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Wildflower Roof to Bring Birds and Butterflies to Industrial Greenpoint

By Gwynne Hogan | August 26, 2016 2:47pm | Updated on August 29, 2016 6:47am
 The wildflower and grass roof will open to the public for the first time on Sept. 24 from 11 to 3 p.m. They have two volunteer planting days leading up to the opening. 
Wildflower and Grass Roof in Greenpoint
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GREENPOINT — A sprawling native wildflower and grass roof overlooking  Newtown Creek will soon become a sanctuary for migratory birds and butterflies, swallows, songbirds, bats and insects of all types, its builders hope.

Beyond providing a home for urban wildlife, the 10,000-square-foot roof called Kingsland Wildflowers located atop a Broadway Stages set to open on Sept. 24, will open to the community for lectures, events, and in the coming months bring in school kids to study plants, birds and insects.

The project was one of five neighborhood initiatives funded by the Greenpoint Community Environmental Fund last December, earning just under $1 million.

The money comes as the last bit of a $25 million settlement to the state from ExxonMobil as compensation for decades of oil spills in the neighborhood; $19.5 million of the payout was set aside for community projects.

This season Alive Structures, the company is building the massive rooftop sanctuary, will finish 10,000 square feet of roof garden, though they have funds to complete another 11,000 square feet next year.

Marnie Majorelle, 36, founder of Alive Structures, hopes to secure funding through a different source to continue the green roof to other sections of the building, which in total has about two acres of rooftop.

Workers have sowed the rooftop with plants and flower species native to the northeast like meadow prairie dropseed, bee balm, purple aster and orange butterfly weed. Once finished, the New York City Audubon Society will use it as a location to monitor bird, bug and bat populations. 

"It's a really great thing for wildlife there," said Debra Kriensky of New York City Audubon Society.

The list of benefits green roofs bring to property owners and the surrounding environment goes on and on, Majorelle said, and she's passionate about all of them. 

They trap excess rainwater so it doesn't overwhelm the city's sewage system, they improve air quality, they make it more energy efficient to heat and cool the building below.

But for her, the real exciting part of building green roofs is how to infuse dense, urban landscape with wildlife.

"Rooftops are underused real estate in New York City," she said. "We could be doing so much."

"Even though nature is great, you sort of get bored and you want to be around other people," said Majorelle, a native New Yorker who grew up in Park Slope. "We're all just going nuts because we don't have open green space."

She pointed out there's even a grant program where the city will pay private property owners who qualify to build green roofs on their buildings, but they're still not catching on as much as she'd like.

"I just really don't understand why every building doesn't have one."

Kingsland Wildflowers opens to the public on Sept. 24 from 11 to 3 p.m. with live music, kids games, beer and food.

For those who can't make the Sept. 24 event, there's a lecture on Oct. 8 lecture in the community space. And then for Open House New York on Oct. 15 and 16, the Newtown Creek Alliance will run visits to the roof as part of its guided tours of the neighborhood.

More information about the upcoming lecture and tour will be available in the coming weeks on Kingsland Wildflowers' website.