Increasing temperatures a result of climate change is no longer deniable as year after year, news headlines update on the latest record-breaking high temperatures and heat waves. Many governments have pushed for actions to address rising temperatures and reduce effects of climate change. The consequences associated with higher temperatures are especially prominent in cities due to the urban heat island effect, a phenomenon in which cities tend to be significantly warmer than the surrounding rural areas.
Trees and plants are crucial in cooling down the air through evapotranspiration, the process where water evaporates from the leaves and soil. In New York City, there is a $106 million initiative called Cool Neighborhoods NYC aimed at painting roofs with a reflective coating and planting trees in high need neighborhoods.
The infrastructure of modern cities is a double-edged sword: strong and reliable materials used in buildings and roads such as concrete and black asphalt absorb heat and warms up the surrounding air not only during the day but also at night. Cities are meant to be accessible so buildings are clustered together and space is one of the biggest limitations in cities.
My proposal is to take advantage of the vertical space in cities and implement green roofs on schools. Roofs of schools are often under managed and largely ignored. This underutilized space can be transformed and repurposed into a garden with plants and green life. Plants cool the surrounding air which can help reduce electricity costs for schools. By decreasing air conditioning usage, schools can reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Plants absorb carbon dioxide to do photosynthesis and release oxygen which combats the greenhouse gases warming the environment. Furthermore, the soil can absorb rainwater and prevent stormwater runoff. Because the pavements of cities do not absorb water, rainwater flows through the streets of cities collecting pollutants and eventually contaminating waterways and causing sewage overflows.
Having green roofs in schools can also provide an educational benefit to students and increase environmental stewardship. Students have a more intimate relationship with nature and plants when it integrated into their school environment. Young people can be involved in this effort by taking care of the plants and learning about the environment in science class. Students will learn to appreciate nature and can be proud that they are taking an active effort in combating climate change.
This is not only beneficial for students but for teachers as well. Having an accessible garden creates a plethora of new, creative teaching ideas to incorporate into their lesson plans. Teaching can be a stressful job and teachers are often underappreciated for their work. It would be beneficial for teachers to have a place to destress and unplug during breaks. Studies have shown that plants can improve mental health and reduce stress.
Colorful rooftop aesthetics, cooler temperatures, improved air quality are positive externalities that all residents in the community can enjoy. Furthermore, there are potential positive economic carryovers as well. Jobs will be created since the roofs will need to be regularly maintained. In addition, data has historically shown parks and green spaces tend to increase real estate prices in the surrounding area, this is known as the Proximate Principle.
Public schools are not privately owned lands, so it will not require purchasing or renting land which makes this proposal cost-effective. If a public school system was to implement this, they will need to negotiate and create a replicable blueprint to be implemented in the school district. Schools are scattered throughout the city, in both low and high income neighborhoods. The proposal can tackle concerns equity disparity and scalability by providing people in underserved communities the same quality of green roofs as those in wealthier neighborhoods since it will be an initiative by the public school system. This program can be piloted in a small city and it is scalable since schools are dispersed throughout the country and the land, the rooftop, is already there.
Having green roofs on top of schools can provide residents of the communities especially low income communities with better quality and cooler air. People in low income neighborhoods are especially vulnerable to the deadly effects of warmer temperature such as heat strokes because of cramped living spaces and a lack of air conditioning. More Americans die from heat waves than other forms of extreme weathers and between 1979 and 2010, approximately 8,000 Americans have died from heat related illnesses.
According to the National Center for Education Statistics, there are approximately 98,800 public schools in the United States. With green roofs, we can shape and influence the ongoing challenge with climate change by improving the air quality and increasing awareness of this universal issue. The first step to combating climate change is education and there is no place more fitting than a school.
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