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Rainwater Collection Systems — Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Last year, Philadelphia faced a crime “first”—the theft of city-provided rain barrels. In a backhanded way, the crime was a tribute to the success of the city’s new Green City Clean Waters program.

 “You know when you’ve arrived when people value something enough to steal it,” says Chris Crockett, the Philadelphia Water Department’s deputy commissioner of environmental services.

In a unique effort to address the city’s storm-water runoff problem, improve streets, benefit the community, and create jobs, the Philadelphia Water Department (PWD) has opted for green infrastructure solutions rather than simply digging new tunnels and storage tanks to hold runoff.

The city is relying on a combination of solutions including green roofs, porous paving, storm-water planters, rain gardens, and, of course, the coveted rain barrels. Crockett had hoped to encourage Philadelphia’s residents to take a role in keeping their water clean, little expecting the program would be so popular that people would impersonate others to get their rain barrels.

In April, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the City of Philadelphia signed an agreement that will result in a $400,000 investment in Philadelphia’s Green City Clean Waters program. This is in addition to the PWD’s commitment of $1.2 billion (in today’s dollars) drawn from water and sewer billing for green infrastructure over 25 years, which had been announced at the launch of Green City Clean Waters in 2010. That plan was widely hailed as an ambitious use of environmentally friendly solutions and helped the city rank first in the Natural Resources Defense Council’s November 2011 report on green infrastructure.

Shawn M. Garvin, EPA regional administrator for the area encompassing Philadelphia, notes that the Green City Clean Waters program represents a shift in focus. “We spent a lot of time trying to clean water after it’s polluted,” says Garvin. “Now we’re focusing on how to keep water from coming into contact with pollution in the first place. The likelihood is that this will be significantly more cost-effective than gray infrastructure.”


The “Combined Sewer System”

The Schuylkill and Delaware rivers come together at Philadelphia, providing the city with its drinking water as well as popular and attractive waterfronts. As in many other U.S. cities, when bad weather overwhelms the storm-sewer system, the rivers become receptacles for untreated sewage and rainwater that picks up garbage, oil, and chemicals from parking lots and streets.

This is the result of what’s referred to as a “combined sewer system,” which brings together in the same pipes storm water from streets, businesses, and homes, as well as residential and commercial sewage. With tunnels that make up 60 percent of Philadelphia’s sewer system, the combined sewer system serves more than three-quarters of Philadelphians, and covers 64 square miles. When these systems get hit by more water than they can carry to water treatment, the excess is released into the Schuylkill, Delaware, and other waterways at 164 combined sewer outflow (CSO) points, events that can happen up to 85 times a year.

Although these CSOs are sited downstream from drinking water intakes, the pollution can affect wildlife, fishing, and swimming. Within Philadelphia, as Crockett notes, the PWD’s waterways restoration unit “pulls tons and tons of trash out of the streams every year.”

The Green City Clean Waters program requires that green infrastructure be capable of keeping one inch of rainwater out of the storm-water system in a 24-hour period. Crockett explains that this will capture all of the water from 80 percent of the storms Philadelphia experiences.

This is no small amount of water: One acre of land in the city will receive approximately 1 million gallons of rainfall annually. In fact, the city already requires the capture of 1.5 inches for municipal projects.


Philly’s Long History of Water Innovation

Philadelphia’s history of water-related invention extends back at least to Ben Franklin’s swim fins and glass armonica, but the city is less well known for an invention that will soon cover a sizable portion of it—permeable paving. Developed at the city’s Franklin Institute in 1977, permeable (also known as “porous” or “pervious”) paving provides a surface tough enough to bear traffic while allowing water to seep through its matrix and into the soil, eliminating surface pooling.

An integral part of Philadelphia’s green streets plan, permeable paving will replace 15 square miles of impervious paving within the city’s CSO area in a little over 20 years. As Crockett notes, that’s the equivalent of more than a thousand city blocks.

The city is also testing a variety of designs for other street elements—including 20 different types of tree trenches. Above ground, these look no different from street tree plantings elsewhere, but below the paving the structure is engineered to hold water to nourish the trees and allow some to enter the ground beneath.

When it’s impractical to store water in the ground, green street engineers store it in the air. Flow-through planters take runoff from rooftop gutters and hold it in planter boxes until it returns to the atmosphere via “evapotranspiration” from leaves. Rain gardens set in low-lying areas where runoff can pool use both evapotranspiration and groundwater infiltration to store water.

As for the rain barrels, although they can hold only a small amount of water and must be emptied between storms, they are free on a one-barrel-per-household basis to Philadelphia residents who attend the PWD’s educational workshop on installation and use. Since rain-barrel water can be used for gardening, watering lawns, or washing down patios and driveways, the tap water conserved could help lower water bills, perhaps explaining the degree of interest in them. Crockett, however, argues that residents genuinely want to help, and notes that Philadelphians also clamored for curbside recycling bins upon their introduction.


Progress to Date

So far, the city has completed 35 green street blocks, and by the end of the year expects to have boosted that total to 215. The PWD has removed 10,000 square feet of impervious paving. Sixteen green school projects have been completed and private businesses are now engaged in approximately 300 greening projects. The city also has an incentive program for storm-water billing that grants close to a 100 percent credit for green retrofits.

Of particular interest is the demonstration project at George W. Nebinger School in South Philadelphia. The schools’ rain gardens, porous play surfaces, and other green features will serve as teaching tools in an environmental curriculum emphasizing the role of water.

“Students are our environmental stewards,” says Garvin. “They are our best messengers at home and in the community. Partnering with Nebinger and the students and putting practices on the ground we’re getting many bangs for our buck.”

Adding salience to the effort is a study showing that green infrastructure may also provide significant health and social benefits. “The green infrastructure program is not just a 25-year program but a 50-to-100-year program in which the people who are underserved and underemployed will have job opportunities in their communities,” says Crockett. “And people who work in their communities tend to invest in their communities.”

Continue reading “Rainwater Collection Systems — Philadelphia, Pennsylvania”

At Work

Keeping the City clean with a smartphone app

I often find that conversation about how citizens might use tech to help improve their neighbourhoods throws up the idea of reporting rubbish, graffiti and potholes online … and that may then lead to “do you know about FixMyStreet” and other good things from MySociety.

FixMyStreet is a really simple and effective text-based solution on the web, launched in 2007: enter the postcode, type in the problem, and FixMyStreet sends it to the appropriate place. FAQ here, with mention of a Nokia app.

Even better, however, if we could now have something able to use the full capability of mobile phones … so I was interested to see a tweet from my local council “Smartphone app keeps the City clean –  a new Youtube video: ” As you’ll see, the video provides an excellent walk-through of the app, and demonstration walk-around the City, by Adam Collins from the City of London Corporation Cleansing Services.

As LovetheSquareMile explains, you can use iOS, Android, Blackberry and Windows apps, send photos of problems with added details, and get notification when they are fixed if you have registered with the site.

As the video mentions, you can use the app elsewhere, because it is a customised version oflovecleanstreets. There’s a Love Clean Streets Network, and they say you can use the app anywhere in the world, and they’ll make sure the report gets through. Impressive.

The City of London streets are generally exceptionally well tended, as are our many pocket-sized parks. The 11,000 residents benefit in part from investment to serve business and 330,000 workers. Most of those travel and live elsewhere, and having downloaded the City app will be able to report issues back home or in other world cities. Clever.

I’ll be looking out for more about the City, not just as an interested resident, but because my wife Ann Holmes was recently elected to the Court of Common Council. Here’s the official site, the Wikipedia entry, and the current excellent City of London Festival.

Update: Nigel Tyrell tweets from the City to say that LoveSquareMile and LoveCleanStreets were developed from LoveLewisham, launched in 2005.  More on report it in Lewisham here.

Source: David Wilcox

At Work

A Few Smart Ideas to Clean Up and Re-energize Cities

More people live in cities now than in any other time in human history — nearly half the world’s population. They are the economic engines of our society, but they are also the source of 80% of global greenhouse gas emissions.

We all have a choice in where we live, and a lot of us are moving to places where we can enjoy parks, clean air and healthy waterways. Smart cities are attracting residents — and talent — by making investments in infrastructure that save money, clean up and integrate sustainability into city functions (think sports arenas).

We have found a few ideas about innovative cities on Planet Forward that have potential to change the game in our urban environments. Will these ideas work? Let us know in the comments below. Learn more about smart cities on Planet Forward’s new interactive map!

Pecan Street Project — Austin, Texas

One area where much innovation is needed in urban environments is energy. The Pecan Street project in Austin, Texas is becoming a living laboratory of sustainability and energy efficiency. Launched by a $10.4 million smart grid demonstration grant from the Department of Energy, the Pecan Street project integrates green building practices and renewable energy with a community-based smart grid that will provide researchers with real data on how a green community of the future might look like.

Deep Lake Water Cooling System — Toronto, Canada

Often consumers don’t have much choice in what kind of energy their utilities provide, but city governments can make big investments that can make significant improvements to a city’s overall energy use. Take, for example, Toronto and theirdeep lake water cooling system. This system is able to take drinking water from Lake Ontario and cool office towers, replacing conventional air conditioning. According to Toronto’s website, the system reduced one building’s energy use by 3 million kwh per year.

Onondaga Lake Cleanup — Syracuse, New York

While some cities focus on the future, others have to clean up their past before they can move forward. Syracuse, New York was once known for having the most polluted lake in America, Onondaga Lake. But, before that, the lake was a popular tourist and fishing destination. Because of industrial pollution, in 1940 swimming was banned, in 1972 fishing was banned and finally in 1994, it was added to the Federal Superfund National Priorities List.

After an aggressive remediation and cleanup campaign, Syracuse is cleaning up. But, will their new green infrastructure projects keep their manufacturing industry and attract new residents?

Rainwater Collection Systems — Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

After heavy storms, cities have to deal with what to do with all the water. Many cities now have antiquated water processing systems that overflow their storm drains and release toxic, unprocessed water into their waterways. Philadelphia is experimenting in places like Waterview Recreation Center to create a sustainable hangout by using flow-through planters, tree trenches and even porous pavement. Do you think these innovative changes will grow beyond this local rec center?

Mariner’s Safeco Stadium — Seattle, Washington

Some cities wouldn’t be the same without their sports teams. That’s why stadiums are becoming test-beds for integrated–and easy to use–sustainability systems. TheSeattle Mariner’s Safeco Stadium hits a home run with their completely revamped composting system…and recycling system… and energy system. But here’s a question: would you rather have free bobble heads or composted dirt?

At Work

Young Soldiers for Swachh Bharat

Showcasing a few paintings from several that were painted by children across Maharashtra to celebrate Bal Swachh Bharat Week (14 Nov – 19 Nov, 2014).
The Department of School Education and Sports, Government of Maharashtra encouraged schools to celebrate and work towards Swachh Bharat in different ways. Schools held essay, painting competitions, cleanliness drives and engaged in several innovative activities.
The message conveyed by these paintings are truly inspiring – we know that our future is secure in the hands of these young change agents for Swachh Bharat!
The paintings were reviewed by Mahatma Gandhi Centre of Sanitation, Cleanliness and Community Health, Mumbai

At Work

Rooftops to Rivers: Syracuse, New York

Joanie Mahoney, County Executive in Onondaga County, discusses Syracuse’s efforts to clean up Onondaga Lake and overhaul the city’s sewage and stormwater systems through green infrastructure. Instead of building more sewage plants, Syracuse plants rain gardens, and installs green roofs, porous pavement, and rain barrels. As a result, the city creates jobs and beautifies neighborhoods. Archie Wixson, Deputy Commissioner for Facility Management, also discusses the many ways rainwater is used in the city’s professional sports arena, from ice for the hockey rink to laundry services.

At Work

France to Install Miles of Solar Roadways


To generate clean energy, France will soon be covering parts of its historic cobblestone roads with solar panels.

The French government is planning to install 620 miles of energy-generating pavement, which has the capacity to provide for up to 8 percent of the country’s population, reports Co.Exist. Construction is to take place over the next five years, using Wattway panels from construction and transport infrastructure maintenance company Colas.