ROOFTOP WARRIORS | AMSTERDAM
by Daan van Kooten
The day I’m interviewing Micky Westerbeek it’s a rainy day in Amsterdam. We are sitting across from each other in the social space of the Zoku Hotel. For good reason, because this place was a pioneer in green roofing. When you enter, you walk past six small gardens. The restaurant, a few meters behind us, grows all of its herbs on this roof. Micky likes what she sees. “Amsterdam has a bright, green future!”
Micky is the community manager of Rooftop Revolution, a social start-up that wants to bring nature back to the city. The Amsterdam-based company sees opportunity where other people see a grey, desolate roof. We sat down to talk about the organization’s ambitions.
Hi Micky, please enlighten us on the fundamental ideas of Rooftop Revolution.
We want to make Amsterdam greener. Literally. There’s 12 km² of flat roof in the city that is not being used. We want to upgrade those rooftops, turning them into green oases. And by upgrading I mean giving people a real chance of making the rooftop revolution actually happen.
How do you plan to do that?
By managing roof projects in neighborhoods and cities. We offer advice to companies that want to preserve their property, and we offer an online toolkit and crowdfunding platform to individuals to do it themselves. With our support, all stakeholders can develop a specific business case for
their situation. We provide them with a crowdfunding and crowdsourcing platform, which allows everyone to contribute to these new natural spaces in the city.
The whole neighborhood will enjoy the sight of more green, so why not all invest, however small the amount?
I always feel the people of Amsterdam aren’t that close with their neighbors and tend to mind their own business. Is it hard to get everybody on board?
It’s funny that you say that, because working for Rooftop Revolution opened my eyes to a different picture: most of the time one person gets really excited about setting up a project with us. We call those people our ‘roof forest rangers’. Often we see that their enthusiasm brings a spark to the whole neighborhood. When they hear about the advantages that green rooftops have to offer, they want to join the rooftop revolution.
So, what is the biggest plus of getting a green roof?
For starters, research has shown that plants and flowers make us feel more happy, relaxed and healthy. A green roof could be used as recreation. Plus, a greener city benefits our health. Rooftops filled with flowers and plants clear the air from toxins that we would otherwise inhale.
Apart from the health part, it’s a great way to battle heavy rainfall. Plants and soil hold on to the water, decreasing the chance of flooded sewers and streets, a common problem in many neighborhoods in Amsterdam. And due to climate change scientists expect even more rain when the temperatures start to rise.
Now that we are getting better at certain practices, like better water management, the municipality of Amsterdam recently got involved with the project. In fact, they are willing to subsidize up to 50% of the costs for a green roof.
That’s so cool. Any other benefits?
Speaking about cool, more green is a great way to cool down the city on hot days. Roofs are black and can get really hot, like up to 80 degrees celsius. Crazy right!? The difference in temperature between in- and outside the city is around + 5-8 degrees on hot days. More plants will make sure this temperature drops, also in the houses it covers, decreasing the temperature gap.
More green will also boost biodiversity. There will be more spaces for bees, butterflies and birds.
What kinds of roofs are the most suitable?
We are aiming at the bigger rooftops with a surface of 200-1000 m². Take, for example, the roof of a typical supermarket. Because of the way Amsterdam is built, these roofs are often visible from the top floors of the surrounding houses. It would look so much better turned into a rooftop garden. It might even create a hub for residents to meet, fostering community and solidarity. The ugly roof is now a beloved place.
Can people who want to want be part of the revolution pick out their own plants?
We start by hiring a roof expert, who tells us what is and isn’t possible. Some roofs are only suited for sedum, while others are suited for cultivating fruits and vegetables. In the best case scenario there’s even room for trees. The final design is decided collectively by every party involved in the project.
So, how many roofs have you transformed from boring to green?
Well, we launched in April 2016 and just finalized our first green roof. The whole process of getting all parties involved, setting up meetings and applying for subsidy takes more time than we initially expected. That being said, we are working on 31 projects right now. 13.000 km² of roof is now in one way or another involved with Rooftop Revolution. So the revolution is really happening, also in other cities.
Alright then, that’s all well and good. But when can we expect to walk through Amsterdam and see these beautiful gardens?
Might take a while, but you bet we’ll be working on it! I’d like to think that there also will be more solar panels on the roofs by then. Green roofs and solar panels work really well together, because their efficiency peaks at sunny days with a temperature of 25 degrees. When roofs are getting hot, you’ll get less energy from them