Is the new Barclay Center green roof really green or greenwash?

Barclay Center green roof
© SHoP

The Atlantic Yards, home of the Barclay Center, has been controversial from the start, sitting as it does so close to upscale Park Slope and its very active and political residents. It is now getting a very big green roof installed over the stadium. In a press release from developer Forest City Ratner and partner Greenland Group, they claim it's all about the environmental benefits.

“Our original design for the arena had anticipated a green roof as part of our effort to achieve Silver LEED certification,” MaryAnne Gilmartin, FCRC President and CEO, said. “While we independently reached that goal, we always hoped to still create a green roof, further improving the environmental footprint of the arena and also making a more direct connection to the sedum covered transit entrance on the plaza. Thanks to Greenland, which shares our commitment to sustainable development, we now have the resources to make this dream a reality.”

The Chinese Partner continues:

Ifei Chang, CEO Greenland USA Holding Companies, said "Greenland is very excited about working with FCRC on what we believe will be one of the largest and most impressive green roofs in the City and perhaps the country. We are strongly committed the environmental benefits of green roofs.”

So what's so green about a green roof?

Green roofs can have lots of environmental benefits as bird and insect habitats, for stormwater management, reducing heat island effects and capturing airborne pollutants, as well as absorbing CO2 and releasing oxygen. Except this is an extensive (lightweight) green roof being built over a white roof, and one study controversially claimed that white roofs might even be greener. There has been some criticism of sedum green roofs; according to an article in Scientific American (again, controversial), " A roof planted with sedum is no greener, from the standpoint of sustainability, than is ordinary tar or asphalt."

Both of these claims can be disputed, and and a green roof certainly is more attractive and attuned to our natural biophilia.

But the biggest issue is that it's not being installed on the actual roof. They are building a giant 130,000 square foot steel superstructure that spans the whole existing roof with an air gap of between four and ten feet, installed by three cranes over a period of six months. They are essentially building a bridge to hold up a "flocked" pattern of sedum trays. The carbon footprint and embodied energy of so much steel far outweighs the environmental benefits of any green roof, let alone this one. The whole thing, from start to finish is a multimillion dollar environmental negative.

Lloyd Alter/ Closeup of Barclay Center/CC BY 2.0

So why are they doing it?

Norman Oder, who writes the watchdog blog Atlantic Yards Report thinks there are other reasons.

It's to help market apartments, which is why the new partner (on future apartments, not the arena or the first tower), the Greenland Group, will help pay for it. It will also help to keep bass escaping from the roof that bothers neighbors--and, presumably, from reaching the closest neighbors in the coming towers.

The Wall Street Journal says much the same thing.

But the greenery also would help muffle concert music that escapes from the arena, and several people who have discussed the noise issue with Forest City executives said the company is planting the vegetation to help contain the sound.

© Lightweight prefab green roofs can be beautiful, like the ESRI one.

So what's wrong with that?

Nothing. SHoP are very talented architects and no doubt it will be beautiful, a lot nicer and comfortable to look at than a reflective white roof with graphics on it. It's a real architectural plus for the complex.

But Forest City Ratner and Greenland Holdings are just greenwashing when they claim such environmental benefits for this. They simply don't exist.

This post was modified in the light of the comment below that points out that not all sedum roofs are the same and there is insufficient information to determine which kind this is.

Tags: Green Roofs | Greenwashing | New York City

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