technology

App Solution: Civic Hackers Create Mobile App for Green Infrastructure


Volunteers at Apps for Philly Sustainability use data provided by Philadelphia Water to work on the new Big Green App project. Credit: Matthew Fritch, Philadelphia Water.

By Matthew Fritch for the
Watersheds Blog


Last week, Philadelphia Water released a treasure trove of data in advance of Apps for Philly Sustainability, a three-day event that brought together sustainability professionals and technologists. Their mission? Conquer the city's problems with code. Armed with datasets and digital know-how, teams of students and tech professionals developed apps to help the homeless find resources, assist students with learning disabilities, and track individual energy consumption. (See more details on the various projects here.)

But the project we're most excited about is a Big Green App (hat tip to the Big Green Map).

Investing in Our Brand: Investing in Our Customers

The second installation in a series of stories examining the foundations of our new brand

Our new look in action: Philadelphia Water's 2015 Drinking Water Quality Report, our revamped bill, and the new Stormwater Regulations website. Credit: Philadelphia Water.
Our new look in action: Philadelphia Water's 2015 Drinking Water Quality Report, our revamped bill, and the new Stormwater Regulations website. Credit: Philadelphia Water.

Our new logo and brand, which hasn’t been updated since 1987, is a very visible piece of our efforts to communicate with the 2.2 million customers and other stakeholders we serve and work with every day.

We don’t just have a new logo. We have a new way of doing things that is redefining what a water utility can be and do.

We are a different department than we were 30 years ago. You can see the change through our innovative, trendsetting programs like Green City, Clean Waters or in our new Stormwater Plan Review and Regulations website, which makes complex information for developers and commercial customers more accessible and easier to understand than ever.

Because what we do and how we do it has changed so dramatically, we needed to change the very thing that says who we are: our brand.

The logo people see every day is part of the face we put on the immense amount of work Philadelphia Water does to make sure our customers know what we offer and how we are using their fees.

And, while the funds invested in our new look represent an extremely small slice of our budget, it’s a powerful and cost effective way to send a clear message about all the important new work we’re doing and to call attention to significant changes in the way we operate.

Our new brand does a number of important things, giving us a big bang for our buck:

• Being Philadelphia Water instead of “PWD” clears up widespread confusion about who we are. Experience and research revealed many customers mistakenly associated us with “PGW,” our sister agency, the Philadelphia Gas Works.

• Updating our look to express our massive modernization efforts sends a signal to businesses and people thinking about moving to or working with Philadelphia.

• Investing in a new brand is an easy and cost effective way to start a conversation about what Philadelphia Water is today.

• "Established 1801." The new look strives to foster civic pride in Philadelphia’s history as a leader in water technology, reinforcing our position as industry leaders—we have been at the forefront of protecting and delivering water for over two centuries. It also reminds people that much of our infrastructure is a gift we inherited from previous generations, and that now is our time to preserve and expand on that investment.

We take a big investment like this seriously, and we want to get this once-in-a-generation opportunity right. It’s why we devoted significant resources and time to becoming Philadelphia Water—a name and look that truly reflects the new department we’ve become as well as the department we’re working to be.

Beyond customer service and communications improvements, we're also reducing water main breaks, using smart meters, making big strides in river water quality improvements, and investing in renewable energy at our treatment plants — so stay tuned for more news.

We’ll miss “PWD,” but our new brand is your invitation to discover who we are in 2015. Philadelphia Water is a whole new department, one that’s serving you better and offering more to customers and the city than ever before.

SLA Beeber and greenSTEM Grab Award for Drinking Water Week

SLA Beeber students accept the Schuylkill Scholastic Drinking Water Award on May 4. Credit: Melissa Bittner, Partnership for the Delaware Estuary.
SLA Beeber students accept the Schuylkill Scholastic Drinking Water Award on May 4. Credit: Melissa Bittner, Partnership for the Delaware Estuary.

For most people, watering the garden is an inexact science at best. At worst, unnecessary watering is a double whammy of waste: throwing away good, clean water while increasing the risk of plant problems like mildew and root rot.


But what if you could pop onto your computer or phone and tap into a system that tells you just how much moisture is in your soil, how much sun and heat your plants are getting, and when watering is needed?


That’s exactly what the students at the Science Leadership Academy at Beeber (SLA Beeber) in the city’s Overbrook neighborhood can do when they want to know whether it’s time to turn on the hose at the campus rain garden, and it’s all thanks to a Philadelphia Water partnership called the greenSTEM (that’s short for Science, Technology, Engineering & Mathematics) Network.


From the greenSTEM website:


The greenSTEM Network connects students to real-time information about their school gardens. Through a collaboration between developers, scientists, designers, and educators, we provide public access to information collected by a network of low-cost, DIY sensor kits spread throughout the city for educational purposes. Our mission is to promote Philadelphia’s Green City, Clean Waters program through STEM education and support the development of the Fairmount Water Works Understanding the Urban Watershed curriculum.

The greenSTEM program’s high-tech network of garden sensors is getting attention during National Drinking Water Week (May 3-9) after the Schuylkill Action Network (SAN) honored SLA Beeber’s students with their annual Schuylkill Scholastic Drinking Water Award during a May 4 presentation. SLA Beeber was one of three award winners in 2015. SAN also honored Reading Area Community College in Berks County and Blue Mountain Middle School in Schuylkill County for projects they completed on their campuses.


SLA Beeber students worked with Philadelphia Water to build and install the environmental sensors, called “root kits,” in the rain garden and can now monitor soil moisture and temperature through a webpage that features an interactive tree where the colors of leaves indicate whether a garden needs watering.  Individual branches on the tree represent garden sensors at SLA Beeber, Greenfield Elementary in Center City, George W. Nebinger School in Queen Village and Cook-Wissahickon Elementary in Roxborough. 

“Projects like this one are very important for keeping the Schuylkill Watershed clean,” Tom Davidock, senior coordinator of the SAN at the Partnership for the Delaware Estuary, wrote on the group’s website. “Schools provide that direct link to communities and can teach all of us simple things we can all do to keep our rivers and streams healthy. The students at the Science Leadership Academy at Beeber are involved in a small project that can have a big impact on the watershed.”


Congratulations to the students at SLA Beeber and all the people at Philadelphia Water who make the greenSTEM Network the incredible program that it is!


More About greenSTEM:
 The greenSTEM Network started as a collaboration between the Philadelphia Water and members of Code For Philly at the TechCamp hackathon in February 2013. This unique partnership between a city agency and civic hackers furthers the relationships between technology, education, and environmental stewardship. Grant funding for the greenSTEM Network is provided by NOAA’s Coastal Nonpoint Pollution Control Program and administered by the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection. They have also received Seed Project funding from Drexel University’s ExCITe Center.

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