Meadows in the skies: A closer look at the growing, green rooftops in the city

(Published July 31, 2019)

By Jesse Wright

High above the streets, there are fields through the city filled with wildflowers, grasses, trees and even crops.

A growing rooftop greening movement is transforming the downtown environment and, according to Molly Meyer, it’s also improving the buildings.

Meyer, CEO and founder of Omni Ecosystems, an organization that designs sustainable green infrastructure, said her firm has developed rooftop farms and prairies. She said the green trend gained steam about 15 years ago and it’s been going strong ever since.

“In the mid 2000s there were a huge number of green roofs developed,” she said.

Now, every neighborhood in the city has green roofs, mostly only observable from higher floors on neighboring buildings. But while they may be invisible to most people, they’re still important.

“The top of the McDonald’s headquarters in West Loop is a 20,000 square foot wildlife meadow,” Meyer said. “That’s an important habitat for native butterflies.”

Their green roof includes crops which the company hopes to deliver to the community. 

“At McDonald’s headquarters, as employees and visitors collaborate on the ninth floor open work space and outdoor terrace, they are standing directly under one of the premier sustainability features of the headquarters: the green roof,” McDonald’s spokesperson Anne Christensen said. “The green roof boasts a garden with food for harvest and is purifying the air in the West Loop. The garden includes buckwheat, carrots, wheat, radishes, as these items are good for promoting strong soil. Harvesting soon, we hope to partner with a community organization to help us share our crops.”

In Streeterville, Navy Pier got into the game a year ago, when it developed its new welcome center. The center, to the right of the entrance, near Polk Brother Park, features a roof sloping down to the sidewalk and as visitors walk along the south side of the building, the concrete facade gives way to a meadow, complete with two bee boxes, which are a permanent fixture in the meadow. 

Michael Thompson, an apiest and farm manager at Chicago Honey Co-op who manages the boxes for the pier, said in the few months since the boxes have been installed, the have already produced 30-40 pounds of honey. In just two bee boxes, Navy Pier is home to some 50,000 Italian bees. 

According to Savitha Chelladurai, the Navy Pier’s sustainability program manager, the pier will use the honey at various restaurants. She said the rooftop project makes good sense for the Pier. 

“The creation of a green roof at the People’s Energy Welcome Pavilion helps to mitigate heat island effects and create a cooler environment for our guests,” said Chelladurai. “In addition, the native plants used at the Pier lead to better storm-water management and require little fertilizer or chemical applicants.”

The Pier isn’t alone.

“Downtown we have nine bee locations and they’re all on roofs,” Thompson said. 

In addition to bees, Meyer said the greenspaces are habitats for birds and small insects like grasshoppers, likely dropped by birds. But the roofs offer more than an ecosystem. 

Green rooftops are growing in popularity because the city mandates new construction be “green” or energy efficient, she said, and rooftops help achieve that goal.

“There is a benefit to extending the life of the roof membrane and a green roof protects that,” she said. “And there’s the storm water benefit and energy saving benefit too.”

Besides the buildings, the rooftops also help the city. 

“It’s important to make sure the built environment gets more sustainable and resilient,” she said.

Golden Knights, Blue Angels headline 61st annual event by the lake

(Published July 30, 2019

By Elisa Shoenberger, Staff Writer

The U.S. Navy Blue Angels, the U.S. Army Parachute Team Golden Knights and the U.S. Navy Parachute Team Leap Frogs will headline the 61st annual Chicago Air and Water Show, set for 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Aug. 17-18.

Last year’s show drew an estimated 1 million people, said Mary May, Marketing and Communications, Public Relations Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events for the City of Chicago.

The show will also feature the Royal Air Force Aerobatic Team The Red Arrows from the United Kingdom. Nineteen other groups will be performing with nine military demonstrations and ten civilian teams. 

This year’s special guests, the RAF Red Arrows have performed nearly 5,000 times in 57 countries since 1965, according to a City of Chicago news release. The Red Arrows will perform in more than 20 displays in the U.S. and Canada on its first North American tour in 11 years, according to the Red Arrows website. 

To get the Red Arrows’ Hawk T1 jets to North America, they will be flown over three days, the tour website said. They will have 12 Hawk aircrafts and 1 Atlas A400M RAF transport aircraft. The tour will include 108 people, “including pilots, engineers and support staff.”

A regular of the Air and Water Show, the U.S. Navy Blue Angels includes 16 officers. The Commanding Officer, known as the “Boss” who flies the number 1 jet, is required to “have at least 3,000 tactical jet flight-hours and have commanded a tactical jet squadron,” according to the Blue Angels website. Officers in jets 2 through 8 must “have an aircraft carrier qualification and a minimum of 1,250 tactical jet flight-hours.” 

The U.S. Army Parachute Team Golden Knights was founded in 1959 but received its name in 1962 due to all the gold medals the Knights had won, according to the Golden Knights website.

“The team has earned the U.S. Army 2,148 gold, 1,117 silver, and 693 bronze medals in national and international competition,” the site said. “Team members have also broken 348 world records.” The Golden Knights currently have nearly 95 men and women, including four parachute units and five aircrafts, according to their website. They perform annually in over 100 events.

Holi celebration set for Navy Pier

By Stephanie Racine, Staff Writer

Holi is coming to downtown Chicago.

Holi is a Hindu celebration that runs March 20-21. Navy Pier is hosting a free Holi festival on March 23, from 1 to 5 p.m. in the Aon Grand Ballroom.

Holi is known as the festival of colors and the festival of love.

It is a celebration of letting go of resentments, while playfully dousing others in colored powder or water. Holi begins with the lighting of a bonfire, meant to symbolize the triumph of good over bad, according to the official Holi Festival website.

A number of legends attached to the festival.

The legend that is said to have led to the celebration of colors involves the Hindi god, Krishna becoming jealous of his soulmate Radha’s light complexion, according to the Holi site. Krishna complained to his mother, who told him to color Radha’s skin any color he wished. He did so, and the mischievous act turned into a celebration, and a symbol of love between partners.

“Lovers long to apply color on their beloveds face and express their affection for each other,” the Holi site said.

Navy Pier’s celebration will feature musicians Red Baraat and Funkadesi. There will also be dance performances from groups including Peirce Elementary School and Mandala Arts. Bombay Wraps will sell food and colored powders will be available to be thrown outside in the Miller Lite Beer Garden, as supplies last, until 4 p.m. Visitors may not throw powder inside.

To learn more about the Holi celebration at Navy Pier, visit navypier.org/event. To learn more about Holi, visit holifestival.org.