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Turf Battle

A rendering of the planned Nationals stadium unveiled in March.
A rendering of the planned Nationals stadium unveiled in March. (Hok Sport/devrouax & Purnell)

According to a study conducted by Casey Trees, there is room downtown for at least 86 acres of rooftop turf garden.

"We see it spreading," says Dan Smith, spokesman for the foundation, which has a green roof atop its K Street office building. "All that space up there that could potentially be claimed and used."

Casey Trees is among those raising the issue of a greener ballpark for Washington, from plantings on available hardscapes to recycling runoff from the field. "It should set the standard for other development," Smith says. "You can't complete the revitalization of Southeast along the river without a clean river. So we need development that can improve the quality of the runoff, not contribute to it."

The practice of layering vegetation atop structures is as old as the fabled hanging gardens of Babylon, which flourished in 600 B.C. The Swiss architect Le Corbusier advocated roof gardens for the early-20th-century modernist city. For six cities in 21st-century China, environmental architect William McDonough has expanded the concept to farming crops on the roofs.

In this country, McDonough's green roof converts include Gap headquarters in San Bruno, Calif., and Ford Motor Co.'s Rouge truck plant in Dearborn, Mich. Public buildings are also greening, encouraged by the General Services Administration, which has decreed that federal buildings will be more, not less, green. Its biggest green roof is the 146,000-square-foot meadow on the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration's Satellite Operations Control Center in Suitland.

Even without the ballpark, the nonprofit Green Roofs for Healthy Cities lists the District as No. 2 in North American square footage devoted to planted roofs. Chicago ranks first, helped by a garden atop City Hall and Millennium Park, which is essentially a 24.5-acre green roof. Even the aesthetically challenged designers of the new Soldier Field included a green roof over the parking garage.

Figures tell only part of the story. Chicago has set specific environmental standards for all new buildings, including a minimum LEED Silver rating and the goal of Gold. (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design is the nationally recognized green building system developed by the U.S. Green Building Council.)

For such environmentally attuned achievements, Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley was honored with the 2005 "design patron" award from the Smithsonian's Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum.

Over the phone, Evans read the D.C. Council's environmental imperative for the Nationals stadium. There was no mention of meeting a LEED standard. But Evans is undaunted. The issue is "more than symbolic," he says. The stadium will be the biggest structure, and potentially the largest generator of runoff, in the Anacostia Waterfront Initiative area.

"What I'm trying to do," he says, "what I've got to do, is get the thing environmentally friendly."

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