A tale of two cities



This tiny demo green roof was completed for a Buffalo Show House project. Photo Buffalo Rising/Queenseyes

A story about Spokane and
Seattle illustrates the dichotomy inherent in making sustainability part of
city planning. When he was mayor of Spokane in 2001, John Powers proposed a
green roof for Spokane’s City Hall. Chicago’s City Hall had one, after all. He
was literally laughed out of the Common Council Chambers when one of the councilmen
dressed up in bib overalls and handed out gardening gloves to his fellow
legislators (hmm, wonder what make they were?).

Now Powers
lives in Seattle
, where he works as an attorney and consultant, in a building
with a massive green roof, and there have since been quite a number of green roofs installed in
Spokane (but still not on City Hall).  The antics of the councilman struck a chord with me though. In
smaller municipal areas, the educational process is slower and the awareness is
often just not there.

I would have no problem with my tax dollars helping to pay
for conference travel (politicians always go to them anyway) if it helped them
learn about urban farms, city chickens, green roofs, conserving storm run-off,
rain gardens, preventing urban food deserts, and whatever else. Sure, it can be
in Las Vegas, because they won’t go unless it is.  They’ll pick something up. We can’t all be Chicago and
Seattle; something needs to be done, because good ideas aren’t percolating down
fast enough.

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Elizabeth Licata

Elizabeth Licata has been a regular writer for  Garden Rant since 2007, after contributing a guest rant about the overuse of American flags in front gardens. She lives and gardens in Buffalo, N.Y., which, far from the frozen wasteland many assume it to be, is a lush paradise of gardens, historic architecture, galleries, museums, theaters, and fun. As editor of Buffalo Spree magazine,  Licata helps keep Western New Yorkers apprised about what is happening in their region. She is also a freelance writer and art curator, who’s been published in Fine Gardening, Horticulture, ArtNews, Art in America, the Village Voice, and many other publications. She does regularly radio segments for the local NPR affiliate, WBFO.

Licata is involved with Garden Walk Buffalo, the largest free garden tour in the US and possibly the world,and has written the text for a book about Garden Walk. She has also written and edited several art-related books. Contact Elizabeth: ealicata at yahoo.com


  1. Politicians can be so short-sighted! If only they realized that adopting sustainable practices like green roofs and rain gardens would save them money and help allay serious stormwater management issues. Green roofs, in addition to slowing down the flow of water into the stormwater system, insulate the buildings, making them cooler in summer and warmer in winter, and thus giving large savings in heating and cooling costs.

    I wish they would spend a little less time worrying about your chickens and my tomatoes and instead worry about the factory farms where most of the food-related problems arise.

    Thanks to you for continuing to bring these issues to light. If just one person “gets it” from your posts, then we are a little further ahead.

  2. Ooh, I’m with you on that! Living in a small town myself, I could almost see that antic happening at our city meetings. The problem I see is that a lot of the local politicians think that we’re too different from the big cities (being small and rural) and thus don’t want the same things. It’s maddening.

  3. It would be a lot easier to have a green tin roof and plant trees into the ground. Cities need trees, not some succulents on the roof for who knows what. Give it up. Dig a big wide whole in the earth and plant a tree.

  4. Crass Commercialism in a garden rant post ( BGI)? Now I am suspicious of my own industry.

    Best marketing by a politico handing out trowels. This guy gets it.

    The TROLL

  5. Troll, we get spam/advertising comments like that all the time; generally we delete them before many see them.

    Brain and Kathy, I didn’t comment on that because I didn’t know what to say. But I did leave the comment in case others were interested. It is news, I agree.

  6. “In smaller municipal areas, the educational process is slower and the awareness is often just not there.”

    This strikes me as a bit simplistic and condescending. Say, rather, that people in smaller towns may have less sympathy for expensive vanity projects than people in more “enlightened” areas. I love green roofs, but cheap they are not.

  7. Astra,

    I have attended many council meetings in Buffalo and know many of our legislators personally, so at least as far as Buffalo I am speaking from experience. They really don’t know, in most cases.

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