Voters Consider A 'Green Roof' Mandate For Denver Buildings

Next month, Denver voters vote on whether or not large buildings should be required to have green roofs to reduce the urban heat island effect. Denver would be the first city in the US to also transform rooftops on existing buildings.  


May 24 2019, Updated 10:14 a.m. ET

People often think of Denver as a green city with an eco-conscious population. Yet, according to a study conducted by Climate Central, Denver produces one of the worst “heat island” effects in the United States. The heat radiating off of pavements and rooftops creates this effect. Denver came in third place right after Vegas and Albuquerque, two desert cities.

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As a solution to this issue, The Denver Green Roof Initiative proposal is giving voters a choice to require buildings to have green rooftops with gardens and/or solar panels. If voted in, the new rule will require green roofs on both new and old buildings that meet certain requirements.  

Supporters of the proposed solution suggest that not only would green rooftops reduce the heat island effect, but there would be other direct benefits such as improving air quality, roof longevity, city beautification, and stormwater management. Despite the benefits of green roofs, there have been concerns about mandating the change along with fears that it may be too costly and wide reaching. 

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Making people change their ways is almost never easy, and many politicians have expressed their hesitation about this proposal if it receives enough votes. Many are suggesting that people should be encouraged, rather than forced, to add green rooftops. During a council review of the initiative, Denver City Councilwoman Mary Beth Susman suggested that the market should get people to improve their rooftops, not the government. 

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Supporters of the initiative claim they’ve already tried to create incentives, but the city’s planning department and other city officials thwarted their efforts. They also point to major cities that have already mandated green rooftops and have had a positive impact. For example, Toronto was the first major city in North America to make green rooftops a requirement. San Francisco has a green roof mandate for new buildings and other U.S. cities, such as Chicago and Washington, D.C., have incentives to encourage their citizens to create green roofs. 

Supporters of the change point out that the proposal is not overly broad, because it specifically targets buildings that are 25,000 square feet. It also does not apply to residential buildings under four stories. The sustainable roofs also do not need to cover the entire roof, and the building owners can choose between plants, solar panels, or a mix of both to comply. Building owners can also apply for exemption with the Denver Planning Board.  

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Finally, there’s the debate about cost. Many Denverites are concerned that the change will require buildings to spend thousands of dollars installing rooftop gardens. Even though installation expenses are undeniable, green roof advocates claim that the changes will pay for themselves since it will allow for long-term energy savings and minimize the need for future roof repairs. 

While no one is sure how residents of the Mile High city will vote this November 7th, we can be confident the debate over this proposed new rule will continue. However, if voters do decide green rooftops should cover the buildings, Denver will most likely become one of the country’s leading cities in green building innovations.  

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