Print this page

Chicago Rooftop Gardens

Let's face it, we're all effected by our environment and some man made environments, such as a city, can be pretty harsh. Some cities, such as Chicago, are actually taking innovative gardens and using them to help reduce the negative environment impacts of heat and pollution.

The rooftop garden is located on top of Chicago's city hall and it's the pet project of Commissioner Abolt on Chicago's Green Initiative.

Bill Abolt, City of Chicago, Commissioner of the Department of Environment: We've got so many black tar roofs in cities, so many asphalt surfaces that we've made them hotter. By making them hotter, we've also increased air pollution. Mayor Daley has really rolled up his sleeves to try to figure out how local cities can do something about that air quality problem, but at the same time beautify the city. So City Hall roof is really his idea and one of a number of projects that are going on throughout the city of Chicago to reduce what is called the urban heat island, that means cities are too dark, too hot, they create these heat islands and by planting things, by using more light colors we can actually reduce temperatures and increase comfort and improve the environment in cities.

By putting this rooftop garden on top of the roof we'll be able to cut energy cost at City Hall, both cooling in the summer and heating in the winter by over $4,000 a year and we'll be able to make this roof last at least twice as long because the soil on top of it protect the underlying roof.

Allen: Absolutely, and all of these tenants around here will be able to enjoy this patch of green.

Bill: Yes, it's amazing. You've got entire neighborhoods or cities up there looking down on roofs across the city. It's really a great place to create some green space.

Allen: Tell me about the inspiration for this idea; how did this come about?

Bill: Mayor Daley was the reason we are doing this. He went to Europe, we have an active sister cities program, and he came back from Hamburg having found out that it is common practice throughout Europe to have roof gardens and in fact to have roof gardens as part of municipal buildings and zoning codes.

Interview with Mayor Daley on a Greener Chicago

Richard Daley, Mayor of the City of Chicago, Chicago, IL: I saw Hamburg and they had a number of buildings and it was just wild grass, you know, overhanging and I said to myself, "Gee that's a great idea, we have a lot of flat roofs in Chicago." So I came back and I said, "Here." And I love gardening in Chicago, you know, flowers, trees, fountains, all that, making part of Chicago's life the environment. I said, "What wasted space we have up here."

Allen: I'm just knocked out by Chicago - so much of what I see, from the botanic garden which is a world class facility to the plantings down on Michigan Avenue.

Mayor Daley: Well, when I first started that people were opposed; you're going to change the tenor of the street. Merchants were concerned and all that; so now you see more and more people saying, "I'm going to do it in front of my business." It's like a fever catching on. As you look at the beautiful landscape of Chicago you don't realize when you're downtown all these flat roofs and what it can be. And that's…

Allen: A lot of square footage.

Mayor Daley: Right, and you think about what effect it has on global warming and air quality; you know, right here in a city like ours to me, that is my goal to have all these real estate people understand that you can effect the environment on your roof as well as in your building.