This February, Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer’s Community Liaison to the Lower East Side, sent White Roof Project a note asking for a presentation to the BP’s staff and LES environmental stakeholders about the benefits of white roofs. Armed with our standard presentation, I braved the winter cold to plunge white roof into an experimental partnership. A few meetings and a lot of environmental jargon later the “model block” was born.

The model block is a test project intended to showcase the impact of certain initiatives. This environmental “model block” would begin by painting the roofs of 20 cooperatively owned low-income housing buildings with solar reflective white coating. The paint-a-block project was also intended to launch the Manhattan Borough President’s Go Green Lower East Side, which will eventually bring energy retrofits, a new recycling plan and other green projects to the model block neighborhood. Hopefully this multifaceted sustainability attack can be copied elsewhere on the LES and beyond.

A lot of big ideas flew around the preliminary Go Green meetings, but with a tight timeline and a penchant for setting goals well beyond our small, volunteer staff capacity, White Roof Project was set to be the headliner.

We partnered with FAB, a fellow nonprofit with a strong connection the block, who introduced us to the Cooper Square Mutual Housing Association – the group that allowed us to coat their roofs. Then we reached out to NYC ºCoolRoofs, a City program with an impressive roof coating agenda, which provided the roof inspections, insurance and on site supervision that make projects like this one possible. White Roof Project committed to pay for the cost of the coating (the fundraising bonanza remains on-going), providing white roofing free to the model block, and recruited over 150 volunteers to do the actual painting. One simple concept, one dizzying conglomeration of partnerships, 100s of volunteers, and a few attention grabbing July heatwaves later, painting on the block finally began on August 22nd.  Our next paint-the-block day is September 25th – the rain date to put down the second layer of coating and finish things up.

Somewhere in the day to day, the original impetus for White Roof Project can get lost. But the volunteer testimonials and “thank yous” sent after our painting days remind us of the importance of introducing people to simple, tangible change. In just less than a year, WRP is proud to stand behind the first model block of this kind anywhere in NYC. But, much more work lies ahead. We need more activists that want to give back to their beloved neighborhoods. We hope that – with white roof – you can be one of them.

To see the project in action, check out the time lapse (generously produced by Jon Reznick) below.


Sign up for the final Model Block date, 9/25 HERE.

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