Rooftop Gardening

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Initial Version (January 28, 2013) by Sarah Bussen, student at Truman State University

Context within NORA


  • Food production
  • Helps level socioeconomic differences by providing food
  • Improve public health
  • Foster community and supportive relationships by providing a community gathering place, and shared projects
  • Being at Home: Noise insulation; Aesthetically pleasing


Air and Atmosphere:

  • Filter air pollutants
  • Improves atmosphere quality
  • More plants to reduce CO2 levels


  • Reduce storm water run-off
  • Decreases risk of flooding

Urban Land:

  • Gives a purpose to unused space
  • Frees up ground space for other uses


  • Insulate buildings to reduce climate control cost
  • Saves money on roof wear and tear
  • Cools area by reducing area that reflects sunlight
  • Cools area because plants absorb less heat

Biological Resources

  • Habitat for wildlife
  • Increases biodiversity

Urban built infrastructure

  • Provides new uses for old buildings

Problems of Food Security

There is a significant need for fresh produce in many urban areas across the globe. Locally grown produce has many benefits not only because it can reduce preservation and transportation costs, but also because it provides the same nutritional content without all of the harmful effects on the environment. With the population growing significantly, more food will need to be produced on less land as people use more land to live on. Instead of expanding on conventional farming practices that strip the soil of its nutrients and rely on modified food that is mass-produced, there are other options, such as rooftop gardens, community and personal gardens, and vertical farming. These practices create a greater accessibility to food, promote lower costs for food production, and lessen the negative environmental impact. Allowing individuals who live in urban areas to have access to sustainable, locally grown food promotes fair access to healthy food, can create jobs and fosters a sense of unity in the community. A significant number of households in the United States lack food security, meaning they do not have assured access to an adequate food supply. Even though there is enough food produced to feed everyone, it is often distributed in such a way that some people go hungry. Because much of the food produced for the U.S. is wasted, an important point is to allow people to take control of their food. A good way to do this is to grow it yourself.

All over the world, people are living in areas without access to adequate food supply. This food insecurity is sometimes due to lack of financial resources to acquire food, but is also sometimes due to lack of access geographically to food. Urban areas often do not have adequate farmers’ markets or health food stores, leaving many people to rely on convenience stores if they do not have transportation to another area.

Access to healthier food would increase the productivity of children in society because students who are properly nourished do better in school. This would also promote general health because the community would be getting the nutrients necessary to sustain life in a natural and healthy way. This is not possible for many people living in urban areas. Because of this, there are some areas with more than enough food while others are forced to live off processed food with little nutritional value, or to go hungry. In an article titled “Can the World Feed 10 Billion people?,” Patel sums the problem up nicely when he says, “humanity produces enough food to feed everyone but, because of the way we distribute it, there are still a billion hungry.”

We see a lot of people living in food deserts even in the United States. These are places where individuals do not have access to adequate food because of their living situation. In the book, "Categorically Unequal," Massey describes how many people lack access to quality food. This is where sustainable food systems can really help. With proper education and support more people could grow their own food, which would not only put less pressure on large farms, but it would also eliminate a lot of our transportation and packaging needs. While growing food may not be accessible option for some parts of the world, due to climate or resource constraints, it seems like it would be a solution that could help a good portion of people get more food.

The main scarcity when it comes to food in urban areas of industrialized countries is not the quantity, but the accessibility of quality. While many people may have access to cheap food that is easy to eat, many either do not have access to healthy options, or do not feel they have the time to prepare these options. With progressive urban farming techniques, not only will people have greater access because it can be right where they live, they will also be eating quality, natural food. Even though the amount of food produced in increasing faster than population, the number of malnourished individuals is also increasing (according to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization).

Approach to creating greater abundance

Perhaps the easiest way to create a greater abundance of food is to grow more of it, where it is needed. The main limitation with this is that not everyone knows how to grow their own food. This is where the commons system is so beneficial. By sharing knowledge and resources, more people can have access to healthy food. If a community can work together to create a garden, they can split the time and work needed to produce a successful harvest of food while still achieving the benefits.

One way to do this is through rooftop gardens. Any building with an accessible flat roof can be turned into a garden to provide food for its inhabitants. If you have enough time and resources, you can actually prepare the entire roof with a layer of soil, leaving walkways. This is not always the most practical, but an easy compromise is to use raised beds. This allows you to easily control the size of the planting areas without compromising convenience. This also allows the bed to drain properly. By constructing open-top boxes, preferably made of recycled wood or other materials, you have an easy location to grow any kind of crop. If that does not seem to be feasible, many people reuse old kiddie pools instead of building new containers.

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Success Stories

Via Verde in the Bronx, New York City

This housing development in NYC provides affordable and co-op housing to the community. This was created to promote community health by providing accessibility to healthier foods. GrowNYC is the organization that helped to provide the resources for this endeavor and works to teach residents how to manage the garden on their own. The rooftop garden also holds solar panels that contribute to some of the building's electricity needs. The garden not only provides a community gathering space and food to the tenants, but it also helps to insulate the building, meaning that less energy is used to heat and cool the apartments.

909 Walnut- Kansas City

This apartment complex in Kansas City provides upscale accommodations and living facilities in the way of 161 condos. Stable financial backing makes it possible for even those with less money to rent these. An attached garage provides parking and a 16,000 square foot community rooftop garden for residents. This project received the 2008 award for Green Roofs for Healthy Cities, Award Of Excellence.

Mercer Street Parking Garage- Seattle, Washington

A program called UpGarden is working to provide Uptown Seattle with community gardens. The Mercer Parking Garage prior to the 1962 World's Fair to house travelers. This unused space was converted into a garden with special care given to use lightweight soils and building materials to respect the structural integrity of the complex. People are continuing to experiment with different crops, but have had a lot of success growing cherry tomatoes, sweet corn, and herbs, among other things.

Picture of the UpGarden

East District: Hong Kong

A farmer in Hong Kong rents garden beds on the rooftop of an office building in a place with very little ground-level green spaces. Because many people in lower classes are being forced into desk jobs from agricultural ones, the need for a transformation of farming is clear. Various of these rooftop gardeners in Hong Kong are striving to convince politicians for more funding. Because land is so expensive, rooftop gardens seem to be a viable alternative for producing food and fostering community.


The following links provide more information useful for urban gardeners:

A blog on urban farming, and an interview with the blogger

Two videos


Calumet Quarter. Community Gardens. A 2012 paper from the "Calumet Quarter," a course on food security at the University of Chicago, taught by Professor Kathleen Morrison. It discusses urban community gardens in relation to food security, crime rates, and sense of community.

Campbell, Katie. 30 Aug. 2012. "Seattlites Learn What Will Grow in the Nation's First Rooftop Community Garden," Oregon Public Broadcasting EarthFix."

Drescher, Axel, Petra Jacobi and Joerg Amend. 2000. "Urban Food Security: Urban agriculture, a response to crisis?" UA [Urban Agriculture] Magazine.

Garasky, Steven; Lois Wright Morton, and Kimberley Greder. 2004. The Food Environment and Food Insecurity: Perceptions of Rural, Suburban and Urban Food Pantry Clients in Iowa. Family Economics and Nutrition Review 16 (2): 41-48.

Goodwin, Craig. "Community Gardens Sprouting on Rooftops in Hong Kong." Year of Plenty. N.p., 29 June 2011.

Gottlieb, Benjamin. "Crops out of Concrete: Farming Hong Kong's Urban Island." CNN. Cable News Network, 29 June 2011.

Gregor, Alison. "Healthier Eating Starts on the Roof." The New York Times. 08 Apr. 5, 2012.

Hampwaye, G.; Nel, E. and Ingombe, L. 2009. The role of urban agriculture in addressing household poverty and food security: the case of Zambia. Global Development Network. United Nations Development Programme, GDN Library Working Paper Series.

Massey, Douglas S. Categorically Unequal: The American Stratification System. New York: Russell Sage Foundation, 2007.

Nugent, Rachel. "The Impact of Urban Agriculture on the Household and Urban Economies." Thematic Paper 3: 67-97.

Patel, Raj. "Can the World Feed 10 Billion People?", May 4, 2011.

Zelman, Joanna. "Farm Bill 2012: Time For An Overhaul With Innovative Farming Systems." Huffington Post, 12 May 2011.

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