Some inspiration from across the Pond

So we like to think we have some great green roofs and walls here in Brighton. Well, we do – but there are lessons we can learn from others including the good citizens of Olympia WA, San Francisco CA and Portland OR.

I was lucky enough to visit this summer – here are some pictures that I hope act as inspiration. We could think, and act, so much bigger.

In the Government complex at Olympia, Washington, is a large area of green roof established on underground car parks. Food is grown for local food banks, tended by Government workers. Some lovely large squash ripening in the sun. There is a large area of wildflower mix (‘Ecolawn’) sown for insects and appearance, and is not watered. This has been established by the Department of Enterprise Services¬†– basically the legal and procurement department!

Nearby, just outside the historic Capitol building, is an area of rain gardens that have been retrofitted to help manage storm water. They are very attractive, and feature seating to encourage enjoyment.

San Francisco Academy of Sciences has a living¬†roof…that is so large it is a visitor attraction in its own right. Not a very good photo, so I’ve stolen one from the website and there are more here.

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Also in San Francisco were these mini gardens, usually in shopping areas, that brought planting into very urban settings, softened the street scene and provided fun features and places to relax. A ‘public parklet’ indeed!

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Portland, Oregon is well known for its approach to sustainable urban planning and design. The whole neighbourhood we stayed in (Alberta – much like Brighton in its hipsterness) has bioswales and other street level drainage built in. Basically permeable sidewalks (ownership extends to the kerb so householders plant up their strip of sidewalk however they like), roof drainage to ground level, street level swales and other features incorporated into street furniture and traffic calming. Drains are clearly marked to encourage people not to use them for disposing nasties. Much of the sidewalk strip was used to grow veggies and fruit – including a nearby pub that harvested salad crops from the street and boasted of it on its menu.

Here in Brighton, a number of partners including the Council and Environment Agency have launched a pilot ‘sustainable drainage’ scheme in Portslade. Great, but surely we could be bolder?

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Building Green tour of Brighton & Hove

The second day of our DIY Green Roof workshop involved a tour of some inspirational buildings in Brighton & Hove.

First was the Velo Cafe, with a green roof fitted by Organic Roofs. Lee Evans talked the group through the trials and tribulations of green roofing on a pitched slope. The roof now looks great, and we spotted a female grey wagtail feeding on it.

Building Green DIY Green Roof workshoppers taking a tour of the Velo Cafe, Brighton

Building Green DIY Green Roof workshoppers taking a tour of the Velo Cafe, Brighton

Grey wagtail on the roof of the Velo Cafe, Brighton

Grey wagtail on the roof of the Velo Cafe, Brighton

Building Green DIY Green Roof workshoppers taking a tour of the Velo Cafe, Brighton

Building Green DIY Green Roof workshoppers taking a tour of the Velo Cafe, Brighton

We visited Madeira Drive to see the ‘world famous sheltered walk’ and the green wall. Great inspiration for greening the other 4 building surfaces – which are often forgotten amongst all the talk of roofs! This was the first guided visit to the Madeira Drive Green Wall, and Building Green highlighted the threats and opportunities for its continued conservation.

Building Green DIY Green Roof workshop crew hearing about the special green wall at Madeira Drive, Brighton

Building Green DIY Green Roof workshop crew hearing about the special green wall at Madeira Drive, Brighton

Finally we went to Whitehawk to see the great wildflower roof at the Crew Club. Unfortunately the roofs on the Children’s Centre and library are faring less well – much of the planting has died and the roofs should really be refurbished. Still, it’s a hotspot for green roofing and green building – nearby houses are making their own contribution too, as this well managed ivy attests.

The 'chalk downland' green roofs of the Crew Club community centre, Whitehawk, Brighton

The ‘chalk downland’ green roofs of the Crew Club community centre, Whitehawk, Brighton

Whitehawk home - carefully grown and tended ivy as a home for wildlife and attractive front garden. Brighton

Whitehawk home – carefully grown and tended ivy as a home for wildlife and attractive front garden. Brighton

All in all a great weekend – new friendships, new networks, and some new neural pathways from all this learning!

Eastbrook Primary Academy, Southwick, has a living roof

A nice living roof on the extension to Eastbrook primary. Solar hot water, roof lights and what looks like a Sedum green roof with a decent amount of substrate for the plants to thrive in.

I hope it’s used as a teaching resource for the kids.

Eastbrook Primary Academy, Southwick - a living roof

Eastbrook Primary Academy, Southwick – a living roof