Waterways

New Video: Philly Water Art Strengthens River Connections

A girl checks out the Waterways art at the Venice Island Performing Arts and Recreation Center. Photo credit: Philadelphia Water.
Waterways art at the Venice Island Performing Arts and Recreation Center. Photo credit: Philadelphia Water.

Before we started our trailblazing Waterways collaboration with Mural Arts, we hit the streets for an informal survey looking at what people in Manayunk know about our efforts to improve the health of the Schuylkill River and whether that’s something they care about.

Since the dozens of colorful vinyl pieces created by artist Eurhi Jones for Waterways were designed to act as steppingstones linking Pretzel Park to a vastly improved Venice Island Performing Arts and Recreation Center with tons of important stormwater features, we wanted to know how many people knew about those improvements.

In that survey, a striking 90% of the people we spoke to weren't aware of all that Venice Island's stormwater features are doing to improve Schuylkill River water quality. The number was way out of whack with the percent of people—a full 100%—who support improving the health of our waterways. In other words, everyone wants healthy rivers, but not many people know how money is being spent to achieve that goal.

So, five months after the Waterways debut, we went back out to the streets of Manayunk to see if people had a better sense of how features like the green roof  and 4 million gallon stormwater basin at Venice Island are helping to make the Schuylkill better. And, we’re pleased to say that 30.6% of respondents said they knew about Philadelphia Water’s Venice Island improvements. It might not be the 100% we all want, but it’s a start!

To further highlight Waterways and other infrastructure-enhancing public art projects, we put together a cool video about Philly Water Art projects. You can find out all about Philly Water Art while getting a unique drone’s-eye-view of Venice Island and Manayunk here:

While Waterways was designed to be a temporary street art project, the Mural Arts team has been doing weekly check-ups on the integrity of the installation, and so far it’s still looking great. Philadelphia Water has also been monitoring the effectiveness of our stormwater basin, and it’s also doing its job of keeping dirty water out of the river. If you haven’t seen Waterways in person yet, we encourage you to take a stroll and soak in the art while checking out amazing Manayunk green spaces like Pretzel Park, the Manayunk Canal and Venice Island.

Do You Know What's Happening at Venice Island?

No? Come out to Main and Lock streets in Manayunk tonight at 6 p.m. and get the inside scoop along with a free scoop of ice cream. 

Cyclists in Manayunk stop to ask about the new Waterways artwork. Credit: Philadelphia Water.
Cyclists stop to ask about the new Waterways artwork in Manayunk. Credit: Philadelphia Water. 

While we were working with Mural Arts to install artist Eurhi JonesWaterways, a 10-block string of colorful steppingstones in Manayunk, our public engagement team took the time to do an informal survey of people passing through the neighborhood.

During the first two weeks of May, we spoke with 113 people at Pretzel Park, on Main Street, and at Venice Island–all places now featuring the temporary street art of Waterways

What we found reinforces our motivation for creating Waterways in the first place, and shows a definitive gap between what people want for the Schuylkill River and what they know about the work being done to make that desire a reality.

First, we asked people if they knew about the Philadelphia Water improvements that debuted at Venice Island in October 2014. Those improvements include a massive stormwater basin that keeps as much as 4 million gallons of untreated water from entering the Schuylkill as well as Philadelphia Parks and Recreation’s Venice Island Performing Arts and Recreation Center.

Of the 113 people we spoke to, just 11 said they knew about Philadelphia Water’s work at Venice Island. 

That lack of knowledge is precisely why we wanted to use art as a means of highlighting infrastructure. The work we do can be a little hard to wrap your head around if you aren’t an engineer or environmental scientist. Waterways uses compelling imagery to draw people toward the somewhat hidden grounds of Venice Island, where signs help to explain what the infrastructure–much of it shielded from view beneath the ground–is doing to make the Schuylkill a cleaner, healthier river.

And, if our informal little survey tells us anything, it’s that people really do care about making our rivers healthier places where both people and wildlife can thrive. When asked whether they support improving the health of our waterways, all 113 people said yes. People were also unanimously positive when asked if they think waterways can be incorporated into our city’s public spaces for recreation.

So, people want cleaner rivers and they want them to be a part of our recreational lives: places where we can fish, hike, go boating and more. Yet very few people seem to know what a huge public effort has been made in the pursuit of those goals.

Tonight, people will have a chance to learn about what Philadelphia Water is doing for the Schuylkill as we unveil  Waterways at a 6 p.m. ceremony and ice cream party (the treats are on us). Join us at Main and Lock streets, tour the artwork with Eurhi Jones, and educate yourself about how we’re working to make the Schuylkill the river we all want it to be.

If you can’t make it tonight, find us on Venice Island this Saturday during the PLAY Manayunk festival, and help spread the word about Philadelphia Water and Waterways to your neighbors. After all, it’s your informed support that makes fighting for the health of our rivers possible.

Follow along on social media: @PhillyH20 on Twitter  and Instagram and Facebook.com/PhillyH2O and use #phillywaterart to see what is being posted about Waterways!

Big Reveal: See 'Waterways' at Unveiling Party, PLAY Manayunk

'Waterways' will be introduced May 14, followed by PLAY Manayunk on May 16.
'Waterways' will be introduced May 14, followed by PLAY Manayunk on May 16. Credit: Tiffany Ledesma

Those walking the streets of Manayunk have probably noticed a little extra pop of color in the neighborhood, and not just from the spring foliage. Since the first week of May, the folks over at sign&design have been busy working to install over 50 pieces of temporary street art designed by local artist Eurhi Jones for our Waterways project. Created through a partnership with Mural Arts, Waterways wanders from Pretzel Park in central Manayunk down Main Street and to Venice Island, which sits between the Manayunk Canal and the Schuylkill River. 

It’s one of the biggest street art installations ever for Mural Arts, and the whole project will be unveiled on Thursday, May 14, with a public celebration at 6 p.m. that includes a tour with the artist and free ice cream. According to Mural Arts, the installation should survive weather and traffic conditions for 3 to 4 months, so Waterways will be a highly visible part of the Manayunk experience throughout the summer.  

So, why is a public utility like Philadelphia Water working with Mural Arts? Waterways is our way of highlighting the importance of a healthy Schuylkill River–health that is greatly enhanced by our recent stormwater management improvements at the Venice Island Performing Arts and Recreation Center.

Officially introduced in the fall of 2014, our renovations at Venice Island include a storage basin that can keep about 180 SEPTA buses worth – four million gallons – of untreated water from rushing into the Schuylkill during heavy rains. Other features include tree planters and a green roof to slow rainwater and a pump house that sends excess water from the basin to a treatment plant. All of that is good news for the shad, herons and crayfish featured in Waterways. It’s also good news for the many, many people who rely on a clean Schuylkill as their source for quality drinking water.

Now, people who see the artwork, which makes unique use of vinyl as a medium, can follow the steppingstones of Waterways through the neighborhood and to Venice Island and learn more about why this kind of infrastructure is so important for the health of our city and our waters. We're also hoping they’ll learn more about the amazing recreational amenities we brought to Venice Island with the help of Philadelphia Parks & Recreation.        

Speaking of recreation, Philadelphia Water will also be at the PLAY Manayunk festival on Saturday (May 16) as the Manayunk Development Corporation and others celebrate all the amazing exercise and play opportunities in the neighborhood with activities like an attempt to break the world record for group sit-ups. We will have a booth where people can learn more about Waterways and our work at Venice Island while doing fun water-related art projects with Mural Arts. PLAY Manaunk kicks off with a race at 8 a.m. and wraps up with the simultaneous sit-up challenge from 1-2 p.m. 

Other activities include nature hikes, yoga classes, kayak and dragon boat rides, dance lessons, old-school kid's games, crafts, food trucks, music, performances, and more.

We hope you’ll come out to one or both of these events and learn more about the great work we are doing to improve the health of your local waterways. 

If you’re in the neighborhood and like the art, take a photo and share it on social media with the hashtag #phillywaterart to see who else is enjoying Waterways!

For more on Waterways visit phillywatersheds.org/phillywaterart

Follow along on social media: @PhillyH20 on Twitter  and Instagram and Facebook.com/PhillyH2O

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