The roofs over our heads could soon become the grounds beneath our feet. As urban development claims greenery and brownfields below, conservationists are increasingly looking up.

Green roofs - from one-storey buildings to skyscrapers - can bring greenery and wildlife into the heart of downtown cities. They also save energy by providing insulation, absorb air and noise pollution, protect buildings from harsh weather, absorb rain and decrease storm water runoff, and combat rising temperatures in urban areas

Popular throughout Europe - there are roughly 1,300 hectares of rooftop greenery in Germany alone - and catching on in North America and Asia, green roofs range in size and function. They are as diverse as the birds, animals, insects and humans they attract.


Ten years ago, three young Canadians - Jonathan Woods, Tracey Loverock and Lauren Baker - founded Annex Organics and decided to farm the roof of a Toronto warehouse. Their first crop yielded 230 kilograms of organic tomatoes, which they sold to local restaurants and shops. They have since expanded into alfalfa, lentils, peppers, aubergines and cape gooseberries. Hoping to increase local food production, the city partially funded the venture and has invested in research into similar projects.

Pedestrians in downtown Tokyo can glimpse cherry blossoms atop the crane maker Komatsu's 10-storey office building. For almost 40 years the company's 1,300 square metre garden has provided a pleasant respite to workers who spend their breaks among 1,000 different varieties of flowers and plants. In 2001, the city mandated that all roofs over 1,000 square metres on new buildings be partially covered in vegetation. To date 16.3 hectares of green area have been created, a similar size to the city's Hibiya Park.


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