If you’re not a little soggy already, you must have heard by now about the deluge of rain that has been soaking New England for the past week, producing the some of the worst flooding the region has seen in 70 years. I just can’t help wondering how things might be improved if green roofs played a more dominant role in conventional building practices. Instead of acres of non-porous asphalt, concrete and other materials funneling stormwaters straight into overburdened drainages, we might have thousands of green rooftop oases to drink up the downpour!

I am, of course, not alone in my fantasy. I found plenty of likeminded folks, from across design, policy, and building trades, in attendance at the Greening Rooftops for Sustainable Communities Conference, Awards and Trade Show here in Boston last week. Only in its fourth year the annual conference, which is organized by the non-profit industry association Green Roofs For Healthy Cities, is contributing hugely to the professionalization of the green roof industry and makes a clear and exciting example of just how rapidly the field is growing.

Here’s a few highlights, observations, and links for those of you who were unable to attend:

John Todd and Eco Machine
I attended some great presentations on current design and public policy, yet unquesionably, the highlight of my conference experience was the Keynote Address given by John Todd, PhD. Dr. Todd is an internationally recognized biologist and visionary pioneer in the field of ecological design for waste treatement and water management. His “Eco Machines” are inspiring models for resource management and recycling economics. For instance he has created sewage treatment plants, using only natural ecologies, which not only generate clean water but also employ the nutrient value of the organic wastes to raise saleable plants and ornamental fish.

Green Roof Blocks
Based just on my observations at the Trade Show, I’d say modular green roofing systems could be the next big thing. We already know how prefab architecture can provide affordable, sustainable living, so it makes sense that pre fabricated modular green roofs could do the same. We profiled Green Grid on Inhabitat just last month and I saw several other companies offering similar modular products for both green roofs and living wall/vertical gardens. Including:

ELT Easy Green – Modular green roof and living walls, also featuring a database of funding resources for building your own green roof!
Green Roof Blocks
Secalflor (if you read German)

In spite of my usual suspicions concerning our present administration, I was pleased to learnthat at least one branch of our Federal Government is taking progressive steps toward a sustainable future. The General Services Administration (GSA), which runs the Public Building Service (the entity that constructs and maintains all government buildings), instituted a sustainable design program, under building standard “P100“, in 2003 which requires all new and fully renovated federal buildings achieve LEED accreditation, preferably at the Silver level! The National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration’s new building in Maryland (below) features a 146,000 sq ft green roof.

Several area universities have plans to go green as well. The Boston Architectural Center, Harvard Graduate School of Design, and architecture department at Massachusetts College of Art all have plans to install student designed/built green roofs on their properties. Both Harvard and MassArt are experimenting with new methods for ultra low cost installations. Harvard is seeding several test plots with hardy sedum cuttings expected to take root over a few years, while MassArt is looking at using recycled milk crates as an inexpensive modular unit in which to plant native species.

Also check out:
This year’s Green Roof Awards of Excellence winners.
The Green Roofs Project Database at greenroofs.com, where you can search for green roofs in your neighborhood and submit your own!
Earth Pledge, a NYC based organization promoting a variety of sustianable living campaigns, including Greening Gotham.
Edens Lost and Found, a four-part PBS mini series on sustainable community planning and design, which begins airing May 18.