The labels “sustainable design” or “sustainable practices” are being used more and more these days, but do we know what that actually means? A quick internet search on Google comes up with the definition, “Sustainable Design is the philosophy of designing physical objects, the built environment, and services to comply with the principles of social, economic, and ecological sustainability.” Sounds like a mouthful. In the realm of Architecture, most Architects and Designers believe it is their responsibility to incorporate these principles in all facets of a project. Aside of the potentially expensive cost factors which is seemingly becoming more manageable, one other issue that needs to be addressed is the human factor. How can the mass population connect to these sustainable design principles?

One example of “connection” growing in many countries is the use of roof gardens and living walls. Paris, France has passed a new ordinance that allows anyone to plant an urban garden within the city’s limits. Now, the use of urban community gardens have cropped up (pun intended) throughout most cities in the United States, but the setup and execution in Paris takes it a step further. It brings the urban garden on the  communities’ buildings itself in a substantial way and forms a partnership between the citizens and civic groups. Parisian citizens upon receiving a permit, can grow plants on walls, rooftops, fences, almost anywhere. Participants must use proven sustainable methods and avoid the use of pesticides for their green spaces as the option of growing fruits and vegetables are included. They are also encouraged to be gardeners or stewards of the Parisian public vegetation spaces. The goal by the Mayor of Paris is to create 100 hectares of living walls and green roofs by the year 2020 with one third of that amount dedicated to agriculture. The city contributes a planting kit with seeds and topsoil to get the process started. Local residents are asked to get creative with the locations and types of vegetation. The overall goal of this ordinance is to improve the quality of life for the city residents while improving the beauty of the city surroundings.

In general, the benefits of roof gardens and living walls have been widely documented. To summarize their advantages include reduction of stormwater runoff, heat gain/loss energy efficiency, improving air quality, creation of local habitats and longevity of the roof area itself. Local groups in the United States have been pushing the boundaries of this method in other major cities. Recently, the first ever annual Green Wall Industry Survey has documented that more than 600,000 square feet of green walls were installed across North America.

See more on the “Green Roofs for Healthy Cities” website (

The example in Paris has the potential of creating a positive relationship between the city and its citizens as well as between the neighbors themselves. The hope is that ownership is taken by the citizens and beautifully aesthetic green spaces are created through mutual collaboration. This investing of the creation and maintenance of the green spaces allows a connection or link to be cultivated between local residents and their civic organizations through environmentally conscious methods. I call that a win-win for sustainable design practices.