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Bye-bye Tar Beach, Hello Green Roof

Growing up in Brooklyn, if you couldn’t make it to the real beach on a hot summer day, all you had to do was go up to Tar Beach. Did you go to Tar Beach?

“It was really hot up there,” my mom told me on a recent visit, as she told me about how she and her friends would spend hours up on the roof using sun-reflectors even to maximize their tans. Ahh, the good old days!

Tar roofs, though hot and contributors to global warming, made great song material, though, you must admit.

The Drifters sang about the sun burning the tar up on the roof in “Under the Boardwalk” and how to forget all your cares “Up on the Roof.” Elton John sat up on his roof and kicked off some moss in “Your Song.”

Perhaps Elton should have cooled his boots for a moment and left the moss alone. Growing plants on roofs — from vegetable gardening to sophisticated sod membranes that soak up urban water runoff and cool the air — are becoming a required building material in cities like Toronto and Chicago. 

I know that tar roofs are not exclusive to Brooklyn, no matter how Brooklyn-centric my point of reference may be. In fact, cities  like Chicago, where new laws are in place requiring new buildings to have green roofing materials, the temperature on a tar roof can be 78 degrees hotter than that on a green roof.

Walk across any asphalt parking lot on a summer day and then walk across a green lawn. You don’t have to be a scientist writing a big fat feasibility study to understand how black top paved surfaces and roofs heat the earth and green areas have the potential to cool it.

In Rochester, NY, The Harley School is employing this technology as one long-term science project and can boast that they are the area’s first school to have a green roof. This sustainable technology will not only act as a natural insulator, keeping the school warmer in winter and cooler in summer, but it will teach its high school students about how buildings affect the environment.

The tar roofs of the past, according to environmentalists, are the bane of city living because they create urban heat islands and contribute vastly to water runoff.  Rather than being just a green trend, cities such as Chicago and Toronto require roofs of new buildings to include cooling, greenhouse-gas absorbing plants.

The Harley School on Oct. 18 installed two 10 x 10 ft. plots of hearty winter grass on the roof of their building on 1981 Clover St. The school spent $2,000 for materials and also received an in-kind installation and materials donation from Zaretsky & Associates landscapers in Western New York.  In order to grow a section of green roofing, school engineers had to assess if the school’s roof could withstand the additional weight of a weatherproof membrane barrier, two inches of topsoil, the weight of the growing plants, and the water they will retain.  The grassy roof serves as a natural insulator and will keep the building cooler in the summer and warmer in the winter.  School officials expect to reap the benefits of these initial costs within 3-10 years.  

Peter Hentschke, a science teacher who will be working with Harley’s upper classmen on researching the impact of the green roof, said the project provides students with hands-on learning. The students will develop mathematical methods and equations to determine how much energy their school saves by comparing temperatures of the school’s different roofing materials. They will also calculate how water runoff is affected by the green roof.

 “Rooftop plants catch rainwater and runoff that would have ultimately run into the sewer and overburden water treatment centers. The students are tracking current rainwater runoff with water gauges and will track this throughout the school year,” he said.  

Chris Hartman, Harley’s social and environmental sustainability coordinator said the students are “all fired up” about learning about the green roof because it has real-world implications.  

“The Harley students are really in the driver’s seat of this project. They know that it is cool to have a green roof, but the challenge will be to come up with the methodology to show how green roofs have an impact in the world around them,” said Hartman. He added that students hope to share the data from the green roof with their classmates, and perhaps local colleges such as the University of Rochester and Rochester Institute of Technology.

If we all started growing green things on our roofs, perhaps by the time these kids graduate college, our cities would from above look less like Tar Beach and more like the ancient hanging gardens of Babylonia. I wonder what songs they will inspire by then.

Trader Joe’s, come to Western NY, pretty please with a sun-dried organic cherry on top?


Fearless Flyer

Well, it seems I’ve opened up a can of worms. For the sake of this blog post, the worms would probably be Thai Lime Basil worms, or Trader Jose’s cha-cha chili worms. 

My love affair with Trader Joe’s, the California-based small-scale gourmet supermarket, started nearly 16 years ago. A newcomer to the San Francisco Bay area, my roomate got me hooked on Trader Joe’s quirky products. I didn’t have a car. No one doesn’t have a car in California. But that didn’t stop me. To get to a Trader Joe’s, I would take two lines on the BART, with a small cooler in tow, to get there, where I would purchase delicacies such as frozen tri-colored butternut squash ravioli and mahi-mahi filets. 

Later in life, when we moved back to New Jersey and had a car (because you *really* need a car to get around in NJ), I loved shopping at the Trader Joe’s in Westfield, N.J. 

Now, I live in Rochester. We have Wegman’s, headquarters to the mother of all amazing supermarkets, where my own mother, on her first trip into the cavernous Marketplace section, with its patisserie, brick-oven artisan bakery and 20-foot long Mediterranean olive bar, described Wegmans as “where food goes when it goes to heaven.” Don’t get me wrong, I love Wegman’s. 

But it’s not Trader Joe’s. 

One of my most recent columns was about how and with what to fill the vacant retail spaces around Brighton. Lately, as I drive the stretch of Monroe Ave. between Brighton and Pittsford, I get an empty feeling.  Whether the properties are older; like the former Steve’s restaurant in Brighton, or brand new; such as the Oak Hill Commons in Pittsford, I can’t help but wonder what the holdup is for filling these properties: is it the economy, or local politics? 

 The most glaring of these vacancies is the 11,348 sq.-ft. site of the former Rite Aid in Brighton Commons.  To get some opinions on this for my column, I took a very informal poll of my Facebook friends asking them what they would like to see in this place. One friend wrote: Trader Joes! And then another and another in complete agreement.   

I would love to see this place in the center of Brighton become the nation’s newest Trader Joe’s.   It would be great to walk or bike to a store like this to pick up items ranging from organically grown lettuce, cage-free eggs, a box of gluten-free granola, or even mahi-mahi burgers for the grill. 

 Trader Joe’s was featured on the Sept. 13 cover of Fortune magazine, and described it as one of the nation’s fastest growing retailers. I make a pilgrimage to Trader Joe’s in Long Island whenever I can and ask the manager about the possibility of an opening in Rochester. But the answer is always the same: this privately-held company, which boasts 344 stores in 25 states, fears competition from a certain large-scale supermarket further up Monroe Ave. bearing the name that starts with a W.   But one can always hope. 

I got an enormous number of responses from my column, both via email and others who told me that “yeah! I want Trader Joe’s too!” at the gym, or — lo and behold — in the middle of the produce section at Wegmans! They even asked me how they could help me convince them to come here – like I have an inside track or something. 

So you see, TJ’s – Brighton, NY folks are educated, earthy and slightly crunchy. See why we would need you and support you here? 

One reader wrote in an accused me of starting a crusade of trying to bring yet another chain into town while running the little guy mom and pop markets out of business and told me to stick to writing and stay out of the business development business.  Other readers wrote in and shared their Trader Joe’s love stories, and still others wrote to me with links of articles explaining the complexities of chosing a site for new grocery stores in urban areas. 

So, Trader Joe’s, if you are reading, in spite of Rochester being home to the world’s greatest supermarket chain, there is still room in our hearts for you. So come on up!

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