Sunday, August 25, 2013
Let Our Federal Rooftop Garden Grow
The Beaux Arts Federal building at 50 United Nations Plaza above is being newly rehabbed after standing empty for the better part of the last decade. The building used to house Health and Human Services offices, which is why there was an AIDS tent city in the early 1980s protesting the government's inaction on the epidemic. Its new incarnation will be as headquarters for the Pacific Rim region of the General Services Administration, which stretches from Arizona and Nevada to Guam, and there will be a ribbon-cutting ceremony this October.
As part of the redesign of the building, a "green roof" has been installed complete with sod, grass and wildflowers to capture stormwater...
...along with a large array of solar panels.
Last Wednesday a small group of journalists were invited for a press conference to spread the word of this new ecological wonder. From left to right above are SF Planning Director John Rahaim, GSA Regional Administrator Ruth Cox, Green Roofs for Healthy Cities President Steven Peck, and SFPUC Assistant Manager of External Affairs Juliet Ellis.
Ms. Cox was enthusiastic and lively in her advocacy for green roofs and walls, mentioning that huge projects had already been undertaken on federal buildings in Washington, D.C., among other locations. Peck is the founder of Green Roofs for Healthy Cities, a trade association based in Toronto, Canada. Their annual conference, CitiesAlive, will be held in San Francisco this year from October 23rd-26th at the Marriott Marquis, in partnership with the SF Planning Department and the SF Public Utilities Commission.
Peck brought up the example of World War Two Victory Gardens as a model for urban food production on rooftops, though he probably didn't realize that San Francisco's Civic Center Plaza already hosted a huge Victory Garden in 2008. It was installed by Chez Panisse's Alice Waters and then-Mayor Gavin Newsom, and it involved tearing out a perfectly lovely lawn which has never reappeared, replaced by hard packed dirt for the last five years.
Speaking of San Francisco municipal waywardness, SFPUC External Affairs Assistant Manager Juliet Ellis, above left, is the $195,000 per year bureaucrat who this spring was discovered funneling San Francisco taxpayer funds to a nonprofit in Oakland where she was a paid member of the Board. Her boss, Harlan Kelly, just announced that the $200,000 grant had been refunded and that Juliet's heart was in the right place, so that everyone should move on and not look at this train wreck. (Click here for a Matier & Ross post and here for the Ethics Alarms blog detailing her behavior.)
SF Planning Director John Rahaim, above right, has been involved in his own share of controversies (click here and here), but so far he hasn't been accused of enriching himself personally through his job. Rahaim's presentation on Wednesday was refreshingly honest about how San Francisco is behind the curve when it comes to the green roof and walls movement, with our only real example being the California Academy of Sciences in Golden Gate Park.
The rooftop at 50 United Nations Plaza will unfortunately be off limits to both the public and government workers in the building, but it will make for some lovely views for neighbors, and there is a huge, newly redesigned outdoor courtyard in the center of the building.
May a thousand rooftops bloom.