Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Bay Localize & Green Roofs: An Interview with Ingrid Severson

Ingrid Severson is the lead project organizer of the Rooftop Resources project, a project of the Oakland non-profit Bay Localize. You can listen to my interview with Ingrid on the Big Vision Podcast, or read a transcript here.

Ingrid: Bay Localize is a non-profit project that started back in December of 2005. What we do is work to build a more socially equitable and sustainable Bay Area. This is in response to global warming and peak oil. I don't know if people know what peak oil is, but it is basically just the phenomenon that refers to petroleum depletion. It has massive impacts on the economy and the stability of our resources, etc. It affects the whole world. We're working on a local level which is why we're called Bay Localize because we are striving to bring production of our goods and services more on a local level within the Bay Area. So that requires a massive shift, and we're working towards building a more local economy in the Bay Area on a policy level by working to galvanize municipal response and developing models of localization that can be replicated by other regions. And also by raising awareness about the concept of re-localizing to bring other people into the movement as well. We work in the nine county region of the Bay Area.

Britt: What are some of Bay Localize's projects?

Ingrid: Right now we have three projects. Maybe people will begin hearing soon about the Localization Strategy Initiative, which is a multi-organizational initiative that Redefining Progress, Bay Localize and plenty of other groups in the Bay Area are working on. It is basically a piece of policy that argues and researches how to bring the Bay Area into localization. This is a policy paper that was just released a few months ago. Now the strategy is to bring city officials and county officials into the process. That's something that a few people in our organization are working towards.

The second one is the Localization Mapping Project that shows on a GIS map all the different localization projects happening in the nine county region of the Bay Area as a tool that other people can plug into. Also, it connects the dots with similar projects happening, so people can see where they are on the map. It shows all the assets that we have to work with to broaden and strengthen the whole movement.

So that's going to come out on our website, and also in a published form. That's something that Brian Holland is working on, he's part of Bay Localize. He's heading up that project. We also have the Rooftop Resources Project which is my project that I'm working on.

Britt: For people who aren't familiar with green rooftops, what is a green roof?

Ingrid: Well it's funny, in this era of the burgeoning green movement, where a lot of people are seeking to "green" everything they do: green your house, green your car, green your job, green everything, green roofs are in that sense called green because they do have that ecological sustainability aspect to them. But literally they're green because it's a garden on a roof. What we're looking at with the Rooftop Resources Project are all the different garden types that could work out on a rooftop. It's basically high tech gardening, high-tech roof gardening. With a rooftop garden there is an integrated roof garden, and there is also the raised bed rooftop gardens. The difference is that with the integrated roof, you plop down a membrane to seal it up, to make the roof waterproof. Then you just lay the soil down and start planting on the roof. With what they call an extensive roof, that's basically where you have a separation of the raised beds, modules to lay down, which are the waterproofing of the garden.

Britt: What are some of the benefits of a green roof?

Ingrid: It actually benefits the building itself. It acts like an insulator. It's like putting a jacket on the roof. It protects the roof from the UV rays of the sun and it will keep the building cooler in the summer, believe it or not, and warmer in the winter. It makes the building so it is like a living, breathing entity. It's a protective layer. It helps with energy efficiency, but also it benefits the city by making the air cleaner, and increasing habitat. You'll find a lot more birds and bugs and good things living on the roof.

Also for the types of roof gardens that are accessible, it increases the livable space for the city because a roof that otherwise would be bare all of a sudden has the capacity to be more like a park on a roof. It increases real estate value. Also, as it's a growing industry, if we can catalyze it here in the Bay Area it will generate more jobs.

I mean, who's not to like a garden on a roof?


The Rooftop Resources Project is, I've been calling it a research and development project. It's a three-step project, and the whole idea of the project is to show the feasibility and the benefits of edible rooftop gardening, rainwater catchment, and renewable energy. That's basically showing those three different designs and their applicability to the Bay Area and what kind of social and economic benefits that they have for the region. In other words, what kind of jobs could be generated from the mainstreaming of these applications. The Rooftop Resources Project goes in three steps.

The first step is to produce a conceptual design that shows prototypes of rainwater catchment, solar energy, and edible rooftop gardening as they apply to a study area. It's basically a neighborhood assessment. We're choosing a one half-square mile region of Oakland. We're going to choose a region of Oakland that has all the criteria of the buildings we're looking to show. To show the applications of all three designs, we're going to go for a neighborhood that has a good selection of private, public, and commercial buildings, and that way those buildings will have applicability to general urban building types.

Within that first step we'll produce a conceptual design that will be produced by an urban planning firm and an engineering firm. That way it's a professional piece of work that we'll be providing to the field. Within that conceptual design we'll show how much electricity could be produced, how many pounds of food could be produced, and how much water could be saved from rainwater catchment. That way it shows a good projection of data that will be a convincing piece of material that we will then use in a report. We'll publish a report, then we're also going to publish the Rooftop Resources Principles Guidebook that's going to show all the data from the study, as well as many different case studies that we've found that show how well these systems work and a cost benefit analysis.

That's going to be designed for homeowners, developers, tenants, for people who want to develop these systems on their own. They want to see what are the costs involved, what kind of plants will work for what kind of roofs, things like that. It should have a really good comprehensive piece of material for people to look into considering. We're going to be using that to catalyze these systems into mainstream use by starting a public awareness campaign, and then a municipal support type of campaign.

In a long sense that's the second step. And that should be happening, as in those pieces of literature and reports published, probably around July of 2007. That's basically the tools that we're going to be using for our campaigns.

One of the things we're planning on doing on a city level is catalyzing a demonstration project on a municipal building. One of the things that has inspired us is the city of Chicago and the city of New York. These are two really big urban cities that obviously have problems with pollution and really intense heat. What they've done is these cities have started a really broad program of green roofs. Both of those cities actually have green roofs on their city buildings.

We want to follow in their example, only we're thinking what we can do is influence. We're targeting the city of Oakland because it's a great city. It's got a lot of space to close the gap of violence and inequity and what not. Also the green movement is really big in Oakland. We're hoping to do an edible rooftop garden on one of the city buildings. That's pretty much the last phase of the project, working on a policy level to create incentives, financial incentives, tax credits, things like, that would help people to implement these rooftop systems.

Britt: What brought you to this work?

Ingrid: I come from a diverse background of, how would I describe myself? The most consistent thing that I've done in my life is massage therapy. I've been a massage therapist for about seven years, that has pretty much been the staple that has allowed me to do many other things. I've always been an advocate for environmental sustainability and a more eco-conscious lifestyle. In that way, I've always been a steward of the earth. Also, I've lived in the Bay Area since '97, I'm really passionate about making the Bay Area more livable, and broadening the environmental movement.

I would say what brought me to Bay Localize was understanding the implications of peak oil. About two years ago I found out about peak oil after meeting with a pretty avid, what would I call him, kind of PR type of guy. His name is Dave Room. He introduced me to the concept of peak oil and introduced me to the movement in the Bay Area around peak oil. I started going to monthly meetings. It was kind of like a support group of people talking about the implications and the solutions, and what needs to be done, etc.

Of course I went through all of the stages that people in this movement go through. First you go through shock, of understanding how everything that we do is made available by cheap easy oil. And that once oil goes into more of a decline, our whole lifestyle is going to be turned upside down. So after going through shock, I began questioning everything that I did, and I do with my life. And I still do, I think it's really good to have a consciousness of how we're able to have such a luxurious lifestyle, what makes things possible, and of course, what's your ecological footprint. All these things I started examining on a deeper level.

So Bay Localize, I had worked with a few of the people in this organization on a different level. We were more of a grassroots organization. I was already in touch with Bay Localize, but I had the opportunity to become more involved with them this past summer. They were going through a transition and it became more of a ground level type effort to build the structure of the organization.

I happened to have free time this summer after doing some travelling, and I had wanted to do a rooftop assessment, like a green roof asssessment, to determine what the capacity of Bay Area rooftops is to carry gardens. It just so happend that Bay Localize was a good vehicle to propose this project, and so that's how it happened.

Britt: What resources can you recommend for people who want to get involved in re-localizing their city, or with the green roof movement?

Ingrid: For folks who have access to the Internet, I would recommend of course, our website. We've got some good info. We're a hub, we're at www.baylocalize.org. Then Postcarbon.org, this is an organization that does research and organizational type of work around peak oil. They are defininitely one of the leaders. Energybulletin.net is a good one.

Books, oh there are so many books. PowerDown by Richard Heinburg is a good one. He goes over peak oil.

A really good tool is movie nights. I've found these to be really, really powerful. One of the landmark movies is called End of Suburbia. I don't know if you've heard of it. I definitely recommend that to anybody who wants to look at the problem with American suburban infrastructure and how much of a dead-end type of infrastructure it is in that it sets people apart from a good stable access to sharing resources.

If you watch the movie, all of a sudden you'll just understand the problem. The movie is kind of scary, it definitely goes over the problem more than the solution. It's like an icebreaker, a catalyst, to bring people together to really begin dialoging. That's what I would suggest to anybody who wants to bring their community into the movement, is do a movie night. Only be prepared to be a little shell-shocked, and to be able to start asking, and begin looking for answers.

In terms of how people can broaden the localization movement. One of the things I always tell people that you can do is get to know your neighbors. It's so important just to know who you are living with on your block. Get together, have community potlucks, begin sharing the resources that we have so we're not so much an individualistic type of society.

I think it comes down to the simple basic things, like the things that we use. For example, if more people carpooled, it strengthens and bonds the community. If people had more resource sharing like, tool share libraries and bicycle libraries. Things like that where people can come together and have a base of things that go around the community, and are shared more. Those are a few of the things that I would suggest.

Localization is something that I think everybody yearns for, it's that missing link of bonding our community, to make community so we're not so isolated. So the answer really is out your front door.

For more information about Bay Localize and the Rooftop Resources project go to Baylocalize.org.


  1. Interesting interview Britt, thanks. I like the ideas at the end about carpooling. :)

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