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A giant new development—covering about 200 acres—is planned for the countryside outside Paris, with a design that looks sustainable at first glance. The whole thing is covered in a sprawling green roof. The streets inside, inspired by classic European city centers, are walkable and bikeable, and have an integrated public transit system. But even though the designers have done many things right, all is not necessarily as green as it seems.

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Green Roofs Aren't Perfect—Yet

Green or white roofs are preferable to tar roofs, but the idea needs some refining before it goes mainstream.


Roofs have been changing color for years now—from black and red to green, white, and blue—but the shift is happening slowly. In the greenest European cities, like Copenhagen and Stuttgart, Germany, green roofs cover at most 25 percent of the available real estate. In the United States, where the concept gained popularity more recently, the numbers are smaller.

Still, the ideas behind installing plants on a roof, painting it white to reflect heat, or using it to manage storm-water runoff are compelling—white roofs have been plugged by New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg as a simple and cheap environmental fix. Almost anything is preferable to a black tar roof, but if green roofs are going to become standard, the idea needs to be refined in order to live up to its full potential.

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This Is Why We're Hot: Sun-Absorbing Black Roofs Need a Coat of White Paint

This heatwave would suck less if all our roofs were painted white.

If you live anywhere in America other than the shores of the Pacific, you are probably sweating right now. A lot. And it's likely that the paint job and materials on your building's roof are making it worse. As we've reported on GOOD before, painting white the black roofs that top many of American cities can deflect 70 percent more sun, keeping interiors cooler, reducing the urban heat island effect, and curbing global warming. Luckily it seems like 2011 could be the summer where this idea goes mainstream, with the combination of powerful heat waves and politicians (Bill Clinton!) getting behind the idea.

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