February 6, 2006

Toronto policies will promote green roofs, protect migratory birds from building collisions

Two new policies adopted by the city of Toronto will encourage the use of green roofs to improve environmental quality and help protect migratory birds from collisions with downtown high-rise buildings.

The municipal government has approved a Green Roofs strategy to promote the use of city rooftops to grow gardens and other vegetation. The approval of the strategy document follows extensive research on the benefits of green roofs, backed up by demonstration Green Roofs projects on two municipal buildings, and extensive consultation with the public, environmental groups and industry.

The recommendations approved by the city council include a commitment to install green roofs on new and existing municipally-owned buildings whenever practical to do so. This would include, for example, consideration of green roofs for existing municipal buildings when roofs are due to be replaced. For new city-owned buildings, the Green Roofs strategy sets a target of green roofs covering 50 to 75% of a building's footprint.

Council has also recommended that a pilot program of financial incentives be initiated this year for the construction of green roofs. City officials will also work with Toronto Hydro and the Toronto Atmospheric Fund on the possibility of offering building owners additional financial incentives for retrofits. From a planning perspective, zoning bylaw amendments and site plan controls will be the main tools for implementing the strategy.

"Torontonians have told us that they want the city to do more to promote Green Roofs," said Joe Pantalone, Toronto's deputy mayor and head of the city's Roundtable on the Environment, which recommended the "Making Green Roofs Happen" policy. "In response, City Council has approved a comprehensive approach - from establishing standards and building our capacity to support Green Roofs at the City level, to offering education, funding, expert advice and promotion," he continued.

A recent report on the benefits of green roofs said they mitigate the effects of stormwater in the city, improve buildings' energy efficiency, reduce the urban heat island effect, improve air quality, beautify the city, provide locations for gardening and food production, and provide passive recreational space in densely populated neighbourhoods. (ELW December 5, 2005). Converting just 8% of the total rooftop area of Toronto's buildings to Green Roofs could lower summer temperatures in the city by as much as 2 degrees Celsius, in turn reducing energy use and greenhouse gas emissions linked to air conditioning demand.

More information is available on the Green Roofs website at www.toronto.ca/greenroofs, or from Joe Pantalone, head of Toronto's Roundtable on the Environment, 416/392-4009.

Another new policy, adopted unanimously by Toronto city council on January 31, will protect migratory birds by reducing nighttime lighting levels in downtown buildings. The initiative will be backed up by public education programs and bird rescue efforts.

For all new buildings in Toronto, the resolution passed by the council specifies "that the needs of migratory birds be incorporated into the Site Plan Review process with respect to facilities for lighting, including floodlighting, glass and other bird-friendly design features."

In addition to preventing the loss of as many as 10,000 birds annually due to collisions with buildings, the reduced lighting initiative will greatly reduce the amount of greenhouse gas emissions and save millions of dollars each year, says FLAP, the Fatal Light Awareness Program.

The Toronto-based charitable organization has been working to address the issue of bird collisions with structures since 1993. The first group of its kind in the world, FLAP has served as the template for similar organizations that have since sprung up in Chicago and New York.

"FLAP has dreamed of this day," said Michael Mesure, the group's executive director. "Finally, through policy, a city has recognized the need to address the tragedy of bird collisions with its buildings and is setting an example for other cities around the world to take action," he added.

By a conservative estimate, FLAP says between one and ten birds are killed flying into every structure each year. With 940,000 structures in Toronto, it is easy to understand why such collisions are the leading cause of death to migratory birds.

In a partnership with the city, Toronto Hydro and others, FLAP has created the Lights Out Toronto program. This April, in time for spring migration, the Lights Out Toronto partnership will launch a public awareness campaign to explain to Toronto residents how simply turning off building lights can prevent the deaths of thousands of migratory birds, in addition to saving energy and reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

The resolution and background information may be viewed on the Toronto Web site, www.toronto.ca/legdocs/2006/agendas/council/cc060131/plt1rpt/cl005.pdf. More information is also available from Michael Mesure at FLAP, 416/366-3527, E-mail flap@flap.org, or from city of Toronto environmental planner Kelly Snow, Environmental Planner, 416/392-4787, E-mail ksnow@toronto.ca.

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