the value of visibility

Rooftop farms and gardens are intoxicating when you’re up on the roof, but how the heck are you supposed to know they’re there from down on the ground?  Visibility is a powerful tool in spreading the word about a rooftop gem (well, maybe “emerald” is more accurate), and empowering people to start their own skyline initiative.  Visibility can be achieved through communication, such as media coverage, blogging, or word of mouth, or it can be achieved by physical means.  Here, we focus on the latter.  What simple steps can you take to ensure that your rooftop farm or garden is visible from the ground?

1|  Location location location!  When selecting the building on which you’ll build your rooftop haven, pick a busy neighborhood – the more foot traffic the better.  Some rooftop farms are visible to cyclists and motorists, but when operating a vehicle it’s best to keep one’s eyes on the road, and not in the clouds.  Pedestrians are more likely to look around while they’re in transit, and it’s safe for them to do so.

SHARE Food Program || image by Google Earth, diagram by Lauren Mandel

SHARE Food Program, in North Philadelphia, has plans to turn its warehouse roof into an active farm.  While raising the funds to do so, Bill Shick, the non-profit’s on-site farmer, won a grant to build a handful of rooftop raised beds.  Shick, with the help of the volunteers from the grant’s donor company, framed the beds two weeks ago, on the northwest corner of the 160,000 square foot (3.7 acre) roof.  Their goal?  To make the beds as visible as possible.  They selected a corner of the roof that is virtually eye-level with an adjacent bridge.  Both pedestrians, and in this case cyclists and motorists, can see the pilot project while in transit.

Pilot site next to an adjacent bridge || photo by Lauren Mandel

2| Build up, not out.  Most roofs have a low perimeter wall, known as a parapet.  When rooftop visibility is sought, you may decide to introduce vertical elements into your farm or garden design.  This may involve trellises, bean poles, sunflowers, fruit trees, or any other element that extends above the parapet.  Shick opted for bean poles in his pilot project to ensure that bridge travelers get a glimpse of green.  The poles themselves are simple: 2” x 4” pressure treated wood that extend six feet above the raised bed framing.  Each raised bed is equipped with six bean poles, which leaves plenty of real estate for climbers.

An army of bean poles extends above the parapet || photo by Lauren Mandel

Volunteers secure the 2x4s with screws || photo by Lauren Mandel

3| Advertise.  Even though your rooftop farm will be obvious to some, others will walk right by without noticing.  Get creative with street level advertising!  I recently met the founder of Walk Raleigh, a grassroots initiative focussed on promoting urban walkability through pedestrian-oriented signage.  The movement, which started as a guerrilla sign-hanging graduate thesis project, has gone viral.  With the help of a Kickstarter campaign and attention from the BBC and other media giants, Walk Raleigh has expanded to cities around the country.  Signage encouraging pedestrians to look up at your farm can take advantage of the same principles.  Draw arrows on the sidewalk with chalk; hang signs pointing up to the roof; do whatever it takes to grab people’s attention!  Just remember to keep it legal, and respect your neighbor’s property.  Hey, if you neighbors get hooked, maybe they can plant some signage too.

Street-level advertising would boost the visibility of SHARE’s pilot project (right) || photo by Lauren Mandel

2 Comments on “the value of visibility

  1. It didn’t occur to me that of course the average pedestrian wouldn’t know about a rooftop garden. I love the ideas presented here. Thanks for informing us.

  2. Thanks for the feedback, Wendy! If you or any other reader sees some pedestrian-level rooftop farm signage in action, I’d love to see a photo.

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