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Urban enthusiasts plan to turn the island’s roofs green

Urban rooftop gardens. Three words you don’t often hear together in Cyprus but they are what a collective of sustainability and urbanity enthusiasts going by the name of G.R.O.W. want to introduce.

They’ve launched a campaign on Pusula, a digital platform with an open call for projects that aim to benefit people across the whole island. The winning idea will receive €50,000 to implement their mission and G.R.O.W – standing for Green Roof Optimisation Worklab – has one of the most supported ideas.

Their project in short, plans “to create a rooftop garden in Nicosia to prototype sustainability, food security and serve as an important community and social gathering space,” the team told Cyprus Mail. “The garden will also function as a one-of-a-kind lab to collect valuable data in order to inform and support the creation of a network of future green roofs and urban community gardens.”

The team, comprised of engineers, architects, academics, urban planners, environmental experts, researchers and consultants, has a solid foundation to realise such a project and winning first place in the CLIMATHON contest in Nicosia in 2019 reassured them that green, sustainable projects have an audience.

“Urban green rooftops are an important solution for various issues that city dwellers face,” said G.R.O.W. “Green rooftops aim to use space that remains mostly obsolete and by doing so provide building insulation, flood reduction, urban temperature regulation, biodiversity restoration, while at the same time providing an aesthetic buff and cleaner air for our cities. We can also address issues like food security and urban social isolation through rooftop gardens. As Le Corbusier said: Is it not against all logic when the upper surface of a whole town remains unused and reserved exclusively for a dialogue between the tiles and the stars?”

Using rooftops in this way is common throughout Europe and their experience suggests they are here to stay. “Cities across the world are supporting these with funds and rooftops,” said G.R.O.W., “given the positive social and ecological effect that they have. We hope that municipalities in Cyprus will also recognise this soon.”

Various studies worldwide show promising results in terms of reduced energy costs on heating and cooling, habitat restoration, city temperature regulation and flash-flood preventions. “The latter point is of utmost importance for the cities in Cyprus, as it is expected that we will be facing a lot more intense rainfall periods and currently our cities’ infrastructure are lacking a solution to this issue, which is what G.R.O.W. is offering as part of the project.”

Besides gardening and growing food, the rooftop this team wants to create will also act as a space to hold workshops and training sessions among other things. Educating the public on sustainability, composting, waste management, responsible and healthy living is also one of the goals of the project.

“We hope to do that through subject-specific workshops but also by hosting exercise classes, movie nights, bar nights, weddings and parties. We know that by exposing city dwellers to nature we can ignite their curiosity towards a greener, more sustainable lifestyle that starts with having a lot of fun on their roof.”

This desire to educate people and raise awareness, ties in with the need to make the rooftop garden a public space, meaning that it won’t be privately-owned but accessible to everyone. Creating a public prototype is G.R.O.W.’s first priority.

“For too long in Cyprus, our cities have been usurped by elites for elite-driven projects like highways, villas and gated communities at the cost of public goods like public transport and bike lanes. By being a public garden, we are taking a stand against this alienating trend which needs to end. Each one of us is responsible for the preservation of our ecosystem and ensuring social harmony.

“A public rooftop garden is the perfect place to bring communities together in an open space that encourages formal and informal learning about society and ecology. It is important for us to create an inclusive roof garden which will be open and accessible to the public and can be used by different groups. We aim to host activities that allow urbanites to interact with nature and learn from nature: this can improve the physical and mental health of citizens.”

During unforeseen circumstances, such as a global health crisis, the benefits of having an urban rooftop garden seem even more vital. The creation of a green space to be used for exercise, mental health and wellbeing at times where the typical urban life is disrupted, can be highly beneficial. “It is a chance to escape stuffy interiors while socially isolating.”

Yet it’s not only that. Rooftop gardens with urban farming provide food security in times like this when supply chains are disrupted and access to food is put at risk. Lastly, with a possible impending economic crisis, green roofs with photo-voltaic and rainwater harvesting, can offer energy saving options to owners and reduce financial burdens on households.

G.R.O.W.’s project idea isn’t the only environmental campaign on the Pusula page. In fact, the sustainable and ecological category has some of the most popular projects yet this doesn’t intimidate the team at G.R.O.W. On the contrary, they hope to work together with other teams towards a common goal.

In fact, G.R.O.W. team member Hrishabh is also involved with the Old Town Innovation Space, of which Gardens of the Future is part, and Marina is also involved with the Xarkis NGO which has its own Community Gardens proposal. “Seeing all these proposals ‘competing’ with us, we can’t help but feel hopeful for the future of our island.”

The next step is to gather votes on the Pusula site until Monday yet the team also urges people to get in touch with local municipalities and ask them to support green rooftops to create systematic change.

“We have struggled so far to connect with city governments and we need public support and awareness to change our cities. Lastly, we are always open to partnerships with potential investors or roof owners that are interested in our idea and would like to see this implemented.”

Whether this project will win the funding and realise its idea is still unclear as many other campaigns have promising ideas. In any case, these guys are passionate about transforming and improving where we live.

“Climate change is real,” they said, “and it does not discriminate, so neither should we. Let’s give everyone a green roof and enjoy the sustainable evolution of our cities from these elevated gardens of Eden.”


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