Green Roofs Could Save San Diego Enough Tax Money To Fix our Streets

Posted on Apr 5, 2018
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The city of San Diego doesn't have enough money to build new parks and fix our streets. Could more green roofs help? Photo: Chad McDonald/Creative Commons license

The city of San Diego doesn’t have enough money to build new parks and fix our streets. Could more green roofs help? Photo: Chad McDonald/Creative Commons license

Sometimes I wonder why I read the news, because it can be depressing. I guess because it’s a relief none of my own problems ever make it into the San Diego Union-Tribune or on local TV. If they did, I’d know I’m having a REALLY bad day.

A few recent stories in the news were a serious downer for this Eco-Warrior.

In the first one, a report by the City of San Diego ran down our infrastructure funding gap. This is the money we don’t have to fix our streets, sidewalks, lights, traffic signals, and such. The one that got my attention was the $243 million we need to fund local parks. Right now we only have $88 million.

Maybe you don’t think parks should be a priority over streets or sidewalks. I’m with you, these things are a potholed and cracked creating liability issues that could be avoided. Then I read about a recent survey by the Trust for Public Land. One out of every four San Diego residents (23 percent) live farther than a 10-minute walk away from a local park or recreational facility.

We need urban and suburban parks to insure all San Diego residents are within walking distance of nature. Photo: Nathan Rupert/Creative Commons fix our streets

We need urban and suburban parks to insure all San Diego residents are within walking distance of nature. Photo: Nathan Rupert/Creative Commons

We All Need Everyday Exposure to Nature

We write all the time in this blog about the benefits to your wellbeing from exposure to nature. For those of us who live in urban or suburban neighborhoods like the majority of San Diegans, our everyday exposure is through things like adding plants and natural elements to your office, or visiting your local park.

More people are moving into the urban neighborhoods like downtown, North Park, and the need for parks is especially important. Our neighborhoods will get denser as in response to the demand for housing. Think about how few elementary school kids even walk to school these days. They lack any exposure to a bright sunny morning. They miss seeing birds and butterflies going about their daily business in a local pocket park.

This green roof in Louisville, KY is beneficial in managing rainwater and helps reduce energy costs for the 23 story building. Photo: USDA NRCS/Creative Commons License fix our streets

This green roof in Louisville, KY is beneficial in managing rainwater and helps reduce energy costs for the 23 story building. Photo: USDA NRCS/Creative Commons License

Green Roofs Could Be The Funding Solution

But this blog post isn’t a total downer. There’s a possible solution, and it could potentially save the City of San Diego and other cities like it enough money to pay for our parks along with many of these needed repairs.

A new study says better “surface management” of the sun and rain hitting our civic buildings could save cities enough money to pay for these green improvements, benefit the environment, AND have money left over for other things – like parks, streets and sidewalks.

The study by Greg Kats and Keith Glassbrook for the JPB Foundation (and many sponsors) worked with three city partners – New York, Washington D.C., and El Paso, Texas. The 300 page report boils down to this: we need to manage our sun and our rain more effectively.

The study examined what would happen if each of the three cities in the study fully adopted smart surface technology: green roofs, solar panels, porous pavements, and even planting more urban trees. The results are impressive.

What happens with all of these technologies are major reductions in the urban heat island effect and the negative effects from poorly managed storm water run-off. Cities are hotter than the surrounding countryside when there is too much pavement, too many dark surfaces (like streets) and too little greenery. It causes an increase in temperature due to all the hard surfaces reflecting the sun’s heat. Factor in global warming from other sources, and this becomes a serious issue.

San Diego’s tourism industry could be threatened by rising temperatures. Photo: Christian Ronnel/Creative Commons license

Rising Temperatures Threaten San Diego’s Tourism Industry

Hotter cities mean more energy use. It costs us a lot more to cool our buildings down than to heat them up. We use more water. It discourages activities by people on the hottest summer days, which has a negative effect on tourism in cities like San Diego that depend on visitors to be out and about at the Zoo, the Midway, and the Gaslamp Quarter.

Excess heat leads to increased health care costs and emergency room visits, especially for children, older adults, and people in low income areas hardest, because they have the worst urban heat islands. Remember, fewer parks and trees equals heat. Simply walking through a park provides a multitude of health benefits.

The estimated savings were calculated for each city if it did everything it could to lower the urban heat island effect. This is the table from the report – and you’ll see the savings range from several hundred million dollars to billons of dollars in savings.

This doesn’t take into account the money saved from preventing a drop in tourism due to hotter summers. Imagine how important this could be in San Diego.

Ways You Can Help Solve the Problem

The report also makes a point I’ve been making for many years. Combining cool or green roofs and solar panels increase their energy production efficiency. The combination supercharges the benefits and the cost savings. Partial shading of roofs by solar panels improve the health of green roofs, which improves stormwater management and air quality. There’s just no downside to this investment.

I can’t do this report justice in a short blog post, so I encourage you to read it for yourself.

The results can’t be denied. The challenge is whether our civic leaders locally and nationally will take bold steps to make this kind of investment.

The consequences of not making these changes unfortunately hits our lower income residents, children and seniors hardest.

In the meantime, we can adopt these practices as individuals. Planting trees, supporting pocket parks, and encouraging our elected officials to support these initiatives will move us closer to making these changes a reality. Maybe we will fix our streets. Isn’t that motivation for you?

So send this blog post to your favorite politician and let’s get the ball rolling. We did!