The Green City

On the 25th floor at the Department of Environment we get a good view of the City Hall rooftop garden. It was planted in 2000 as a demonstration project to show how a green rooftop improves temperature and air quality. 20.000 plants were planted, more than 100 different species of native prairie plants known to grow in the Chicago area, to make sure they would endure the climate and the rooftop conditions of being exposed to sun and wind.

The project was a success and the green roof has been shown – and proven – to serve many benefits to the city and the building: It improves air quality, conserves energy, reduces stormwater runoffs and is a sort of self-sustained heating system. When it’s cold it has an isolating effect and a hot summer day it’s cooler inside. But only on the City Council side of the building. In the other half of the building is the County Council and they have decided to not join the project. The rooftop is divided in two halves, one with the green roof, the other without. And the effects are direct. Measures have been done showing the direct benefits for the working environment inside the building of the half with the green roof. One half is the future, the other is left behind.

The initiative has now spread and around 400 rooftops in Chicago have green roofs, Mr Larry Merritt, Public Information Officer at Department of Environment tells us. And also the private sector see the benefits. More an more private firms install green roofs.

Chicago was once called the Green City and during the time Mr Richard M Daley has been Mayor of Chicago (elected 1989) 300.000 trees have been planted in the city. By the end of the decade, the park district each year sowed 544.000 plants, 9.800 perennials, 156.000 bulbs, and 4.600 shrubs (Kotlowitz, 2004). The Mayor has put a sustainable environment high on his agenda and perhaps the largest green project could be said to be Millennium Park. The Park took six years to build, finished in 2004. and is built on top of railway-rails and several parking garages, hiding the still active railroad under a 24.5 acre (97 124 square meters) large green roof. The green gardens, together with a concert hall designed by Frank Gehry, several art works like Anish Kapoor’s ”The Bean” is attracting tourists and has made Millennium Park to be the second largest tourist attraction in the USA, we are told (Las Vegas still holds number one).

An article of  green roof projects can be found in the latest issue of the Swedish edition of National Geographic. Also read National Geographic News about the Chicago green roofs. In the book ”Never a city so real. A walk in Chicago” (Crown Journeys 2004), written by Alex Kotlowitz gives both facts and insights of the city.

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