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Our new green roof: a sneak peek

Actu - Toit vert MDD juin 2011

This June, from the green roof of Equiterre's future headquarters, the Centre for Sustainable Development, I looked out on the entertainment district downtown. The cold, rainy spring had only just ended, but already I was thinking of the heat waves of summer.

Heat waves?

“Misery,” say some.

“Finally,” say others. “Who wouldn’t want heat?”

Infants, young children, the elderly, people with heart disease or asthma… Anyone for whom a temperature of 30°C+ means discomfort, pain and hospital visits.

In Quebec, an estimated 2000 people a year die prematurely because of air pollution.

Smog comes from fine particles, mainly emitted by cars, that heat up in the sun. These days of intense heat are expected to happen more often because of climate change.

Up there on the roof, I thought about my daughter, 5, and son, 2. I hope that they will not develop asthma, but the risk is high: more than a quarter of Montreal's 6- to 12-year-olds have suffered from the disease.

I took solace in the sight of the roof itself. It will help reduce temperatures in downtown Montreal, unlike a black tar roof, which would add to the summer haze.

Partly because of the tar on our roofs and streets, it is estimated that the average temperature in a downtown core and a rural area can vary by 2 to 12°C.

I turned again to the streets below me, where the Francofolies festival was underway. We are lucky to live in a such a vibrant city, where it is is easy for us to enjoy cultural events. Is it too much to ask to be able to breathe clean air at the same time?

What can we do to improve the air quality? Mandate green roofs, at least in commercial buildings. What else? Make it easier for people to bike, walk and use public transit.

Discourage cars downtown. Cities that have done this are doing well economically and socially, and their citizens look good, too!

Why not take advantage of the Turcot reconstruction to improve our city? Let's take out all those overpasses and invest instead in more frequent, more comfortable bus and train service.

What do I hope to see from the roof of the Centre for Sustainable Development in 10 years? More bikes. More pedestrians. And people all over the downtown breathing in fresh, cool air.

Sidney Ribaux is executive director of Equiterre. This article originally appeared in French in the Métro paper.