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American Society of Landscape Architects

 

December 2007 Issue

GRASSROOTS GREEN ROOF
A green roof on a Virginia condominium shows the possibilities for low-cost retrofits.

By Linda McIntyre

GRASSROOTS GREEN ROOF C/O Jeanette Stewart

Green is in, as a glance at any glossy magazine will tell you. But sustainable design isn’t just the province of the elite, wealthy, and high profile. At her condominium development in the Washington, D.C., suburb of Falls Church, Virginia, Jeanette Stewart almost single-handedly implemented a stormwater management program featuring, most prominently, a 4,700-square-foot green roof on one of the community’s buildings. Her experience should inspire those who are afraid that installing and maintaining green roofs are arduous tasks or that it’s too late to undertake such measures on older buildings.

Stewart’s condo community, Yorktowne Square, sits just outside the infamous “Beltway” freeway that encircles Washington and its inner suburbs. The condominium community was built in 1968 and comprises 296 units in a series of 11 low-rise brick buildings set on just over 15 acres. “It used to be nestled in the woods,” says Stewart, who was attracted to the community by its setting. “But about six years ago a healthy hardwood forest was felled to make way for a new development.”

Stewart had spent a lot of time in that forest, enjoying the peace and quiet and feeding the birds. She was so unnerved by the changes that the new built environment quickly wrought on the ecosystem she had known so well that she quit her job as a graphic artist and became a full-time conservationist, working on watershed protection and wildlife habitat. As she learned more, Stewart was struck by the importance of stormwater management. “Everybody talks about global warming now,” she says. “Stormwater hasn’t gotten the same publicity, and I don’t think people realize the impact it has on the environment.”

Stewart wanted to change that dynamic, and she started in her own backyard. Working with Sylvia Lang, a friend of her daughter, who had expertise in wetlands ecology and an interest in low-impact development, she plowed through information compiled by national, regional, and local groups such as the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, the Virginia Native Plant Society, and the Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay, as well as agencies such as the Virginia Department of Forestry and the Northern Virginia Soil and Water Conservation District. Stewart and like-minded volunteers in the condo community started with relatively easy measures such as planting more native perennials, shrubs, and trees in the community’s lawn areas and providing better care for existing trees on the property, hoping to reduce the soil erosion and stormwater runoff that had been exacerbated by the area’s increase in development and therefore impervious cover.

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