How Going Green Can Fight Floods

Green roofs aren't just about paying lip service to environmentalism; they can also be a key line of defence when natural disasters strike.

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When Toronto flooded in July 2013 after a historic rainfall, it quickly became Ontario’s mostly costly natural disaster causing damages over 850 million. Like most urban centres, the amount of concrete in the city leaves little place for storm water to go. So how do we design our cities to optimally mitigate flooding during extreme weather events? Green roofs could be the answer.

Liat Margolis, Assistant Professor of Landscape Architecture at the University of Toronto, studies the optimal construction of green roofs to maximize environmental performance, such as the mitigation of waste water. By determining the optimal amount of water a green roof can absorb, we can reduce the pressure on the existing infrastructure and reduce the damage caused by the severe weather that is becoming more frequent. These technologies can also help to lower ambient temperatures and possibly reduce the urban heat island effects. Once established, we can then begin to look at how these new green spaces can serve as stepping stones to improve or increase biodiversity in our urban environment.

According to Prof. Margolis, what her lab cares about is “going beyond the lip service that the green movement is all about”. Through their research, they hope to design our cities to be smarter – to have our buildings, streetscapes, and parks play a role in environmental management, and at the same time do everything that they were always doing.

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Liat Margolis is Assistant Professor of Landscape Architecture at the University of Toronto, John H. Daniels Faculty of Architecture, Landscape, and Design. Her research interests are in green building technologies and green infrastructure. Margolis is co-Founder and Director of the Green Roof Innovation Testing Laboratory (GRIT Lab) at the University of Toronto – an interdisciplinary and applied research collaborative dedicated to the study of green roofs, green walls, and solar photovoltaic systems. Using sensor technologies and real-time data acquisition, the GRIT Lab research team analyzes the environmental performance of green building technologies with specific emphasis on stormwater management, thermal cooling, renewable energy, and biodiversity. The GRIT Lab is supported by over a dozen industry partners as well as grants from the City of Toronto Environment and Energy Division, Connaught Fund, Landscape Architecture Canada Foundation, MITACS, Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada, Ontario Centres of Excellence, and RCI Foundation.


Allison Guy is a freelance science writer who is passionate about increasing scientific literacy and enhancing scientific discourse among the public. She holds a MSc in neuroscience from the University of Toronto and has been working as a drug development consultant for the pharmaceutical industry both domestically and abroad for the last 5 years. She is also a lecturer at Ryerson University in the Department of Chemistry and Biology and at the G. Raymond Chang School where she teaches pharmaceutical development and regulation.