Although it concluded in 2017, the aims of the LifeMedGreenRoof Project led by the Faculty for the Built Environment are still being achieved. The project lives on through the exposure to green infrastructure future architects and engineers are getting at University. These will hopefully influence construction developers and policy makers in their decisions.
“Since we launched the green roof at University, we have indeed noted an increase and better integration of green infrastructure concepts in students’ work – a direct result of the actions resulting from the project itself”, says Antoine Gatt, a researcher who managed the LifeMedGreenRoof project at UM.
The modern concept of green roofs took off in Germany in the 80’s. Researchers sought to counter the negative effects that the building boom at the time was having on society and the environment. Green infrastructure was used to mitigate the negative issues because of urbanisation such as increased pollution levels, increased flooding and the reduction in urban biodiversity.
Just as by infrastructure we mean those basic systems and services that a country uses to work effectively, green infrastructure refers to systems making use of vegetation to provide services for the effective functioning of society. Green infrastructure include private gardens to green roofs, street trees to bioswales. Green infrastructure increase ecosystems services, which is defined as those benefits which society gains from nature and natural processes, which in turn result in a healthy environment and increase in quality of life for society.
Understandably, green infrastructure is not just there for aesthetic purposes, but they have multifarious other advantages – air purification, insulation, flood mitigation, sound buffering and the creation of amenity space, among others; which is why they are beneficial not just to the individuals who own the infrastructure, but for the entire community where they are situated.
“There’s also an element of social justice, that is we are not letting the benefits of the few hinder that of the common good”, says Antoine.
Then why hasn’t the idea of green infrastructure caught on in a commercial scale?
Some of the materials needed for the construction of the green roof at University had to be sourced from overseas, which led to a relatively high installation cost. This makes it more challenging for individuals and entities to adopt the concept, but then again, this was the case with solar panels before government incentives were introduced.
Gatt tells Newspoint that the government is on board with the idea, so much so that Minister for the Environment, Climate Change & Planning, Aaron Farrugia recently announced a number of changes to the Development Planning Fund, to encourage greener projects. There are schemes that will help greenify urban areas.
“What I wouldn’t wish for is for the introduction of green infrastructure in urban areas to somehow give developers the licence to carry on with the unbridled construction. We are trying to balance out the grey with some green, not paint a grey picture with a few green dots”, says Antoine.
Gatt, who is a landscape architect by profession, was inspired for the project after he visited Monaco and noticed the spectacular roofs adorned with flora and fauna, a stark contrast from the grey roofs in Malta covered in membrane.
He questioned why the concept hadn’t been introduced in Malta, and thus the LifeMedGreenRoof project was conceived. Through the analysis of local habitats, it was evident that the garigue offered the best plant species for use in a green roof given the similarity in exposure to climatic factors such as wind and sun.
A list of plants that can be cultivated on a green roof is available on the project website.
Gatt said the green roof is currently getting a facelift – as the team is making sure it is equipped in time for the autumn season and the pollinators the fauna brings about.
They are also testing new species of herbs and also introducing vegetables. “There is also the opportunity for green roofs to also push forward the idea of self-sustainability through urban farming (close to source food consumption)”, said Gatt.