Walk out onto the roof of most City Halls in America and you will likely find a black tar roof, piping hot, offgassing, or else collecting acid rain, or maybe you’ll see the Batman and Robin variety opening onto a concrete flat patio, some pipes and vents and a generator, a little lip around the edges… But walk through the door onto the roof of Chicago’s City Hall and prepare for something entirely different. How’s about being buzzed by a herd of dragonflies like we did upon first opening the roof door, swat a mosquito, follow a monarch butterfly around as he flits from flower to flower, meandering all the way back to the beehives that rest in a corner of this rooftop garden habitat, hundreds of feet in the sky, nestled amongst skyscrapers where we were lucky enough to even see a pigeon hawk stealth out of hiding.
We have seen several living roofs on our journey so far but none of them alive like this. The ones we saw at Ford, at Apeiron, at the Grand Rapids Ballet – were planted with a low-growing succulent called sedum that’s nice, but hardly impressive when compared to this veritable ecosystem, that offers natural habitat as well as the requisite improved insulation, heat reflection and water capture/treatment. There are tall grasses here, a variety of flowers, little shrubs and other plants native to the area that make it possible for wildlife to survive, even thrive on this roof. Buzzing bees in two hives pollenate the flora doing their part. There is even a bat nesting box, though noone’s sure how much it gets used. I trod the stepping stones peppered throughout to avoid stepping heavy on any living thing.
Then we were joined by Sadhu Johnston, Mayor Daley’s environmental right hand man, who spoke to us about the mayor’s goal for Chicago to be the greenest city in the nation. Sadhu is responsible for making sure that all of the departments in the city of Chicago are working under the same environmental guidelines, and is doing his best to make sure that the triple bottom line (people, profit, planet) is on everyone’s agenda.
Living roofs, wind turbines, blue bag recycling (somewhat unsure of this one), green planters in the middle of bustling highways, even a solar-powered hotdog stand outside the Field museum selling vegetarian hotdogs along with standard pork and beef fare.
I am issuing a challenge to NYC, city I love… to green that apple…