Urban Naturalization - A Rooftop Approach

By PSU EcoMerge Capstone - 3:16 PM

Urban naturalization is a formal and concerted approach to restore an environmental balance within urban environments.  Also known as natural landscaping or natruescaping, these efforts help offset the stark unban environments with the more pleasant an soothing atmosphere of grass, trees, and green living plants.

On the cutting edge of this concept the city of San Francisco though the 1985 “Downtown Plan” requires investors building facilities larger than 25,000 square feet in the downtown district dedicate 1% of building cost to art and Privately-Owned Public Open Spaces (POPOS).  Although the requirements are broad and don’t dictate specifics, many of the builders have created some very nice public parks, with variety of horticultural adornments for people to enjoy.

The city & County of San Francisco - Planning department website is embedded below.  You can navigate this site by placing your cursor within the window, clicking and dragging up and down & Side to Side.  CLICK HERE if you prefer to view this website in a new window.




Another city on the forefront of this effort is Chicago who the National Geographic, New York Time, and the website Grist  have all named Chicago as one of greenest cities in the world.  In-spite, or perhaps because, of the metro areas millions of residents and thousands of miles of asphalt and concrete streets, the city leaders, beginning with Mayor Richard Daley, have worked diligently to become green and sustainable.  “By the time Daley left office in 2011, the city had planted 500,000 trees, added and naturalized parks, and planted native species on roadsides, urban planters, and traffic islands throughout the city. It also had a Climate Action Plan that identified numerous ways the city and its citizens could reduce their carbon footprint.”  (Chicagostories.org)

The Sustainable Chicago website is embedded below.  You can navigate this site by placing your cursor within the window, clicking and dragging up and down & Side to Side.  CLICK HERE if you prefer to view this website in a new window.









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In another venture, architect Mary Ostafi in 2011, founded a nonprofit called Urban Harvest STL.  Her non-profit accomplished a project requiring 40 tone of soil be placed atop a 9000 square foot roof to enable city-dwellers to grow organic vegetables.  She calls the project Food Roof Farm.  Key in her planning, Ostafi consulted with Brooklyn Grange, a then 5-year old company that “operates farms covering 2.5 acres on two separate rooftops” (NY Times, June 30, 2015).  One is located in the Brooklyn Navy yard and the other in the Long Island city of Queens.  

The Brooklyn Grange Farms website is embedded below.  You can navigate this site by placing your cursor within the window, clicking and dragging up and down & Side to Side.  CLICK HERE if you prefer to view this website in a new window.




“The project includes a greenhouse and beehives, and eventually, it will add a chicken coop. The greenhouse will grow seedlings for the farm and microgreens to sell to nearby restaurants. Urban Harvest STL expects to derive most of its revenue from nearby residents who will pay an upfront fee to pick up produce throughout the growing season, and it is renting garden beds to as many as 20 residents for a suggested donation” (NY Times, June 30, 2015).

Although the design and planning costs certainly don’t lend themselves to building such gardens overnight, the ecological and economic benefits alone are tremendous.  Add to that the reality of the food generating capacity along with the increase in real-estate value, seems to make these types of project a no-brainer.


“While Urban Harvest STL’s undertaking represents the first roof farm in downtown St. Louis, over the last few years precursors have sprouted in American cities like New York, Seattle, Chicago and Milwaukee, said Anthony Mayer, chief executive of Hanging Gardens of Milwaukee, a firm focused on green infrastructure design, implementation and products.” ” (NY Times, June 30, 2015).

While urban naturalization and the efforts to recapture much lost green space comprises far more than rooftop gardens and organic vegetables, it can certainly be argued this unique and growing concept most certainly has potential, particularly given the billions of square feet of available architectural space worldwide.

The internet has a plethora of information on this topic.  People interested in learning more can consult a the references below.

Further reading and Urban Naturalization Resources





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