> Feral Rooftops
> City: New York City
> Issue: Climate Change
Ariane Lourie Harrison
Between the lines of the NYC Department’s Local Laws 92 /94 of 2019, mandating “that all new buildings and alterations of existing buildings where the entire existing roof deck or roof assembly is being replaced must provide a sustainable roofing zone covering 100% of the roof,” lies a radically environmental vision for a present day scarred by mass extinction, climate urgency, pandemic and social crisis.
This law designates rooftops as not only a new layer of programmed urban space, but potentially a restorative space for multiple species and a secure harbor for biodiversity. As COVID-19 exposes with renewed urgency the need for urban green spaces, for ameliorated air quality, and equitable food security, Local Law 92 /94 prompts us to view the greened rooftop as a new zone of ecological richness and biodiversity.
In the urban imaginary, marginal spaces foster diversity. From Piranesi’s ruins outside of Rome sheltering animals, goatherds, pickpockets and beggars, to DC Comics’ city of Gotham with its guardian perched high above, there is a feral logic: the less accessible, less visible or “waste” spaces are full of potential. The landscape designer, theorist and activist gardener Gilles Clement offers us the “Third Landscape,” a patchwork of transitional, inaccessible and neglected spaces that, by these same virtues, offer harbors for biodiversity, or in his terms, a “genetic reservoir for the planet.” New preserves for biodiversity are urgent in light of the “biological annihilation” of species that characterizes the current sixth mass extinction, according to the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Feral Rooftops envisages green roofs as open air reserves of native plants and pollinators, with constellations of field stations that, while monitoring each biodiverse surface, assemble and relay air quality and storm-water sequestration data for NYC’s contribution to what Gilles Clement describes as the “planetary garden.”