11/01/2013 01:34 pm ET Updated Jan 23, 2014

San Francisco Closes Green Roof Gap

In April 2012, I wrote an article about the disparity of support for green roofs between the east and west coasts. I reread the article last week while attending the annual Green Roofs for Healthy Cities Conference in San Francisco. The good news is that San Francisco officials are leading the way in catching up with East Coast green infrastructure innovations.

Lately, there are a lot of articles on The Huffington Post mentioning San Francisco and the "Tale of Two Cities." They largely refer to economic disparities, but they could just as well be talking about those in the city that understand the connection between green infrastructure and clean air and water, and those that do not.

In San Francisco today, policy makers at SPUR and the SFPUC are leading the way in adopting of green roof and green wall technology. Much to my delight, city staff were spearheading some of the most interesting sessions. They seem to get it.

A year and a half ago, the green infrastructure innovators in the city were architects. Today, the problems and costs of stormwater management continue to plague San Francisco's overtaxed combined sewer system. The difference is that now SF's PUC (the city's public utility) is on a fast track toward adopting green infrastructure as a cost-effective strategy for dealing with aging infrastructure and the effects of climate change (the deadly one-two punch). They also see the significant side benefits in saving energy, noise insulation, reduced air pollution, and urban heat island effect.

San Francisco voters have an opportunity to get on the band wagon in support of green infrastructure. By voting Yes on B & C next Tuesday, residents can approve several large and iconic green roofs that will be visible from both the Embarcadero and for the folks who look down on it. There is more to this vote than a typical NIMBY contest. What hasn't been mentioned in any article I've read (yay or nay) is that this development will include 35,000 square feet of green roofs and numerous green walls. The existing concrete parking lot and concrete tennis courts right next to the San Francisco Bay will be replaced by green if 8 Washington is approved. We've seen it in New York City and elsewhere, when people see green roofs -- especially ones that are simple and easy to imagine putting on your own building -- something clicks and people "get it."

When green roofs become part of a city's landscape, dwellers see that nature can co-exist with the built environment. The addition of a large new green roof connecting the eye to the San Francisco Bay beyond could be just the ticket for the Bay Area to understand that green roofs protect water quality by absorbing storm water runoff and preventing overflowing combined sewer systems from releasing pollutants into the Bay.

For a good journal on securing resiliency in urban areas/green roofs:
A report about green roofs in San Francisco: