The Urban Scientist

New York Buses Could Sprout Roots

Local man wants to breathe life into the tops of buses

May 27, 2010

If Marco Castro had his way, every moving vehicle in New York City would be a mobile garden. A graduate student at NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts, he believes that the more green, growing things that surround New Yorkers, the happy and healthier they’ll be.

While living rooftops have been around for years, there are plenty of surprising new efforts around the city, such as the Brooklyn Grange Farm. The organization’s owners hope to make an economically profitable farm on Brooklyn’s rooftops.

But Castro’s project, which he calls “Bus Roots,” may just be the first mobile living roof in the city. The on-the-go greens could help reduce pollution, make cities cooler, provide habitats for wayward urban animals, and spark environmental learning for kids. He┬áhopes to bring his first prototype to the BioBus, a mobile biology laboratory that spreads science to schools all over the city. His dream is to bring Bus Roots to the New York transit system.

Maybe in the faraway future, people will be able to grow their own biofuel on long cross-country trips. In the meantime, seeing a bus with grass on it would be pretty awesome.

About the Author

Olivia Koski

Olivia Koski was born in the desert and raised in the mountains. After studying physics in college, she earned a living manipulating light for an aerospace company. She abandoned saguaros, pine trees and lasers for the skyscrapers of New York City, where she is studying the fine art of manipulating words, sound and images as a journalist. Visit her website at or follow her on Twitter at



Alan Dove says:

It’s a cute idea, but I’m not optimistic about the vegetation surviving long. The top of a moving vehicle would be a very harsh environment for plants, featuring high, gusty winds of more than 60mph, a necessarily shallow growing medium, and constant jostling. Even if one could keep the poor greenery from dehydrating or blowing off, what would this really accomplish? Bus roof gardens would be hard to see from street level, difficult to harvest, and a potential regulatory and maintenance nightmare. I have no idea where one would find DOT-certified irrigation tubing, for example.

A chia bus would be great, too. They could get one of those insulation blowers to cover the exterior faster.

Doc Ben says:

Amazingly the roof garden on the BioBus is doing great even after driving almost 1000 miles, much of it 60+ mph on the highway. We’ve just had our first flowers!!

The plant mat is securely bolted down, and we haven’t lost anything yet. We’re irrigating using the fluid lines originally dedicated to the air conditioning system, so no problem with DOT there.

So far so good!! The BioBus roof garden is confined to a relatively sheltered area, but if that goes well perhaps we’ll experiment with a Chia bus!

Doc Ben says:

The roof garden made its NYC public debut last Sunday at the World Science Festival! After almost 2000 miles on the open road, the plants are really thriving!!

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