey summer school. This blog post originally appeared on her private blog on cities and urban development Stadtwelten

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