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A Rose among Thorns-A Look at Chicago's Green Rooftops

By Regina M. Torres - Staff Writer
On March 27, 2012

Northeastern Illinois University boasts an organization that has been promoting green-mindedness, known on campus as the Green Cycle Group (GCG). They have done some noteworthy things like implementing the changeover to more energy saving campus lighting systems, and getting the grounds department to drive around in energy efficient and less gas-guzzling (i.e. less stinky/wasteful) vehicles. NEIU also offers up an actual glass-covered greenhouse for Biology students to dabble around with, which is located on the top floor of the Bernard Brummel Hall science building, with the department offering up a plethora of greenhouse-grown plants for sale in Village Square on a yearly basis. Although these types of modern day changes and plans are welcome within the context of a growing surge toward increased environmental and health aware- ness, the concepts of "greenifying" our campus and surrounding communities are still in the "seedling" stages unfortunately.

Since spring is now thankfully here, this article takes a look at the cool things being done within the confines of the Chicago city limits. Daley's past vision of beautifying urban areas with flora and fauna in order to try and counteract the visions of endless concrete, cars, steel, garbage, and other ugly elements of modern day urban living has continued on as a positive legacy. How does a city in motion like Chicago help offset the sterility and smog? How can we help slow down the process of global degradation and climate changes? The answer can be found in the growing interest in metropolitan rooftop gardening, whether on top of a simple two-car garage, a medium-sized eatery, or the vast spread found at the top of a high-rise building used for official governmental business.

Back when Mayor Richard M. Daley was brewing up and putting to work plans of action to make a greener Chicago, his environmental commissioner Sadhu Johnston stated, "This is about quality of life. What we're talking about is creating a city that exists in harmony with the world, a place that can be a model. Cities have long been hurtful to the environment." Keeping this sentiment in mind, let us now look at some urban examples of successful rooftop garden experiments, starting with the big daddy of them all-the top of our own City Hall building.

City Hall

Begun in 2000, with a cost of $2.5 million dollars, City Hall's rooftop has proven itself as a beautiful demonstration project as well as a test green roof. The result: in one city block there is over 20, 000 square feet of various beautifying and life-sustaining plants, vines, shrubs, foliage and even trees. An added bonus? The city building saves over $5,000 dollars in energy costs on average per year, though the figure could quite possibly be even greater currently. Tours are offered so check their website for availability. Building located at La-Salle, Randolph, Clark, and Washington streets city block square.

Uncommon Ground

Located at 1401 W. Devon, on the North side and close to Chicago's lakefront, Uncommon Ground has been offering up award-winning homegrown dishes, while proudly maintaining status as a trend setter/ model in the rooftop gardening and green business sectors. This business has grown its own food since 2008 with only organic means, and strives to maintain as small a car- bon footprint as possible. While not as large scale as City Hall's model, this establishment provides community outreach and education concerning urban gardening and all things green. They even offer a discount for customers who bicycle to the establishment instead of driving their cars. They also have the honor of being the nation's first organic roof top farm, making Chicago the first to rock the green organic roof top farming concept.

The majority of green roofs in Chicago are planted and maintained by large corporate or private companies that do not offer access to the public, but there are a bunch that you can explore. Below is a short list of some of the other spaces you can check out online and maybe even visit this spring or summer. Some offer public viewings, and some give tours. Check out their websites or call to get current information on individual places and what their public policies are.

• Millennium Park at 201 E. Randolph St. • The Chicago Cultural Center at 78 E. Washington St. • The Apple store on Michigan Ave. • The Essex Inn Hotel at 800 S. Michigan Ave. • Soldier Field at 1410 S. Museum Campus Dr. • The PepsiCo. Rooftop Garden at 555 W. Monroe Street, 2nd floor • The Chicago Center for Green Technology at 445 N. Sacramento Blvd.

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