Green Rooftops Hit France

By Diane Small

After having suffered through Chinese levels of pollution for several weeks in recent months, there’s finally some good news for France:  a  new French law was approved stipulating that  rooftops on new buildings in commercial zones across France must either be partially covered in plants or solar panels.

Roof gardens can be a great place to hang out. Image: Wikicommons

True, there are very few new buildings in France in general, but this is certainly a step in the right direction.  Green roofs, which cover rooftop space with a layer of grasses, shrubs, flowers, and other forms of flora, not only look super pretty, but offer various eco  benefits. For one, they create an insulating effect, reducing the amount of energy needed to heat or cool a building depending on the season. They also retain rainwater, thus decreasing runoff and drainage problems. Space for urban wildlife is expanded, attracting more birds, insects and butterflies, and air pollution is reduced, as plants are natural air filters.

Image: Wikicommons

Green rooftops also significantly reduce the urban “heat island” effect in which urban areas are noticeably warmer than their surroundings. The heat island effect can cause large cities to get 1.8 °F to 5.4 °F warmer than surrounding areas in the day, and 22 °F warmer at night,according to the EPA. This effect happens when buildings, roads, and other developments replace formerly open land and greenery, causing surfaces to become moist and impermeable, and to warm up.

Older roofs, like this one at the D’Orsay Museum, can stay as they are. Image: Wikicommons
But importantly, they increase local access to green space,  creating parks and gardens. In fact, there are already several restaurants which source some of their produce ‘locally’ by growing vegetables, fruit and herbs right on their roofs.
Approved by French Parliament, the law is a bit less than environmental groups had hoped for–they wanted the green roofs to cover the entire rooftop. But a compromise was to allow  businesses the option of installing solar panels instead of  foliage.

Still, this is undoubtedly a Good Thing and  will both change the urban landscape of cities across France as well as potentially inspire other countries to follow suit, especially with the United Nations’ climate summit coming to Paris at the end of the year.

It may seem to be street level, but this water feature is actually on a roof in Toronto. Image: Wikicommons

Although it seems to be a trailblazing move, France has lagged behind other major European countries like Germany, Italy and Spain in solar power development.  Moreover, other cities, such as Toronto, beat the French to green roof laws; but of course, Toronto is only a city and the French law is nationwide.

Soon, we could see these mazes on rooftops! Image: Wikicommons

In any case, we’re now dreaming of sipping our champagne from a rooftop garden with a view to the Eiffel Tower, knowing Paris’s pollution is being reduced in a way that is  tres chic.

Diane Small
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