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august 2003

D.C. Greenworks

d.c. greenworks logo

Community, Environmental Sustainability and Green Roof Technology
By Dawn Gifford

DC Greenworks is the Washington, DC subsidiary of Community Resources, a regional, technical assistance nonprofit organization that brings innovative ideas, tools and experience, empowering urban communities to improve their social, physical and natural environments.

Our mission is to help solve urban environmental and economic problems by fostering local environmental expertise and community stewardship. DCG works in partnership with community groups, public agencies, businesses, and nonprofit organizations to develop community-based environmental programs that address the environmental, social and economic issues facing urban Washington.

DC Greenworks and the Greenroof Team

The Greenroof Team

DC Greenworks’ focus is on services performed in the green industry in the area known as low impact development (LID). LID focuses on the integration of sustainable practices in landscape and building design including green roof technology, rain gardens, constructed wetlands, stormwater management and pervious surfaces. DCG serves the Greater Washington, DC area with competitive green roof and rain garden installation services, as well as park build-outs and forest, streambank, and wetland restorations while training and employing at-risk young adults in the skills necessary to meet the growing demand for these new, technical environmental services. In partnership with the Urban Forestry Administration of the DC Government, we also provide interested residents with free neighborhood tree plantings and stewardship education, including workshops on planting, maintenance and pruning.

DC Greenworks’ main concern is that low-income communities are being almost entirely left behind in the introduction and proliferation of new environmental technologies such as green roofs. The nascent market for green roofs and LID not only presents an incredible opportunity for local “green collar” job creation and entrepreneurship within urban areas, but also a offers unique community-based venue to bring these best practices to the most environmentally blighted and economically depressed areas of the city, where they are needed most.

Team Deck Construction

DC Greenworks’ “green collar” and environmental training programs primarily serve two of the most diverse urban communities of Washington, DC—Shaw around 14th and W Streets, NW; and Anacostia “east of the river.” Our two communities are often described by their needs, or thought of only in negative terms. The word “Anacostia,” to many in DC—and even around the country—recalls images of blight, crime, and a lack of public or private investment. Anacostia is the forgotten part of our nation’s capital—a place that many of the political and economic elite would rather ignore until it comes time to site public housing projects and prisons. It is separated from the bulk of the city by the Anacostia River—which has in turn allowed it to become an out-of-sight host for the city's mentally ill, indigent elderly, impounded cars, and sewage.

Shaw is often described in contrast to the “more stable” communities that surround it, or thought of for its drug corners and social needs. Many of the more affluent residents of the District avoid Shaw, or at least lock their doors when they have to drive through. Outsiders often describe the problems of our neighborhood with binders called “community profiles” that list “objective statistics” of crime, employment, and income. The solutions for our neighborhood are often prescribed by “experts.” People see Shaw for the trash, boarded buildings, and violence that are common in our neighborhood. And of course, race becomes inextricably linked with these perceptions of our communities.

We begin to see ourselves through these eyes as well, and tied up with the “negative” pictures comes a loss of pride in our communities, our environment, and ourselves. The way we treat our environment has a lot to do with how we feel about our community and ourselves. And the reverse is also true.

Yet our communities are also places of resources. They both have a rich history and culture. Anacostia is the home of many historic houses, including the Frederick Douglass Home, and it hosts the Smithsonian’s Anacostia Museum of African-American history. Shaw was once “Duke Ellington’s Washington” and the home of many musicians and civil rights activists. Today, in Malcolm X Park, a troupe of African drummers regularly practices bringing to life the beat of our community, and residents can still feel that sense of culture here.

We have two main goals in mind when serving the Shaw and Anacostia communities:

1. Improve neighborhood environments through community-based urban forestry and LID installations on public, private and community spaces, thereby strengthening the culture of natural resource stewardship and the community’s capacity in these neighborhoods. Green roofs are extremely beautiful and can provide a needed, relaxing greenspace for apartment dwellers with a view of or access to the roof. Because they can be an attractive common space, much like a park, they can facilitate community by bringing neighbors together. Green roofs also dampen sound, which can provide urban residents a needed respite from noise pollution. Green roofs are also relatively easy to install, so they lend themselves to the development of community projects as well as businesses that can provide jobs to relatively unskilled workers.

Early Construction of Matthew Henson Greenroof

In 2001, DC Greenworks, in partnership with the Earth Conservation Corps, received a $75,000 grant from the TKF Foundation to transform a desolate, industrial part of Southeast, Washington, DC into a sacred greenspace. This project was the first major demonstration of cutting edge urban forestry, low impact development (LID) and pollution prevention technologies in DC. The park—named Matthew Henson Park after the long-neglected African-American co-discoverer of the North Pole—was the first HUD Brownfields cleanup site in Washington. DCG was among the team of professionals who designed the park, and also led the education and training of the Eagle Corps members themselves, who did most of the physical labor in building this park.

Matthew Henson Park hosts an old utility pumphouse which has been converted by the Navy Seabees into a museum space that has sturgeon tanks and raptor cages to rehabilitate and reintroduce native species to the bioregion. The museum, still in development, will feature interactive exhibits and educational segments on the Anacostia watershed, pollution prevention and sustainable design, including green roofs.

To handle storm-water run off from the street and parking lot, several rain gardens were constructed and planted to channel and filter the run-off before it reaches the river. The site also includes a fishing pier, a hiker-biker trail, a quiet lookout point in the trees, restored riparian and forest habitat, and outdoor classroom space. The new Anacostia Riverwalk currently under construction will pass through the Matthew Henson Park. When it is complete, the park will be fully open to the public.

Kiosk Courtesy Dawn Gifford

The Matthew Henson Greenroof Kiosk

The pinnacle of the demonstration park is its green roof. The 600 square-foot roof of the museum building is entirely covered with sedum species that have well established themselves over the last three years. Materials and expertise were generously donated by Katrin Scholz-Barth, Ed Snodgrass of GreenRoof Plants, and EnkaDrain. In the parking lot, there is also a green-roofed kiosk offering visitors information about the park’s features. The Matthew Henson green roof was DC’s first green roof project.

Since completing the Matthew Henson park, we have been working with the Shaw Ecovillage EcoDesign Corps, a youth urban-planning internship program, to build a green-roofed shed, rain garden and rain-barrel demonstration on their office site in Shaw, NW. We will also be working with them this fall on community-based urban forestry projects, with the intention of training the youth in community outreach and tree stewardship so they can organize their neighbors to plant every empty street tree pit remaining in the Shaw community.

DC Greenworks' Greenroof Plants

Planning the Different Greenroof Plants

2. Enhance economic opportunities for residents through green job training and placement and through locally owned green business development. The green roof is a technology that is perfect for the urban setting and addresses specifically urban environmental and economic ills. With the Matthew Henson park project, we have learned that there is a quickly growing demand and market for low-impact technologies such as rain gardens and green roofs. Therefore, there is a burgeoning job market for people who have the skills to provide these services.

In creating an effective green business assistance effort, we have learned that the best approach to helping local subcontractors and individuals gain access to the green market is not only to provide training and marketing assistance, but also to take a participatory role in securing contracts in this field.

In order to build the capacity of community contractors in this field, we bid on LID contracts and offer subcontracts and training to unemployed youth and small businesses that will qualify them to perform this work without us in the future. During the next three years we will combine efforts to both build the local market for LID as well as serve it by creating a pool of qualified individuals and small businesses ready to perform the work. By the end of the three year period we hope to turn over all Requests for Quote (RFQ’s) and Requests for Proposals (RFP’s) for LID work such as green roofs, rain garden construction and tree planting to subcontractors. At that time DC Greenworks may offer consulting and training to community contractors, develop new emerging markets and expertise for the subcontractor network, or cease operations.

DC Greenworks has received many RFQs for green roofs and other LID projects in the region, and we are increasingly a recognized and sought-after authority in green roofing and LID. We recently completed two rain gardens at a police substation in Capitol Hill, and are bidding on future rain garden projects in that neighborhood. We are almost finished with the rooftop deck of one of Washington’s premier restaurant/bars, The Reef, which features extensive landscape design in the dining area and soon, a green roof. The rooftop design has generated accolades in the local and trade press, and the new restaurant has greatly benefited from the attention.

This August, we are also currently serving a small contract for what will be DC’s first homeowner green roof. We are also proud to announce that we have recently been granted $60,000 from the DC Environmental Health Administration and the NFWS to complete DC’s first high-elevation green roof in a high-density commercial district. All of our commercial contracts and LID grants serve as hiring and training opportunities for young people living in Shaw or Anacostia.

To further the market for LID while creating jobs, we have a relationship with the DC Department of Parks and Recreation to provide their new employees (hired from Shaw and Anacostia) with landscape and LID training. Through their community education programming, we will offer workshops on green roofs and rain gardens to the general public this fall. This past year, we also worked with the U.S. Navy, the EPA Chesapeake Bay Program, and the Covenant House to develop a restorative landscaping and LID curriculum to train Covenant House youth for jobs in this field. We hope to implement this curriculum in the winter of 2004 with the intention of training and placing fifteen youths into green collar jobs that spring.

Community Members Working on Greenroof Construction

Community & Commitment are Key to Environmental Sustainability

Wherever people in the world are subsisting rather than thriving, the environment suffers. In many ways, caring for the environment is a luxury that some cannot afford…yet. DC Greenworks believes that you can’t have environmental sustainability without economic sustainability. Creating equitable access to environmental education, jobs, and best practices for low-income and struggling communities is crucial if we ever hope to have regional—or even international—environmental sustainability. DC Greenworks is proud to be working—in our own small way and in our own community—to bridge the gap between the ecosystem and the economy, and to create a better life for those we serve.

Dawn Gifford is the Program Director of DC Greenworks. Dawn brings 13 years of curriculum development, teaching and technical expertise in permaculture, sustainable design, LID, landscaping, urban agriculture and organic gardening, green business development and community green organizing to DC Greenworks. For the past several years, she has worked with many local and regional organizations to offer environmental and horticultural training, and develop community gardens, mini-farms and green entrepreneurial projects in both the Shaw and Anacostia neighborhoods. Dawn takes a holistic approach to community greenspace, and particularly focuses her work around community ownership, long-term sustainability, and achievable results.

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