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Case Studies

Community Involvement-The Key to Philadelphia’s “Green City, Clean Waters” Success

As the City of Philadelphia’s 25 year, $2 billion Green City, Clean Waters initiative approaches the end of it’s 2nd year, one of the key features of the Philadelphia plan continues to be an extensive public outreach and education initiative that is challenging the city’s residents to take ownership of the concept and embrace their role in the most robust, city-wide green infrastructure makeover in the U.S.  The Philadelphia Water Department (PWD) is spearheading the plan, along with support from the EPA, the  Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, several local watershed groups, and the U.S.-Brazil Joint Initiative on Urban Sustainability, among others.  This broad base of support will continue to be invaluable as the plan gets off to an aggressive start, but the plan’s developers were quick to acknowledge the local community’s involvement and support as vital elements for success.

During the initial drafting process the PWD encouraged public participation through public meetings, surveys, community outreach events, and petitions from neighborhoods that wished to participate in their Green Streets/Model Neighborhoods program.  Prior to signing the final draft in 2011 the PWD had already begun implementing a few elements of the plan for several years, to learn what was most effective in their city, and to provide a few working models as public demonstrations once the plan was introduced.  They also developed specific guides to assist homeowners, developers, and schools in improving their storm water management, interactive maps to inform residents of which watershed the are a part of, offered free rain barrels and workshops on how to utilize them, and assisted in the formation of community partnerships to improve neighborhoods around the framework of green infrastructure.

What made this community outreach so successful was the creative and holistic way the plan was developed and marketed to city residents.  While it was no secret that improving storm water management and complying with the Clean Water Act were major drivers of the plan, the fringe benefits of utilizing green infrastructure over traditional methods were emphasized to the general public, and methods were chosen based on providing the maximum total benefit to the public and the environment.  This plan would not only improve the city’s infrastructure, it would “provide a clear path to a sustainable and resilient future”, create jobs, beautify communities–adding property value, increase and improve recreational opportunities, and create a healthy, vibrant, and green city that would lead the nation in planning and implementing green solutions to urban problems.  This vision of integrating the city’s storm water management into the socioeconomic fabric of the city and creating a green legacy for future generations was designed to provide many benefits beyond storm water management, and has helped to define what green infrastructure really is, and should be going forward.

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