Thursday, June 13, 2024

As the first signature of 450 to appear on citizen petitions that Mothers Out Front presented to the city clerk, my name suddenly represented the campaign to bring green roofs to Cambridge. For months, everywhere this petition went, my name led the way, from the City Council’s Ordinance Committee (twice) and the Planning Board (once) to the City Council at the start of its legislative journey, then two more times before its favorable vote May 3.

My goal as petitioner Amy Oliver (on behalf of Mothers Out Front), was to revise our city’s moribund green roofs zoning ordinance, which had been part of zoning documents since 2009 without making any difference to you or me. For a dozen years, developers in our city built lots of buildings – more than 70 big ones greater than 25,000 square feet. The earlier green roof ordinance had no requirement (only definitions and regulations), and no developer was motivated by zoning language to install a vegetative roof on their buildings.

There was nothing revolutionary in what Mothers Out Front wanted in a stronger green roof ordinance for our city. Cities such as Toronto, Canada; Portland, Oregon; Seattle; San Francisco; New York City; and Washington, D.C., have plantings on rooftops, and some even include solar panels, a combination called biosolar. These rooftops are made into meadows and pollinator habitats, such as on buildings across the river at the Harvard Business School. Boston is home to two working farms on rooftops – at Boston Medical Center and Fenway Park, where each produces nutritious veggies that are served on the premises.

“With the passage of its revised green roofs ordinance, Cambridge joins a growing list of cities across North America to have required green roofs in recent years,” noted Jeff Joslin, a board member of this industry’s national organization, Green Roofs for Healthy Cities. “The proliferation of green roofs is contributing significantly to carbon reduction and climate change efforts, resulting in cost savings for buildings while adding value and quality to respective properties and those around them. Green Roofs for Healthy Cities commends the City of Cambridge for taking this bold and impactful action.”

Thank you to the six of our city councillors voting “yes” – Dennis Carlone, Marc McGovern, Patty Nolan, Jivan Sobrinho-Wheeler, Quinton Zondervan and Mayor Sumbul Siddiqui.

The city’s Green Roofs zoning ordinance mandates that most new buildings of 25,000-plus square feet have rooftop vegetation or biosolar. Any new 100 percent affordable housing development is exempted. Commercial developers may select a payment-in-lieu of into the Cambridge Affordable Trust fund to be used by affordable housing developers to install green and biosolar roofs. Cambridge municipal buildings were also made exempt. Finally, for any 25,000-square-foot or larger construction dedicated to non-lab or non-commercial use, developers will have a third option for their rooftops: solar panels only.

Mothers Out Front pushed this petition because of the overwhelming evidence that they provide systemic solutions to our climate crisis. Among the benefits, green roofs filter air pollutants, reduce flooding by lessening stormwater runoff, double the life of most roofs and better insulate buildings, making them more energy efficient. And there are proven connections between looking at vegetation and Improving mental health.

This new city ordinance isn’t where the revised Green Roofs zoning ordinance by “petitioner Amy Oliver” started out. The deliberative process of public debate amended our vision. Still, the council’s passage of our amended petition makes Cambridge the first New England city to mandate that developers build green roofs.

Now, that is a petition I’m happy to have my name on. We appreciate the 450 or so Cambridge residents who, in the midst of Covid-19, signed this petition – not electronically, but by hand. This victory is widely shared by the many people in Cambridge who also showed up to speak at committee and Planning Board hearings and kept showing up at the several council meetings where we brought it over the finish line. Others communicated their support to councillors via emails, phone calls and tweets.

Please join us in celebrating by making green roofs happen, especially in our neighborhoods where urban heat islands are most harmful to residents. As the named petitioner in the green roofs campaign, let me welcome the developers in our city to seek out information about how best to create green roofs for your buildings and to be curious about the new technology that enables the combination of vegetation and solar panels to work well, and to seize this opportunity to play a significant role in building the resilience we need to prepare for the consequences of climate change.

Amy Oliver, for Mothers Out Front