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World's Largest Green Roof to Sit on Top of Dying California Mall

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"It's not easy to be a shopping mall these days," Reed Moulds, managing director at Sand Hill, tells FastCo.Exist. "We've done some research and we haven't found a single shopping mall that's started construction since 2006. This is clearly a dying model. That's on display at Vallco."

Developers at Sand Hill plan to turn a run-down mall in Cupertino, California into an urban oasis. Photo credit: Sand Hill

Vallco is a shopping mall in Cupertino, California—a stone's throw from Apple headquarters in the middle of suburban Silicon Valley. And apparently, it has seen better days. "Half the stores are empty, the food court is abandoned and people leave Yelp reviews talking about their fear of zombie ambushes in the eerie corridors," says FastCo.Exist.

That's where Moulds comes in. He's the developer behind a $3 million project to turn the derelict building around. The mall and adjacent parking are set to be transformed into "a vibrant, sustainable, walkable and safe new neighborhood with a mix of retail, dining, entertainment, recreation, offices, housing, open space and public amenities," according to the company's website. And the entire space would be topped with a 30-acre green roof—the largest in the world.

If approved, the project would create the largest green roof in the world. Photo credit: Sand Hill

The proposed project is called The Hills at Vallco and if approved by the city of Cupertino in 2016, the new site would be truly remarkable. The whole site is designed to be walk- and bike-friendly with refreshing dense, mixed-use planning and town squares for farmers markets. Moulds plans to personally fund a shuttle service in the area since the rest of the city is so car-dependent. The green roof would include an impressive 3.8-mile trail network "for jogging and walking, vineyards, orchards and organic gardens, an amphitheater, children’s play areas and a refuge for native species of plants and birds," say the developers.

The green roof would contain an impressive 3.8-mile trail network for walking, jogging and biking. Photo credit: Sand Hill

As if the project could get any cooler, it's also aiming to be as ecologically sound as possible. The project is aiming for LEED Platinum certification, the highest LEED rating. Developers also plan to use recycled water for irrigation, heating and cooling, and recapture rainwater to reduce water consumption.

The design also contains plans for a vineyard, an orchard and an organic garden. Photo credit: Sand Hill

"The sustainable park will feature native, drought-tolerant and climate-responsive landscaping that thrives on little to no water," says Sand Hill. "The green roof, natural ventilation and smart technology will ensure energy efficiency—keeping buildings and surroundings cool in the summer and warm in the winter."

After receiving input and feedback from thousands of Cupertino residents, the developers came up with their design, which includes children's play areas.

"I think there's going to be a lot of opportunities to be very creative about how we reinvent our malls that aren't used the way that they've been used in the past," Moulds told Fast Co.Exist. "This was an organic approach, driven by community engagement, that at the end of the day resulted in the largest green roof in the world."

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Protestors marched outside the Prudential Center in Newark, New Jersey on Monday, August 26, during the MTV Video and Music Awards to bring attention to the water crisis currently gripping the city. Karla Ann Cote / NurPhoto / Getty Images

By Will Sarni

It is far too easy to view scarcity and poor quality of water as issues solely affecting emerging economies. While the images of women and children fetching water in Africa and a lack of access to water in India are deeply disturbing, this is not the complete picture.

The city of Flint, Michigan, where dangerous levels of pollutants contaminated the municipal water supply, is a case in point — as is, more recently, the city of Newark, New Jersey.

The Past is No Longer a Guide to the Future

We get ever closer to "day zeros" — the point at when municipal water supplies are switched off — and tragedies such as Flint. These are not isolated stories. Instead they are becoming routine, and the public sector and civil society are scrambling to address them. We are seeing "day zeros" in South Africa, India, Australia and elsewhere, and we are now detecting lead contamination in drinking water in cities across the U.S.

"Day zero" is the result of water planning by looking in the rear-view mirror. The past is no longer a guide to the future; water demand has outstripped supplies because we are tied to business-as-usual planning practices and water prices, and this goes hand-in-hand with the inability of the public sector to factor the impacts of climate change into long-term water planning. Lead in drinking water is the result of lead pipe service lines that have not been replaced and in many cases only recently identified by utilities, governments and customers. An estimated 22 million people in the US are potentially using lead water service lines. This aging infrastructure won't repair or replace itself.

One of the most troubling aspects of the global water crisis is that those least able to afford access to water are also the ones who pay a disproportionately high percentage of their income for it. A report by WaterAid revealed that a standard water bill in developed countries is as little as 0.1 percent of the income of someone earning the minimum wage, while in a country like Madagascar a person reliant on a tanker truck for their water supply would spend as much as 45 percent of their daily income on water to get just the recommended daily minimum supply. In Mozambique, families relying on black-market vendors will spend up to 100 times as much on water as those reached by government-subsidized water supplies.

Finally, we need to understand that the discussion of a projected gap between supply and demand is misleading. There is no gap, only poor choices around allocation. The wealthy will have access to water, and the poor will pay more for water of questionable quality. From Flint residents using bottled water and paying high water utility rates, to the poor in South Africa waiting in line for their allocation of water — inequity is everywhere.

Water Inequity Requires Global Action — Now.

These troubling scenarios beg the obvious question: What to do? We do know that ongoing reports on the 'water crisis' are not going to catalyze action to address water scarcity, poor quality, access and affordability. Ensuring the human right to water feels distant at times.

We need to mobilize an ecosystem of stakeholders to be fully engaged in developing and scaling solutions. The public sector, private sector, NGOs, entrepreneurs, investors, academics and civil society must all be engaged in solving water scarcity and quality problems. Each stakeholder brings unique skills, scale and speed of impact (for example, entrepreneurs are fast but lack scale, while conversely the public sector is slow but has scale).

We also urgently need to change how we talk about water. We consistently talk about droughts happening across the globe — but what we are really dealing with is an overallocation of water due to business-as-usual practices and the impacts of climate change.

We need to democratize access to water data and actionable information. Imagine providing anyone with a smartphone the ability to know, on a real-time basis, the quality of their drinking water and actions to secure safe water. Putting this information in the hands of civil society instead or solely relying on centralized regulatory agencies and utilities will change public policies.

Will Sarni is the founder and CEO of Water Foundry.

Note: This post also appears on the World Economic Forum.

Reposted with permission from our media associate Circle of Blue.

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