visualizing the urban water cycle
If you are currently standing on the 300 block of Christian Street in the Queen Village neighborhood of South Philadelphia, you will notice the blue dots surrounding you. It’s not graffiti, it’s art - a community art project installed by Stacy Levy, the Mural Arts Program, the Philadelphia Water Department, and the local community, including the Courtyard Apartments. This project aims to raise awareness of the urban water cycle in Philadelphia. When it rains in Philly, the sewer pipes do not have the capacity to hold all of the polluted water, so much of it is released into our waterways.
After a community workshop with Stacy and local residents, a simple but effective design was created for the representation.
The workshop provided an opportunity for the community to voice their own ideas on how the movement of water should be presented. Stacy helped those who attended to think creatively about Philadelphia’s natural systems and how they are impacted by human development. Stacy spoke of the history, “Water has flowed through this once marshy landscape. Though there are no historic streams recorded in this part of the neighborhood, the water rose and fell in the earth with the Delaware River’s tide.” Later in the month, friends, neighbors and family gathered to trace, cut, paint and even heat the dotted design to the street and sidewalk during a community installation day. Hands on learning about stormwater and a drill team added to the fun-filled day of art! Check out the process in our slideshow.
Notice how the blue dots make a sweeping pattern? The small circles make up a larger wave – just as water droplets make up a larger body of water. The wave symbolizes how water flows over streets and other impermeable surfaces that do not allow water to seep through them. If you’re standing on the site, look across the street – at the garden. Unlike pavement, the Southwark Garden is a permeable surface that water can slowly soak into during a rain event.
"This dry pool of blue reflective dots brings the sense of the water to the surface of the city street. Its amorphous shape is reminiscent of an aquatic microorganism. The water creates a bridge across the street and shows the flow of rain water and waste water under the street flowing down east to the river. The sense of water flowing is something we forget in the hardscape of the city. This project reminds us of the flows of water both on and under the street and connects our pattern of the urban street grid to the movement of water into the Delaware River." - Stacy Levy
The dots travel across the street until they reach the stormwater inlets. At this point, rain water from the street flows into the inlets, under the street and into sewer pipes. This artistic interpretation remains above ground in order to help passerby’s visualize the path water takes below the street. Once the stormwater enters the inlets, all further movements occur out of sight, in the sewer pipes. The dots continue to curve down the street, towards the Delaware River. If you follow these dots for a little over a mile, you will arrive at the bank of the river. Looking over the edge, you will see the outfall, where the stormwater runoff and waste is discharged to the river. Rain water, pollutants in our stormwater, and sewage from homes and businesses are carried from Christian Street to this outfall (the end of the pipe), and into the river. For this reason, it is extremely important to manage stormwater, as it falls on the city’s surfaces. Help us keep the pollution out of these waterways where we fish, play and even get our drinking water.
The Philadelphia Water Department is taking many steps to reduce water pollution in our waterways. Feel free to explore – follow the dots down to the river and read through this website for more stormwater information. The Water Department’s website has great information about Green City, Clean Waters, the Philadelphia Water Department initiative to set the national standard for environmentally-friendly stormwater management. To learn more about what you can do to manage stormwater runoff, click here. The Water Department’s Flickr site also has many fun and interesting photos.