We received a news release this week from the City of Surrey touting their new Green over Grey initiative whereby some of their civic buildings are becoming living walls. They claim their initiative to green the walls of the Semiahmoo library and RCMP facility are the largest of its kind in North America. The photos they sent through are impressive. They plan to take grey concrete walls and bring them to life as part of Surrey’s initiative to go green.
According to their release, "the unique design will be nearly 3,000 square feet, covering the exterior wall facing 18th avenue, and will consist of over 10,000 plants and 120 different species, making it the largest and most biologically diverse outdoor green wall in North America. The species include ground covers, large perennials, shrubs and small trees."
“This will be our first large-scale green wall in Surrey,” says Mayor Dianne Watts. “It will be a beautiful living work of art that will cover the existing concrete wall and provide many environmental benefits, including saving energy, reducing greenhouse gas emissions and creating a new ecosystem in the heart of Semiahmoo.”
I first saw Surrey’s attempt at a living wall when I attended Mayor Watts’ speech last year when she played host to former British Prime Minister Tony Blair. I tweeted out a few photos of her proudly standing in front of a living wall that had been on display at another event. I couldn’t help but think that "green" walls not only serve to keep buildings cooler in the summer, they also have the dual purpose of reducing graffiti. It’s pretty hard to spray paint lobelia and trailing ivy in a way that gives a graffiti artist any kind of satisfaction.
The City of Surrey also states "a green wall, also known as a living wall, is a self-sufficient vertical garden that is attached to the exterior or interior of a building. It differs from a green façade (e.g. ivy wall) in that the plants root in a structural support which is fastened to the wall itself. The technology being used is soil-free, and the plants receive water and nutrients from within the vertical support, instead of from the ground."
”The large diversity of plant species will create a balanced ecosystem that will be an urban oasis for bees, butterflies and hummingbirds,” says Patrick Poiraud, Design Consultant from Green over Grey – Living Walls and Design, the company designing and constructing the wall. “The living wall will help purify the air we breathe, make life more sustainable and add some green to the grey of the city.”
While I support these types of high profile initiatives, they strike me as a tad symbolic in the overall effort of trying to reduce global warming and environmental calamities. Surrey’s initiative reminds me of Mayor Gregor’s vegetable garden on the front lawn of city hall or his plan to put chickens in everyone’s backyard. They are highly visible and symbolic initiatives which make for great photo opportunities, but don’t have near the same environmental impact as reducing sprawl or encouraging alternate transportation.
The creation of North America’s largest green walls in Surrey serve as a clear message the City is interested in protecting the environment. However, let’s hope this is part of a much larger plan to develop Surrey as a dense, pedestrian friendly city committed to getting people out of their cars and into public transit. What do you think? Is this living wall a great initiative, or just more symbolic environmentalism? Let us know by leaving a comment below.
– Post by Daniel