Green Roofs (GR) are becoming increasingly popular in Portugal due to its many benefits and to the increase of the environmental consciousness of the population and politicians, as well as the work of different academic groups and green roof companies.
Over the last years, step by step, the country has recognized the importance of green roofs and several studies related to the benefits and characteristics of different systems were developed, in parallel to new and emblematic projects, such as the recent Museum of Art and Technology (MAAT) in Lisbon and the future Campanhã bus terminal, in Porto.
However, despite the awareness of some authorities and the growing popularity of green roofs, currently in Portugal there are no GR policies included in the municipal legislation, a fact that, hopefully, may be changing.
The Fifth Facade Project – PQAP
In August 2016, the Portuguese Association for Green Roofs (ANCV), a member of the European Federation for Green Roofs Association (EFB), launched a pioneer project in the country, in cooperation with the Porto City Council (CMPorto), entitled “Porto Fifth Facade Project (Portuguese acronym – PQAP)”. The objective of this project is to define which models the CMPorto should follow in order to include Green Infrastructures (GI), in particular Green Roofs, into the urban planning, environmental and climate change strategy of Porto, the second largest city in Portugal.
The initiative of PQAP was proposed by Paulo Palha, one of the founders and current President of the Portuguese Association for Green Roofs (ANCV), who has been fighting for the inclusion of GR as a tool to mitigate the effects of climate change in Portugal over many years: “It’s only a question of peoples will, informed politicians and technical ability. We have all this in Porto. Green infrastructures, like GR, should be mandatory because we need them to have a healthy and happy life inside resilient cities”, he explains.
The PQAP represents an important step in the history of GR in Portugal, since it’s the first time that a council officialises its intention to include GRs in the plans of the city, which may transform Porto into the first Portuguese city to have a formal plan for GR. The PQAP has several collaborations with research groups from different Portuguese universities, as well as with councils of foreign cities, and community associations.
Learning from other cities – The interaction with London
As mentioned before, an important part of the PQAP project is the interaction with other cities with more experience in green roofs policies. To realize this bench marketing, two cities were selected, based on their know-how: London, in the UK, and Linz, in Austria.
In the past January 2017 some members of the PQAP team met experts in London, at the Greater London Authority (GLA), to understand the strategy for GR in London. Peter Massini and its team (GLA), together with Dusty Gedge, President of the EFB, gave their testimony on the process to establish a policy for London.
London Green Roof Strategy
The Great London is divided in 32 boroughs plus the city of London, which works as the financial district of the city and has its own Mayer, although its objectives must follow the main objectives of the Great London. The GR policy in London exists since 2008 and it is written in the document “London Plan”. All the boroughs must follow this document, although each borough can respond to the requirements of the plan with different strategies.
London has no mandatory policy for GR, and no financial incentive to promote GR. The success of GR in London was achieved with a policy based on persuasion, rather then obligation, although this success is also the result of many years of investment in GR and a combination of different factors that contributed to the way the system works today.
The movement around GR in London started back in the 1970’s when a group of architects decided to include GR in social housing in the London borough Lewisham. After that, in the 1990’s, another group of architects, known for the project “Walter’s Segal’s self build”, became very interested in replacing the ecological footprint, after meeting the ecologist and GR expert Gary Grant. Nevertheless, GR only started to be considered an important issue when they were associated to the protection of the black redstart, a rare bird in risk of extinction in the UK.
The UK always had a strong tradition in conservation of biodiversity, and by the year 2000 all national governments should set up biodiversity partnerships and have a plan for biodiversity protection. Around this period a government plan targeted post industrial landscapes for building construction, but at the same time ecologists discovered that those landscapes were some of the best places for wildlife in the UK, and as a way to mitigate this effect the so called “brown roofs” were developed, based on the Swiss experience in green roofs. Although the concept of brown roofs became very popular and well accepted, Dusty Gedge, one of the creators of the idea, refers to this technic nowadays as a “mistake” because the roofs didn’t work well. Nevertheless, the concept of brown roof was very important because it was a way to achieve the solution of GR that nowadays dominates London, and they also helped to improve the GR market, that only started to appear in 2003, when the commercial green roofing company decided to supply GR substrates and components. After that, the boroughs, especially the Lewisham borough, started pushing the concept of GR connected to the promotion of biodiversity through the biodiversity partnerships. The bird preservation was a catalyst to the construction of many GR, which was easy to happen since the bird was a material consideration in the biodiversity plans. In parallel to that, GR companies became interested in increasing the market size and participated in meetings to discuss how they could create a code of practice for GR, which was written between 2000 and 2008.
All the work developed in the Biodiversity Partnership, which was run by the GLA, boosted the conversation about GR in the GLA, which started to encourage GR. After that, a local authority of the city of London wrote the first document on GR.
It is important to refer that the city of London has a very particular characteristic because it’s the financial district of the Great London and the value per m2 of its land is very high. So, proportionally to the total cost of the building, the cost to implement a green roof in the city of London is not relevant, contributing to the success of the GR plan. Regarding the other boroughs, in the period between 2003 and 2006 around 10 boroughs started being proactive in promoting GR, most of them based on the conservation of the black redstart. Finally, in 2008 the policy was written and included in the document “London Plan”.
Currently, all the boroughs must comply to this general document, but the strategy can vary from borough to borough. Some demand a biodiversity management plan and, in some cases, a maintenance plan, meaning that without a written plan there is no planning permission. Parallel to the policy, another factor that contributes to the construction of GR in London is the existence of the “BREEAM”, a certification of excellence. Since most of the London largest developers want to have the certification of excellence, they have to work towards sustainability to justify that. A good ecological report can justify the certification, and the certification, on the other hand, can convince planners that the development is covering water, renewable energy, GR, etc.
So, although the GR policy in London is based on persuasion rather then obligation, the planning in each borough is based on negotiation, which is favourable to the construction of GR, since having a GR is an advantage to the project and a positive argument to the developer.
About the barriers in the implementation of the policy, Dusty Gedge, who has a vast experience in green roofs policy not only in the UK but all over the world, states that it is hard to convince the professional classes that this is a growing concern, as people tend to think their realities are always more difficult to adapt than others. Besides, he stressed the fact that it is really important to invest in education of students from areas related to green roofs, like architecture and engineering.
According to Peter Massini, another problem that the GLA faces today is related to the control and maintenance of the GR projects, and with the fact that in many situations GR are still seen as an additional, rather than an essential, measure. Despite these facts, the current situation of GR in London is considered very satisfying for both planners, as the quality of the projects keep growing, as a result of many years of investment in dialogue, guidelines and policies in London.
Conclusion: What lessons for Porto?
Although the reality of both cities is very different, Porto can learn a lot of lessons from the London experience in the GR policy. Perhaps the most important is not to underestimate our capacity to change complex realities, and to persuade people who are inherently conservative in their professions. Change is a process that requires time and persistence. As Dusty Gedge says “If you start with the idea that you are going to get quality from day one you are being naive, because it’s not going to happen”. According to him, since the beginning of the policy in London the quality of the projects has increased significantly, and nowadays 80% of new buildings include GR. The most important thing is to keep learning and adapting, searching for the best solution for each city and fighting for technical quality. For this reason writing good guidelines is essential to help developers and architects to make good decisions, as it is the communication with politicians and the population.
Porto, although with some years of delay in developing policies for GR, will take advantage of having a great background from several cities around the World. In Europe, Asia, America and Australia GR are already a reality included in the environmental strategy of many cities, each of which faced different barriers to find the best solution to their own problems, taking into account their character, history and people. One thing, however, they all share: determination to take the first step and defy sceptics with all the ecosystem services that cities can achieve with GR.