Taking a cue from the growing green branding trend, the city of Philadelphia seems intent on establishing itself as the East Coast’s preeminent sustainable city. Last week, Philadelphia Mayor Michael A. Nutter joined in an unprecedented 25-year agreement with the U.S. EPA that will pump $2 billion into the city for new investment in green infrastructure.
While it won’t exactly remake Philadelphia into an east-of-the-Mississippi Portlandia, the new Green City, Clean Waters agreement will transform the city into a massive laboratory and national model for innovative, low cost methods of dealing with stormwater runoff and restoring urban waterways to good health.
Waste not, want not
It’s fitting that the home town of America’s most famous thrifty person, Benjamin Franklin, would tap itself to demonstrate how natural green spaces can be reclaimed from concrete, to serve as natural stormwater absorbers and filterers. EPA’s role will be to provide research, monitoring and technical assistance, including a design competition to spur interest among stormwater management innovators.
What’s so great about natural stormwater management?
Engagement with natural stormwater management in urban areas has been building for a number of years, as cities cast about for low cost ways to keep pollutant-laden stormwater runoff out of their waterways.
Tunnels, tanks and other structures are the conventional means of handling the excess runoff, but in addition to being expensive to build and maintain, they are not always up to the task of dealing with all the excess water from large storms. The problem is especially acute for older cities like Philadelphia, where the existing infrastructure is aging and in need of repair, modification or replacement.
By replacing concrete surfaces with water-absorbing green spaces, cities get a two-for-one deal that combines improved stormwater management with a healthier, more aesthetically pleasing environment. It’s a wise investment for the many cities that are seeking to develop local waterways as recreation and community attractions.
Turning concrete into green
The Green City, Clean Waters plan moves the green infrastructure trend up a few notches, by applying it to an entire city as a long term investment. Streets, parking lots, school grounds and other public spaces are all potential targets for new landscaping.
That’s quite a tall order when you consider the need to maintain a landscape once you have it. Part of the Green City, Clean Waters plan is to identify plantings and landscaping methods that are the most cost-effective to construct and to keep healthy. A variety of strategies will be tested, including porous paving surfaces and constructed wetlands.
Philadelphia builds a green brand
Just as private companies are using green branding to build business, Philadelphia has been using the sustainability model to improve its economic outlook. Last year, the city’s Navy Yard was tapped as a sustainable energy innovation hub by the U.S. Department of Energy, which is already paying off in new green jobs.
Along with its involvement in the Green City plan, Philadelphia’s water department has teamed with the leading renewable energy company Ameresco to build a 5.6 megawatt wastewater-to-biogas plant, and it has also partnered with NovaThermal Energy to convert heat from wastewater into electricity.
Follow Tina Casey on Twitter: @TinaMCasey.