Watts pushes green over grey in Surrey

Semiahmoo Green Wall_Rendering
Semiahmoo Green Wall Rendering – click for larger

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

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  • John Smith

    I would be interested to know what this costs. They’ve been working on this wall project for at least a month now which seems like a long time considering the sq footage it covers. Provided the plants stay healthy the green wall will help with appearance of the building which currently looks like a prison. I would also like to note that their was perfectly good ground landscaping that was torn out to make way for this green wall.

  • Ivy

    The living wall created at the Olympic Village Showroom was a nightmare. It had to be redone 3 times. The cost was over the moon…

  • Julia

    there is a living wall over at the Crossroads building where much of the city of Vancouver engineering department now resides. The last time I was there, the wall was looking very sad and not likely what the designers had in mind.
    I guess it is better than back yard chickens.

  • boohoo

    “The creation of North America’s largest green walls in Surrey serve as a clear message the City is interested in protecting the environment.”
    No it doesn’t. Why don’t you drive out to the Grandview area and check out the immense amount of sprawl taking place. Or Cloverdale/Clayton. Or what’s being planned for Port Kells. Or…
    One green wall does not equal protecting the environment. Give me a break.

  • david hadaway

    Oh dear! I just wrote a post criticizing ‘boohoo’ and now I have to agree with him.
    This is just classic greenwash. Some plants are well adapted to growing up walls. You just plant them about 18 inches out, water them the first couple of years and up they go. Look at that fantastic Virginia Creeper to the South West of the Burrard Bridge. Even at city hall rates you’d have a problem spending more than a few hundred bucks on a normal size building.
    Or you can spend tens of thousands forcing plants to grow where they don’t want to be, with expensive support systems that require constant artificial maintenance. It’s just another example of enviromentalism as a luxury product and entirely unsustainable as, if you let up for a single season, you’re going to find either the whole lot dead or one or two species taking over, which will be the ones you should planted in the first place.

  • Ivy

    it is also a great make work project, using cheap labor @ 8-10.00 per hour, and charging much more to the city, or developer….as was the case at OV.

  • daniel

    @boohoo. I agree with you that one green wall does not mean a city is committed to protecting the environment. As you will note, I said it should be part of a larger plan to attack urban sprawl. So on that point we are both in agreement.

  • Omoishiroi

    Daniel – don’t kid yourself – if it was VISION’s idea to put up a green wall little boohoo would be a proud and rather indignant supporter.
    Diane Watts leads the City of Surrey with ideas and plans that are forward thinking and creative – here is a link to the sustainability strategy – note the inclusion of public consultation – which I assume even includes f***ing NPA hacks. http://www.surrey.ca/NR/exeres/8A8B8E61-D2DE-4377-B183-98DF2A0AFFA0,frameless.htm?NRMODE=Published
    Surrey is not perfectly green but at least our mayor isn’t dumb enough to try to claim to be the greenest city in the world. We have homeless here too but our mayor isn’t naive enough to claim to ‘end’ homelessness anytime soon – street or otherwise. People don’t cringe every time Diane Watts opens her mouth to speak. We are not taking out a lane of traffic on any bridges and we don’t have critical mess every last Friday of the month. I can walk through the neighborhood park and not witness hoards of drug users and drunks. No support for Communism, no STIR, no HEAT, no chicken debate. But please Vancouver keep voting VISION – it is highly entertaining when it is your tax money and not mine!!!

  • Max

    What does sprawl in the Grandview area or Cloverdale/Port Kells etc. have to do with Surrey’s green initiatives?

  • Ron

    Big deal, a green wall. Vines will grow on walls if there is enough soil at the base, water and nutrients. Green roofs look cool, but are expensive to install and maintain, and are not sustainable. Green walls and roofs are largely symbolic and have little to do with saving the environment. They do look nice.

  • RoKeSca

    More useless urban garnish.
    There is little point to installing any of these beautification projects unless they are matched with an appropriate long-term maintenance budget – something that the City of Parks hasn’t quite figured out yet.
    We are also lucky because the fire station is right next door so when the leaves get crispy and some teenager lights up the side of the building it will be put out fast.

  • boohoo

    Why the dig? This has nothing to do with politics or who came up with the idea.
    @ Max,
    Allowing sprawling subdivisions on one hand while making a big PR announcement about how green you are because of a green wall is somewhat contradictory, no?
    This isn’t to say it’s all bad out there. Densifying the city centre is certainly long overdue, but like most politicians, it’s one foot on the gas (densifying city centre, expanding transit) and one foot on the brake (sprawl, highways, sprawl).

  • Bill McCreery

    @ spilt milk. Defining & now densifying a core for Surrey was a major start. We all know Surrey has a long, long way to go, as we all do, governments & individuals. That is not symbolism.
    And, by the way, we do live in a democracy, not a dictatorship as our China correspondent recently observed. Consequently change tends to be a bit slower &, interestingly, also tends to come from the bottom up, as is happening now environmentally, not the other way around.
    Green walls are somewhat symbolic but, in addition to putting ‘green’ in your face, they do shade the walls they cover reducing, heat gain & wind exposure, reducing energy costs &/or increasing comfort levels of the conditioned spaces behind. They also play a minor role in reducing heat loss in cool weather.
    This technique is new & from what I’ve seen there will be a learning curve. &, yes, someone should do the comparative cost assessments so we know whether these things are truly a net benefit or not.

  • boohoo

    Spilt milk? Is that personal insult really necessary? I have insulted you before?
    Green walls are great. They do soften a hard urban landscape, they do provide some energy savings as you mentioned and they are feel good. But they do not make a city ‘green’ as this article states. That’s all I’m arguing.

  • Chris

    @bill Only separated bike lanes, backyard chicken coops and vegetable gardens make a city truly “green”.
    @ boohoo In other words, anything Gregor touches turns to green. Gimmie a break. There are enviro benefits to this green wall and stop pretending otherwise. I agree that if Gregor would have announced this, you would be cheering from the sidelines. Because Watts proposed it, you are going to crap all over her for it.

  • Max

    Doesn’t Cloverdale, Grandview etc. fall into their own municipal areas?
    Why link them to Surrey and to this announcement?
    Diane Watts is probably one of the most progressive Mayors that any of the lower mainland municipalities has seen in decades.
    She is a planner.
    Read up on how she is dealing with Surrey’s homeless/addiction issues.
    She is not foisting it back to the Province.
    City Central has four new, 30+ story buildings immediately surrounding King George Sky Train station and Holland Park has been re-done and is truly a beautiful area.
    The sprawl that was once Surrey, and that was prior to the time she became Mayor, is being dealt.
    Watts has done a great job and the residents of Surrey are lucky to have her.

  • “There are enviro benefits to this green wall and stop pretending otherwise”
    That’s pretty much exactly what boohoo said, with the caveat that it needs to be considered in the context of the whole.
    This constant expectation that everyone must either be an slavering acolyte of Vancouver’s mayor, or opposed to everything he stands for is unrealistic and counter-productive. Shades of grey (and green) are possible.

  • boohoo

    This has got nothing to do with Gregor…? Everyone is so hyper politicized here it’s insane. This has got nothing to do with politics…
    Grandview/Cloverdale/etc just neighbourhoods in the City. They are like Kerrisdale or Killarny and as such fall under City planning. Perhaps you sould know what you’re talking about before you rant.

  • Max

    I know where Grandview etc are located.
    You linked Surrey and its initiatives to areas that have zero to do with Surrey.
    Perhaps re-read your OP and try again.

  • david hadaway

    What is the typical square foot cost of a green wall, both to install and maintain?
    I’m a fan of these things in principle and actually put a turf roof on my parents’ garage some 35 years ago. It also has a green wall, thanks to Parthenocissus tricupsida, Hedera helix variegata and canariensis, and Berberis thungerii. All very simple, cheap and zero maintenance which I suspect is not likely to be the case here.

  • boohoo

    @ Max.
    Uhh, what? I linked a green wall in Surrey to other areas in Surrey. I said a green wall doesn’t equal a green City. I’m not sure how that’s unclear.

  • Bill McCreery

    Sorry boohoo. Given your ‘tag’ or, whatever you want to call it, I, apparently wrongly, assumed it could not be a serious name & that you yourself were trying to be humourous in using it. ‘spilt milk’ was an extension of that &, another of my less than successful attempts @ ‘e’humour. I think I’m learning — slowly.
    Don’t think Daniel said 1 wall was going to make Surrey green. He did say:
    “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 difference between the Watt’s Wall & Gregor’s Garden is the wall will actually potentially do something green, it will save energy. This assumes there is a reasonable payback period [the calculation of which needs to be part of these sorts of things – often they’re not in the end actually saving energy or $s]. Gregor’s Garden, aside from a photo-op or 2 has only produced the worlds most expensive tomatoes.

  • Ivy

    I’m not sure of the cost per square foot, but the wall at the OV was very expensive because of the 3 replants…the plants kept dying. I was told the cost for that wall was $80,000
    it was an indoor wall and needed to be on a 2 week watering schedule. The irrigation system required a worker to be on location to monitor the irrigation flow, in case of leakage. The choice of plants had to keep changing. There were problems with patches of dead greenery. The difference was that in the OV it wasn’t hydroponic, but pods of soil with gravel for drainage.
    They had issues with the soil drying too quickly in the sun.

  • RealityCheck

    It’s hardly a green revolution…but I fail to see to problems with making concrete walls in Surrey look more like Wrigley Field.
    There are quite a few concrete monstrosities that are touted as “Erikson masterpieces” that could use a house plant or two.

  • Bill McCreery

    In architectural circles the saying is: ‘doctors bury their mistakes, architects plant ivy’.

  • ohn Duthie (B.L.A;B.A;Hort.Tech)

    I have read the recent post here an I am stunned to see how little people value public art and the blending of our landscape with the built form to create more vibrant and interesting places to live. Its not all about urban sprawl folks! Each project like this contributes to the reduction in BORING! Thank goodness someone has the initiative to do something new and exciting. THis is a masterful art project, to say the least. The engineering of this structure is simple and effective in my opinion, and will not take a lot of maintenance. Like any landscape design project, it will take while for the materials to adapt to their new home, but the benefits of its tapestry of colour, texture and artistic symbolism will shine through and bring this city a lot of attention. For a building that costs tens of millions of dollars, I am surprised that anyone argues against the cost of a project at this scale. The library itself is a LEED Silver certified project, and so this green wall adds to the already countless number of environmental benefits already house in this magnificent structure. The only irony here is that it should have been included in the original design of the building, incorporating the use of grey water or rain water to feed the wall. BRAVO!
    John Duthie (B.L.A; B.A; Hort.Tech.)