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Green is Good and Growing in Buffalo

A green roof can turn a children’s playhouse into an aesthetically pleasing educational opportunity. At the Rose Garden Early Childhood Center on Lafayette Avenue, the playhouse provides an attractive area for preschool age children to engage in social and imaginative play. It’s the height of the door, the windows, the ceiling, that makes it inviting to them. Add a green roof and the playground piece becomes both child and environmentally friendly.

Who planted and tends the green roof? On the West Side of Buffalo, there is a gentleman with a green thumb and a big heart who helps groups get green roofs growing. David Lanfear’s business, Green Top, connects him with people looking for green roofs which he creates and then routinely checks, adding soil and plants or advising owners of what needs to be done. All of this follow-up is without recognition; we might never actually see him do his work although we always enjoy the fruits of his labor. I think of him as the Johnny Appleseed of green roofs.

When he came to the Rose Garden today, he brought four buckets of rich black soil to build up the roof’s soil base so he could put in lavender plants. Since 2004, David has created about twenty-five green roofs locally, one that is over 5,000 square feet! To create a green roof, he puts in about a half dozen layers including membranes that protect the roof and drain water as well as a growing medium (mixture of Corion gravel and compost) and plants. Sedum plants accustomed to growing on rocky mountains have shallow roots and do very well. They are hardy and require little tending.

In addition to creating and tending green roofs, David teaches a course called “Green Buildings” in Daemen College’s Sustainability program. David pointed out that although sustainability is key, green roofs take it one step beyond; they are regenerative. When there is a new structure built, the surface soil is scraped away. That is the soil that feeds plants as well as cleaning, filtering, and absorbing water. A green roof provides the “services of nature” that a new building diminishes and so it reduces stress on the sewer system. They also reduce the heat island effect in cities during summer so less energy is needed for cooling.

In the near future, David plans to take these principles further with his business, New Standard Homes. The business is organized on worker-cooperative principles and the homes they build will use 10 – 20% the energy of a typical home. They have a factory building on Buffalo’s Eastside in which they will construct wall panels. Those panels will look like regular walls once installed, but they will be filled with straw to create a sixteen inch insulation barrier. These high performance homes will be well designed and built in vacant city lots. It’s a concept called a passive house that is well developed in Germany but it’s new to Buffalo.

David’s life’s work is spreading seeds to increase our green infrastructure. If you are interested in a green roof, high performance home, or residential/commercial renovations, you can contact him at or at 716-238-6053.

Written by Judith Frizlen

Judith Frizlen

Judith Frizlen is the founder of the Rose Garden Early Childhood Center and author of Words for Parents, Words for Teachers and Caregivers and Unpacking Guilt, a Mother's Journey to Freedom. Books and blogposts are on her website at She is a fan of early childhood, urban architecture and the revitalization of Buffalo.

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