How Green The City Garden Grows

Do you find it hard to believe green urban renewal is going on amid the congestion, noise, concrete, steel and sharp edges of New York City?

Look up my friends, and you might just see the mostly hidden but growing (pardon the pun) trend of rooftop gardens. Not just green roofs, but farms where you get dirt under your fingernails and grow food in the midst of our manicured, designer martini world.

It’s a movement being led by 21st Century hipsters, urban pioneers who are growing produce in up and coming neighborhoods, for both the community and restaurants that follow migrating, trendsetting populations.

As a commercial real estate appraiser, and the only one with a LEED-AP, BD + C designation in New York City, our property valuations consider the measureable worth of green spaces in and around a building. Landscaping adds approximately 7 percent to the average rental rate for office buildings, according to the National Resources Defense Council.

But the property value benefits of urban farming, both rooftop and ground level, have little to no empirical data. Obviously, parks and green spaces enhance the appeal and health of a city. But in a city as densely populated as New York, competition for available land is so intense that community gardens make no financial sense in many neighborhoods.

That’s why the value of ground level community gardens is significantly greater as a contributing factor to improving disadvantaged neighborhoods. As one example, in Detroit’s inner city where many buildings have been abandoned, the Michigan Urban Farming initiative is giving new life to those neighborhoods.

Here, GrowNYC’s program “builds and sustains community gardens, urban farms, school gardens and rainwater harvesting systems..” If you want a community garden, ask them for help (grownyc.com). It’s also a superb resource to find a community garden near you.

As for rooftop farms, roofs, unlike ground level spaces, are not sellable assets. A green or garden roof is an outstanding way to build value – if not actual revenue – from underutilized space. Though the city is not swimming in urban rooftop farms, growing season – May to October – is the time to ferret them out.

The Brooklyn Navy Yard Farm run by the Brooklyn Grange covers an extraordinary 68,0000 square feet. It’s the largest urban farm in the world and holds Wednesday tours. Brooklyn Grange also operates a one-acre rooftop farm on top of the 6-story Standard Motor Products Building in Long Island City.

At the Eagle Street Rooftop Farm in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, you can shop for veggies from the on-site market every last Sunday of the month and even help with planting and harvesting. Gotham Greens at Whole Foods Market in Brooklyn also offers monthly tours of its large-scale rooftop greenhouse.

In The Bronx, Arbor House, a recent development of affordable multi-family green housing, includes a fully integrated rooftop farm. Using water harvested from the roof, it provides fresh vegetables to building residents and the community. As does another Bronx development, Via Verde, with its 5,000 square foot rooftop farm. Bronx Borough President Reuben Diaz Jr.’s office has financed more than 13 green roofs in the borough. And, if the Hunts Point rooftop garden ever gets off the ground (proposals were first submitted in 2012), it will dwarf the Brooklyn Navy Yard with its 10 acres and 200,000 square feet.

On the chicer side – no getting your hands dirty here – the Westin New York Grand Central Garden offers chef-led tours of its 41st floor private garden where organic everything (right down to the eco-friendly ladybugs) is grown for their own food & beverage use.

Today’s urban gardens give an entirely new twist to the mid-19th Century advice of “Go west, young man”. Perhaps the 21st Century urban version of Manifest Destiny is to “Look up young man – or woman.” Not to mention, “If you build it, they will come.” And plant. And harvest. And shop. And eat.
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Steven_J._SchleiderBy Steven J. Schleider, MAI, LEED-AP BD + C President, Metropolitan Valuation Services