All Photos by Linda S. Velazquez Unless Otherwise Noted
After three long years, many of us in the living architecture community were reunited in Philadelphia last week for the CitiesAlive 2022: The Homecoming.
If you didn’t attend, you can imagine how wonderful it was to see friends and colleagues again! Here’s my account, and hopefully we’ll see you next year:
Green Infrastructure & Water in a Changing Climate in Philly and Beyond
We had all gathered here 11 years ago at CitiesAlive 2011 and we know that Philadelphia has some of the cleanest, best water in the US, as well as some excellent stormwater practices. These attributes really matched well with this year’s CitiesAlive 2022 theme of “Green Infrastructure & Water in a Changing Climate.”
I signed up for the “Introduction to Biodiversity and Ecodesign” training on Sunday October 16, and it was presented by Blaine Stand, an extremely intelligent, knowledgeable, and eloquent speaker/facilitator. The goal here is a circular economy with a high level of understanding of our four levels of ecosystems in North America including resilience and mitigation. What is the site’s carrying capacity? GRHC advocates for using biodiversity as a technical detail, and suggests identifying zones and projected outcomes on greenroof plans.
At 5:00 pm Green Roofs for Healthy Cities’ (GRHC) Steven Peck welcomed everyone back at the Opening Plenary on Sunday, and reviewed many of our association’s endeavors and accomplishments. Thanks for the shoutout to Greenroofs.com by Steven!
Steven said their Three Point Plan for Green Infrastructure Solutions was so good they all deserved to be number 1s, which provided a good chuckle!
We had an excellent Opening Keynote with Randy Hayman, Esq., CEO of the Philadelphia Water Department who took over the reins from Howard Neukrug in 2019. He discussed the challenges and opportunities of implementing the $2.5 billion Green City, Clean Waters program, which revolutionized how US cities approach land and water management for sustainability and resiliency. He also talked about environmental and racial injustice in underserved communities and how the city was proactively addressing these issues through community involvement. As Randy spoke about investing in the future from both a people and green infrastructure standpoint, his flair and easy demeanor was both enlightening and entertaining.
“We recently passed our 10-year milestone with this initiative, and we are exceeding our goals. Coming into the start of 2022, we were officially managing stormwater from nearly 2,200 acres of impervious surfaces using green infrastructure. That all adds up to a more than 3-billion-gallon reduction in the annual combined sewer overflow volume.” ~ Randy Hayman, Esq., CEO of the Philadelphia Water Department, Living Architecture Monitor Fall 2022
Afterwards we all gathered on the Trade Show floor and mingled with sponsors and exhibitors, getting to see theirs wares up close. We caught up with old colleagues at their booths: American Hydrotech, Carlisle Syntec Systems, LiveRoof & LiveWall, rooflite, Sika Sarnafil, Jakob Rope Systems, Chatfield Green Roofing, Naturcycle, and Recover Green Roofs – plus got to see the work of others with whom we weren’t that familiar. The DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel provided excellent food and beverages for the entire conference, by the way.
Aramis and I went to dinner with one of our favorite people, Ed Snodgrass of Emory Knoll Farms/ Green Roof Plants, whom we’ve known for years now. We had a cozy dinner of tapas-style small plates and very creative drink offerings at a fantastic vegan place called “Charlie was a sinner.” – was being the operative word here but we’re not sure why – perhaps because the intimate, dark cafe/bar is located in an once-seedy area known for porn shops! I just had to start out with an intriguing drink called “Witch’s Rave” (champagne, vodka, Pimm’s, Italian aperitif, cucumber, mint, and lemon, in case you’re interested).
On Monday morning it was great to hear again from Keynote Howard Neukrug, PE., whom we last saw in 2011. He is the affable former Commissioner and CEO of the Philadelphia Water Department who created the multi-billion Green City, Clean Waters stormwater infrastructure plan for Philadelphia, and the current Executive Director of The Water Center at the University of Pennsylvania. He’s also a Professor of Practice in the Earth and Environmental Sciences Department where he is establishing a Water Center and teaching courses on “The Water Industry in the 21st Century” and “The Role of Water in Urban Sustainability and Resiliency.”
On to the choosing between the 4 Tracks of Design, Research, Policy, and Panels & Products Showcase – always a problem!
While I mostly sat in on the Design speakers, I did move around to each of the others, too, and Aramis as well. I greatly enjoyed seeing and hearing from the lovely Rose Henry-Seeger of Green City Resources who shared her experiences with “Nature or Nurture: A Holistic Oasis in a Trauma Setting.” A naturally empathetic speaker, her compassion for hospital patients, their families, and healthcare providers is evident in her sensitive designs which create a beautiful user experience for all.
I switched over to the Panel Track next and listened to the very interesting “The Rise of Blue-Green Roof Design for Stormwater Management” with our good colleagues Richard Hayden from American Hydrotech, David Yocca from the Green Infrastructure Foundation, Laura Hansplant from Studio Sustena (formerly Roofmeadow), and Eyal Mirelman from BLDVEG based in Tel Aviv. Except for David, all have been gracious speakers at our Greenroofs & Walls of the World™ Virtual Summits (we’d love to have David as a presenter, too, in the future!). Also on the Panel was Friso Klapwijk from Wavin of the Netherlands, where there are currently about 2,000 greenroofs.
Former GRHC Chair Peter Lowitt of Devens Enterprise Commission did an excellent job of moderating and asked great lead in questions! Each panelist brought their own perspective as to what materials are being used and how people are adjusting their designs globally, in the arid Middle East to Chicago to the Netherlands to Philadelphia.
Next up: At the Product Showcase we listened to Charles Duprey of Naturcycle and Bob Parker of Chatfield Roofing followed by a “Panel on Soil Science” with Joe DiNorscia of rooflite; Charles Duprey of Naturcycle; and Dr. Anna Droz with a PhD in Ecology from Kent State University (now with LiveRoof/LiveWall). Dr. Reid Coffman from Kent State did a great job of moderating, and added nicely to the mix.
After a delicious lunch on the Trade Show Floor, I went to the Research Track “Panel on Biodiversity and Living Architecture.” This excellent panel was moderated by Allyssa Decker, Professor of Environmental Science and Green Roof Researcher at Dickinson College, and panelists included Bruce Dvorak, Associate Professor at Texas A&M University Department of Landscape Architecture and Urban Planning (who also held an earlier book signing for his Ecoregional Green Roofs); the wonderful Dr. Olyssa Starry, Associate Professor at Portland State University; and Dr. Dustin R. Partridge, Director of Conservation & Science, NYC Audubon Society.
I moderated the last two sessions in the Design Track for the day: “Blue/Green Roof Integration in an Urban Desert Environment” by our good friend Eyal Mirelman from Israel. He spoke of his long commitment to greening his country with a great contrast of climates – from high heat and arid to the occasional snow in a challenging Mediterranean/Desert mix. Eyal’s journey has been arduous but his company BLDVEG (Building Vegetation) has tested and gradually introduced a simplified and economical blue roof integration which goes side by side with their greenroof program. He says, “Our urban environment grows faster than the industry adapts, with multiple fronts to address on a municipal level.”
Hyun-Jung Kim of WRT Design spoke about Verdant Temple, Temple University’s landscape master plan to create a more unified and cohesive campus environment. Specifically, she presented the repair and redesign of Anderson & Gladfelter Terrace—a formerly unwelcome 1-acre site with an existing plaza deck which was reprogrammed to create a more inviting and accessible environment for students and faculty.
We headed over to the Trade Show Floor for drinks and hors d’oeuvres and the promise of a GRP Meet-up and Networking Happy Hour at Cira Green, but a prompt deluge nixed that plan. So a bunch of us including Eyal, Ed Snodgrass, the lovely Roxanne Miller from Soprema and Olyssa Starry from Portland State, and the always good-natured Ben Flanner from Brooklyn Grange went to Estia, an excellent Greek Mediterranean restaurant. We shared some amazingly good food, and I’m sure we would all highly recommend it!
David Yocca, Chair of the Green Infrastructure Foundation was our Master of Ceremonies for the Morning Plenary, and as always, did a fantastic job. He presented “Integrated Design Strategies for Urban Water Management” and shared successes of the Green Infrastructure Foundation. He talked about their Charrette Program engaging local residents with proposed designs along with case studies including the LAPT (Living Architecture Performance Tool) Platinum Certified Meerkat Exhibit at the John Ball Zoo in Grand Rapids, MI. He then introduced us to Keynote Naomi Davis, a long time colleague.
Our final Keynote on Tuesday morning was enthusiastically delivered by the outstanding, vivacious, and fierce (in a good way!) Naomi Davis, the Founder and President of Blacks in Green (BIG). A true good-natured force of nature, Naomi shared her vision and passion of building healthy, green, and equitable spaces in Chicago’s South Side.
BIG’s signature Sustainable Square Mile is the gold standard for Black community development, and Naomi shared the stage with a diverse group of members who each spoke about their 8-point system for “Green Village Building.” She says this problem-solving metric can be applied to Black communities throughout the country. What a unique and inspirational group of individuals dedicated to the integration of social justice and green infrastructure!
Afterwards, my session block started out great with Dr. Anna Droz’s “Spontaneous Vegetation in Three Types of Engineered Media.” She showed different options for the growing substrate, including long pieces of dried Phragmites Reed, a method we had witnessed in Basel back in about 2006 or so.
My own “Top 10 World-Changing Blue-Green Infrastructure Designs to Cool Our Warming Planet” presentation was to follow. For the first time ever at any CitiesAlive, I was given an hour which was to be a treat since – as everyone knows who has seen me before – my Top 10 Lists always seem to run over time!
But alas, the laptop refused to cooperate. After some major troubleshooting by Blaine, they swapped out two more laptops and after about 35-40 minutes I was able to start. It’s funny that I even had removed my two “funnies” that I usually start out with plus another project I had added because I wanted to make sure I didn’t rush through it!
We knew I wouldn’t be able to finish but we did have a 15-minute break scheduled after my presentation, so I got to as far as almost finishing the #3 category in my countdown to #1. I promised to narrate it, create a video, and post it on Greenroofs.com we when returned. Steven also offered to post it on the Living Architecture Monitor.
I have to say I feel I curated some excellent and outstanding examples of Blue-Green Infrastructure Designs from across the planet, so look for our post and video coming soon.
One other note: I was bummed to have been scheduled “against” Roxanne Miller of Soprema/Sopranature Canada – one, we really like her and two, we wanted to learn more from her presentation “IGA Rooftop Farm – Always Growing.” I do know it’s a fantastic example of urban rooftop agriculture, and we’ll have to showcase it soon as an upcoming Featured Project.
For our last session it was a toss up, but we decided on “Cira Green: Weaving Stormwater Management into Urban Amenity Space” since we had spotlighted this important elevated stormwater park as a previous Featured Project and I wanted to learn more – plus I had included it in my 2022 Top 10 List. Co-presented by landscape architect Laura Hansplant of Studio Sustena and architect Scott Erdy of Erdy McHenry Architecture, it was a lively and insightful discussion of how they designed this unique, forward-thinking, and now iconic blue greenroof.
Jeffrey L. Bruce Awards of Excellence Ceremony at CitiesAlive 2022
Awards for companies, people, and projects were highlighted at the Jeffrey L. Bruce Awards of Excellence Ceremony – congratulations to all!
Projects honored included: in the Extensive Commercial/Industrial/Institutional Green Roof category Recover Green Roofs won for its University of Hartford project; Intensive Commercial/Industrial/Institutional Green Roof: Omni Ecosystems won for its 4131 State St project; Interior Green Wall: Parker Plants won for its Drexel University Living Green Wall; and in the Small Scale Residential Green Roof: Omni Ecosystems won again for its 5665 Woodlawn project.
Many awards were also presented to worthy industry professionals who contributed exceptionally to Green Roofs for Healthy Cities, here are just a few recipients below:
GRHC Founder and President Steven Peck closed the CitiesAlive 2022 proceedings with his “Accelerating the Green Infrastructure Revolution” where he referenced Drawdown, The Book edited by Paul Hawkin which placed Green and Cool Roofs at #73 in their 100 list. Steven declared that we in the greenroof and wall industry can continue to tackle climate change by increasing the coverage of greenroofs across North America and the world. He then opened up final discussion with a panel including the wonderful Virginia (Jennie) Russell of the University of Cincinnati & Chair of the International GRP Committee and Liz Hart Morris of Green Up Roofing plus Matt Barmore, Chair of GRHC and IKO Commercial. Engaging the audience they asked us what was the future we’d like to see and how can we do it? Together!
Most of us met after the Closing Plenary for the social culmination of CitiesAlive 2022 – a lovely cruise, dinner and drinks on the Delaware River aboard the Rendezvous. We almost missed the actual dinner below the private yacht because we were so engaged with our friends, but we made it, finally! A great time was had by all attendees.
Wednesday morning welcomed in cold and blustering winds for our Cira Green Tour. We met our fellow tour goers and leaders Laura Hansplant and an architect from Erdy McHenry Architecture whose name I missed atop Cira Green. What an outstanding space and project! All designers should be lauded for their very innovative blue-green infrastructure!
Closing Thoughts of CitiesAlive 2022
CitiesAlive 2022 was a smaller gathering but more intimate this year, I’m sure because of the effects of Covid, but nonetheless engaging and fruitful. We certainly hope to see many, many more of you next year! We really missed seeing many of our friends scattered around North America and the world, but it was so good spending time with those who were here in lovely Philadelphia. By the way, don’t miss Jim Mumford of Good Earth Plants’ “Can Green Roofs Save The World?” article about his take on CitiesAlive 2022, too.
Green Roofs for Healthy Cities has been doing a great job as our industry association, and we need to support them by attending these important events – plus we all benefit by learning what’s new AND getting to see some of our favorite people every time.
Visit CitiesAlive to see more photos and learn more. Until next time,
Love the Earth, Plant a Roof (or Wall)!