Crain’s: Greening the City from the Top Down

by Scott Stringer and Danielle Spiegel-Feld

When storm clouds gather, 62 square miles of roofs keep us dry in New York City. Unfortunately, most of the dozens of inches of rain that hit New York each year cascades into our gutters, swelling sewers and often causing raw sewage to pour into our waterways.

The city is failing to take advantage of a perfectly good solution to this. By transforming barren roofs into verdant spaces, we can improve water quality, slash energy use, foster biodiversity and provide more enjoyable space. The canopy of plants on green roofs drink up stormwater, reducing runoff by more than 50%. Green roofs also insulate, drastically cutting the expense and emissions from heating and cooling.

Yet New York has done an exceedingly poor job of assisting property owners in greening their rooftops. A centerpiece of the city’s efforts — a property-tax abatement — has failed. It can defray the cost of installation by as much as $100,000, but only seven roofs have been granted the abatement in the program’s nine years. As a result, green roofs cover only 1 in 1,000 buildings across the five boroughs. With the incentive set to expire next year, the city seems poised to abandon it.

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