Rooftop gardens, as a specific urban agriculture niche set within a broader system of citygardens, enjoy their own set of distinctive benefits. Rooftops are underutilized and rarely-considered urban spaces with great potential for creative development. There areessentially three options for rooftop gardens. The first is container gardening, a lessformal, cheaper form of roof gardening. In container gardening, few to no modificationsare made to the existing roof structure; containers - anything from plastic swimming pools to recycled-wood planters - are placed on a rooftop and filled with soil and plants.The second type of roof garden, in which the rooftop actually becomes the plantingmedium, involves more intensive investments, but comes with its own set of advantages,including greater storm-water retention, building insulation, and the formation of patchwork urban "stepping stone" ecosystems, which work to reverse the fragmentationof ecosystems that follows urbanization by offering temporary habitats to fauna such as birds and butterflies during their long migrations. The third rooftop garden possibility isrooftop hydroponics, in which plants are grown in a soilless medium and fed a specialnutrient solution. Rooftop hydroponics can be the lightest of the three options and mayoffer the possibility for faster plant growth and increased productivity.
Conclusions and Implications
Despite having many benefits, roof gardens face clear challenges to their widespreadapplication, in all of their forms - container gardens, green roofs, and hydroponicgardens. The most significant are issues of access and roof load capacity. These barriersare especially problematic in liability-obsessed countries like the United States, althoughconcerns for safety and building protection are certainly valid. Lack of knowledge or incentives, funding, water supply, safety, and the harshness of rooftop environments arealso major barriers. Still, rooftop agriculture is slowly becoming more common, particularly in the developing world, where rooftop food production may have asignificant impact on food security and income, solutions are creative and site-specific,and roofs are often built of different materials than those in the developed world. Thegreen roof industry is quickly gaining visibility and respect in North America, and a fewcities, including Portland (Oregon), Toronto, Chicago, and New York, are beginning tocreate incentives for green roof construction. Still, we are a long way from the kind of progress that has been made in Switzerland and Germany.It is unfortunate that so many green roofs are not built for accessibility, becauseinaccessibility prevents the realization of a great deal of rooftop potential. Withoutaccessibility, green roofs serve many impressive environmental functions, yet additionalcommunity or food security benefits are lost. The inaccessibility of green roofs, of course, makes sense in light of cost constraints and liability concerns. The most idealform of rooftop agriculture, in terms of its potential to maximize ecological, agricultural,and community benefits all at once, is in fact green roof agriculture. With the rapidexpansion of the North American green roof industry, expansions for green roof agriculture might also expand. Of course, green roofs are also the most expensive of thethree types of roof gardens, and, for that reason, are not a possibility for many sites. Nor do they make sense in all situations - where people have created a rooftop garden systemthat they can build out of local materials and repair and maintain themselves, as in