Green Roof Inspires New York School: Video

I grew up watching movies set in New York City, so I have many pre-conceived images of life there. A peaceful garden on top of a school was not one of those images. PS 41 is this magical school with the green roof. It is an Eco-School, part of National Wildlife Federation’s program to support schools doing green things (PS stands for public school in New York. I guess when you have 1700 schools, you give them numbers). We visited to gather their story, to inspire other schools. National Wildlife Federation supported the project with a grant, and going forward, we’ll be sharing our expertise in environmental education and curriculum development to support the teachers as they start to use the green roof in their studies.

Green Roof on PS 41 in New York
Green Roof on PS 41 in New York
In New York, it’s probably normal to have a school squeezed between hundreds of shops, but when I first turned the corner and found PS 41, I was shocked to see a school. My daily walk to my children’s elementary school in Virginia passes woods and a big green lawn. No lawn here—concrete sidewalks across the front, concrete playground in the back with tall buildings forming walls on all sides. If I was a parent of a child in such a school, I would look up too. There was no space down at ground level.

The only space was on the roof. PS 41 felt very vertical to me. I climbed up and down the four flights of stairs about fifty times during our interviews. But I grew to love that climb. I climbed up to one of the most peaceful places I have ever visited. When I reached the top and looked out at the green roof, it was the smell that surprised me the most. It smelled wonderful—like a meadow. Even though the plants there are very tiny, they gave the most wonderful scent. Most of the plants are succulents, or plants that live without much soil or water. There is only about four inches of soil under those plants. The architects had to minimize the weight of the green roof components because the roof wasn’t built to hold all those plants and people. A green roof was likely not on the agenda when they built PS 41 decades ago.

Only forty adults can be on the roof at one time, which adds to its tranquility, if you ask me. I wish my video diary could convey the smell, but just imagine you are in a meadow, and hopefully the visuals will transport you there: [youtube][/youtube]

In the coming weeks, our plan is to share stories about the amazing people who made this green roof a reality. As a parent, I can’t imagine signing up to such a project – so much work, fundraising, engineering research. But my co-workers scoffed at my skepticism. They said, “Carla, can’t you see? When you have such a big dream, you are magnet to amazing people, and they help you get it done.” Big dreams – I’m familiar with that. I know these folks inspired me with my big dreams and I hope they do the same for you. In the meantime, consider registering your school as an Eco-School and join our big dream today!