“520 Kingsland Avenue” in white paint brands a red brick building inside a fenced parking lot at the end of the street. Crews from Broadway Stages, a film production company, carried large wooden boards to their construction inside. As different film and television projects were ongoing in this building, the rooftop was rather serene.
The view on this 22,000-square-foot green roof is breathtaking –– a 360-degree view of Greenpoint, the Manhattan skyline, eight silver “digester eggs” from the Newtown Creek wastewater treatment plant, trash, construction far and near, and the East River.
Alive Structures partnered with Broadway Stages, New York City Audubon, Newtown Creek Alliance, and Greenpoint Community Environment Fund to create a science-and-education green roof, where they monitor birds, bats, and insects.
Since the project started in early 2016, the rooftop had attracted many native birds and insects to a rather industrial section of Greenpoint.
“This roof is a combination of native grasses and wildflowers, all indigenous to the east and New York State,” explains Niki Jackson, project coordinator of Kingsland Wildflowers. “They attract migratory birds, as well as many different types of pollinators.
“We also have two sedum roofs,” she added. “It helps attract birds because insects love to live in it and birds love to nest on it.”
The roof has two levels –– wild flowers on the top level, and succulent plants on the lower level. Only the top level is open to the public, where they have plants such as wild strawberries, nodding onion, tall pixies, goldenrod, native grasses, beach plums, succulent natives, New York asters, milkweed, and golden alexander.
“We thought a lot of the plant list, it’s not an easy environment, in the middle of a heavily polluted area in New York,” said Marni Majorelle, founder of Alive Structures. “But there are also similarities, the rocky soil and it’s windy. We’ve seen a lot of butterflies and bees. I think it takes longer to cultivate the birds crowd.”
There’re also other benefits of the green roof, including storing rainwater and that would otherwise end up in the sewer system and potentially lead to harmful overflows.
“Green roofs also give back to the building owner,” said Jackson. “It’s a natural form of insulation, provides hotter heat in cool months, and cools the building in warmer months.”
The Kingsland Wildflowers project was Majorelle’s brainchild. She lived in Greenpoint in 2002,
“I was aware of the historical pollution in this area, primarily from the ExxonMobil oil spill in Newtown Creek,” she said. “A couple years ago, I heard there would be a fund for Greenpoint to do environmental projects.” The settlement from Exxon Mobile became the Greenpoint Community Environmental Fund.
In early 2015, she met Tony Argento, founder of Broadway Stages, and shared her vision.
“Broadway Stages had a long-term commitment to the Greenpoint community, they already had one green roof and installed solar panels,” said Majorelle. “We met and went back and forth, then we found other partners.”
They made the application the next year and got approved by the community.
“Now we have a great place in the community for people to come and learn more about green infrastructure, natural habitat, and the industry that exists in this neighborhood,” said Majorelle. “A lot of people are not aware of how intensely industrial Greenpoint still is.
“And this is a pretty amazing view,” she said. “You’re surrounded by the trash that New York City produces, but you also see the beautiful skyline.”
In spring, Kingsland Wildflowers will host more educational workshops and seminars, as well as aiming to work with local schools and colleges in the Brooklyn area in order to get students more involved in green infrastructure.
“I’m also working with a group of local Greenpoint artists,” said Jackson. “We’ll talk about sustainability in the fashion and art world. We’ll do natural-dye workshops using some of the wildflowers grown here on this roof.”
“I’m just stunned. I think people have a real appetite to see more of these green roofs,” said Majorelle. “I think it’s filling something that’s hollow in a lot of New Yorkers. We don’t even realize how much we miss this sense of nature.”