Cities Alive: Green Roofs for Healthy Cities Conference

Monday, February 07th, 2011 | Author:

ESPP student Leigh Whittinghill (Horticulture) blogs about her recent experience at the Cities Alive conference where she presented a poster. Whittinghill’s trip was supported by the ESPP travel fund. Any MSU graduate student can apply for ESPP travel funding, not just those in the ESPP doctoral specialization. The funding is for any interdisciplinary conference or meeting where a student is displaying a poster or presenting work orally. Funding will continue to be offered quarterly. The next deadline is April 15. For more information, see ESPP’s conference funding.

The conference center for Cities Alive had its own green roof.
Leigh Whittinghill/ MSU

At some point in our academic careers we will attend a conference, ideally to present

our own research. This past December, I had that opportunity; I attended and presented my work on green roofs at Cities Alive, the annual Green Roofs for Healthy Cities Conference.

During 2008, my advisor, Brad Rowe (Horticulture), was approached by a green roof grower whose clients were experiencing salt damage to their green roofs. The grower asked if we could determine which green roof plants commonly used by the company are salt tolerant, in order to avoid future damage. So, in Winter 2009 I performed a series of experiments on seven common green roof and green wall species. (Green walls are similar to green roofs, but the vegetation is arranged vertically against a wall, either indoor or outdoor.) We are currently working on publishing an article with the results of those experiments.

At Cities Alive, held this year in Vancouver, BC, I presented a poster on this study. While Green Roofs for Healthy Cities is smaller than many professional societies, the poster session, which took place during one of the mid-day breaks, was well attended.

One of the best qualities of Cities Alive is that researchers, policy makers and members of the green roof industry all attend the conference. While presenting my poster, I had a chance to talk to researchers, designers and plant growers who were interested in salt tolerance. Learning about new technologies, policies and research that impact the whole green roof community is part of why the conference was organized.

A main feature of the conference is a large trade show where I could interact with industry representatives and learn about the latest innovations in green roof technology. Many different types of green roof exist; for some, the vegetation is rolled out like sod and for others it is placed in smaller containers, or modules, and then on the roof. This year, one company introduced a modular system made of coconut matting, which will biodegrade, leaving behind a seamless green roof. An innovation I would not have known about without the opportunity to interact with businesses from across North America.

In addition to the trade show, there are four tracks of talks about green roofs or green walls.  One track is devoted to policy, one to design and one to research. The final track is a roundtable discussion covering many topics—from ecosystem services to facilitating collaborative design projects. This year, after having taken several Environmental Science and Policy courses, I found many of the policy talks of interest. Several of them discussed the growing number of municipalities that include green roofs in their building regulations. I was also able to hear about some new projects which will incorporate green roofs, green walls, and fascinating techniques to use passive cooling and water recycling.

A view of mountains from Vancouver.
Leigh Whittinghill/ MSU

Another great part of attending conferences is the chance to visit different cities throughout North America. While I did not have much time this year to explore Vancouver because the conference took place during the fall semester, I did enjoy a view of the snow-covered mountains across the bay from the convention center. The convention center itself boasts an award winning green roof planted with prairie vegetation. I was also able to enjoy some of Vancouver’s restaurants with colleagues, whom I rarely see except at conferences. It is a great experience to catch up and enjoy a great meal at a new and interesting conference.

Next year, the conference will be held in Philadelphia, and although I have been there many times, I wonder what new things I will learn about the city and its green roofs and green walls.

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One Response

  1. Wow, very interesting, I never even thought about green roofs having to deal with salt damage.

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