Isabel Hope-Urwin looks into an environmental initiative that is turning the rooftops of Herne Hill green.
Once home to John Ruskin, the desirable district of Herne Hill is undergoing a small revolution – though you might not know it from street level.
High above the Victorian terraces that characterise the area, The Urban Wild Project’s eco-innovators are transforming rooftops into green spaces in a bid to combat climate change.
Up to 30 local businesses along Norwood Road and Railton Road have surrendered their roofs to the process of ‘green roofing’ and will be covered with the hardy Alpine, sedum. By reclaiming this usable space atop non-residential buildings, The Urban Wild Project aims to fulfill a complex environmental agenda.
As well as all the usual benefits that new vegetation will undoubtedly bring, like fewer carbon emissions and cleaner air, green roofs provide a number of other perks. Residents will see less storm water run-off, reduced flooding and even a greater variety of wildlife as bees, beetles and butterflies are given safe habitats.
The project parallels a trend sweeping the capital’s streets. North of the Thames, the initiative InMidTown has encouraged five corporate buildings, including Holborn-based law group Olswang, to similarly turn their attention to the skies and begin cultivating ‘edible roof gardens’. Both ventures coincide with the Mayor’s London Plan, which sets out a clear case for urban greening.
However, unlike the commercial work occurring across Central London, which prefers new plots to grow greens for company kitchens, The Urban Wild Project has a broader ecological focus. It is also the largest of its kind.
Green roofs are becoming increasingly common as Britain’s built-up areas begin to tackle global warming more conscientiously. Yet the enormity of the Herne Hill development stands out from other activity in London. By linking the rooftops of entire terraces, the first phase of The Urban Wild Project not only covers a huge space, but will pave the way to greater solidarity within the neighbourhood.
This unique vision has generated a plethora of support for the organisation. Alongside crucial funding, which was awarded earlier this year, widespread public interest has allowed the project to quickly gain momentum. From the European Federation of Green Roof Associations and notable charities such as London Wildlife Trust to PhD students and local biodiversity experts, an impressive collective stands behind The Urban Wild Project.
Knowing the value and potential reach of their work within the area, project organisers recently teamed up with both the Herne Hill Forum and Country Farmers’ Markets to host the GREEN UP community festival. The event, which took place on Sunday 9th June alongside the bustling weekly Herne Hill Market, encouraged residents to learn about and celebrate urban greening.
The Urban Wild Project has also developed a variety of advertising methods to help spread the word. As well as displaying doll house mock-ups of green roofs at this summer’s Lambeth County Fair, the forward-thinking environmentalists have designed two enormous billboards in the hope of fully capturing public attention.
With the aid of ad agency Primesight, which donated outdoor media space beside the planned development on Norwood Road, the billboards (pictured) will try to deconstruct and redefine advertising stereotypes. Contrary to the usual loud graphics and pushy slogans, The Urban Wild Project’s aesthetic is to create artwork from adverts, to represent the organic richness the new roofs will achieve.
By juxtaposing the two images, one of which depicts a wild bee and the other its compound field of vision, the billboards challenge people to take a closer look at their surroundings and see just how much can be achieved in an urban environment.