TODAY   |  April 22, 2013

Vertical gardens bring greenery to cities

Stephen Ritz, a teacher in New York City public schools and the founder of Green Bronx Machine, shows how vertical “living wall” gardens can teach kids about protecting the environment and bring a little green to concrete jungles.

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This content comes from Closed Captioning that was broadcast along with this program.

>>> back now with "today goes green," and some living walls surrounded by us on our plaza. you may be asking what is that? take a look. popping up in cities around the world like london, chicago, washington, and new york, vertical gardens called living walls are all over the place. attached to buildings, hotels, tube stations, airports, schools, and private homes.

>> the plants stay rooted into the four inches of soil.

>> they come in all different shapes and sizes. in chile, one of the largest living walls is 17,000 square feet and stands 17 stories high. but these vegetative structures don't just look pretty.

>> green walls have a number of different benefits. they conserve water, they purify the water, they purify the air, both indoors and out, and they're a great way to grow fruits and vegetables in a really small footprint.

>> environmental educator steven ritz is dedicated to bringing living walls to some of the country's roughest areas. concrete jungles where there's little room for trees and gardens.

>> plants could grow up and out off walls. isn't that kind of cool?

>> yeah!

>> here in east harlem , he's teaching kids how to create a new kind of graffiti.

>> this is green graffiti, because we're changing landscapes, we're changing mindsets and giving kids brand-new ways to configure themselves, their community, and we're taking abandoned and underused spaces and turning them into highly productive, beautiful places.

>> and we are joined this morning by steven ritz , an educator, along with some new york city school kids who are helping us do some planting this morning. steven , good morning to you.

>> good morning.

>> tell us about these living walls . you're being helped by the center for green schools. you're really an ambassador for them. why does this help students? what do they learn?

>> well, when students get to interact with something like this, it's inspirational. it's aspirational. and where we learn matters. so when kids can come to a school and see something so inspiring, so beautiful, and literally eat off a wall in school, it changes where we learn, because buildings are a tool.

>> there's multiple levels to this. you mentioned just a couple of them. for one thing, they're learning about healthy eating. and don't they sometimes eat what we're growing here?

>> well, in one of my programs, we grow enough food to feed 450 people. that's a game-changer. i myself have just lost 100 pounds, but my kids are losing weight. when they see it and they grow it, they eat it. and where they learn matters. and they realize that they can change behaviors, mindsets, landscapes, classrooms. it's really been a transformational tool.

>> your classroom is actually in the bronx, and sometimes in harlem. what does it mean to have this beautiful greening of what sometimes can feel like a concrete jungle ?

>> well, for some of us, we do live in a concrete jungle . but when you can put 100, 200, 300 plants indoors, in a classroom year round, kids learn to nurture. when they learn about nurture, they learn about nature. when they learn about nature, they aspire to things they had never imagined before. i call it stem plus a for art, aspiration, and advocacy.

>> obviously it's great for kids, but a lot of people are thinking these are beautiful. is this hard to pull off, these kinds of living gardens?

>> well, these guys started this morning and look what we've got. we put them up there and people teaching mr. roker this morning. it's really easy. i think farming outdoors is hard. but this is -- it's inclusive. we have kids who can't always be outside for environmental reasons. some kids who are allergic to sun. here we can farm all yearlong, indoors, in a classroom. and that to me is truly inspirational.

>> it really is inspirational, and beautiful. i should mention the center for green schools is going to be donating these walls that we're working on to various new york city public schools .

>> i'm thrilled about that.

>> steven ritz , it's great to meet you.