green infrastructure

Study Shows Evidence of “Triple Bottom Line” Effects of Green Stormwater Infrastructure

Water Fact Infographic

When we started the 25-year, $2.4 billion Green City, Clean Waters plan in 2011, the idea was that we could better manage our stormwater and reduce combined sewer overflows by leading with green infrastructure, as opposed to only using gray infrastructure, and that it would also have additional social and economic benefits. We call it our “triple bottom line" approach. While the environmental benefits (good news—we’re on track to meet our environmental targets for year five of the plan!) and economic benefits are quantifiable, the social benefits are harder to measure. But a recent study, published this January in the American Journal of Public Health, indicates that the green stormwater infrastructure we’ve installed in Philadelphia does, indeed, have social benefits as well.

The study, led by Michelle Kondo, formerly a postdoctoral student at the University of Pennsylvania's Center for Clinical Epidemiology and Biostatistics and now a scientist with the U.S. Department of Agriculture Forest Service in Philadelphia, looked at 52 green stormwater projects in Philadelphia and found consistent and statistically significant reductions in narcotic possession and manufacture, as well as burglaries near those sites.  

These impressive results caught the eye of the Inquirer’s Sandy Bauers, who featured the study in her regular GreenSpace column

[Kondo] and her colleagues, including Penn epidemiologist Charles Branas, who had studied vacant lots, compared the 52 sites with 186 similar areas where projects were planned but not yet built. They factored in socioeconomic data from the census, crime statistics, and health data.

Their results, published in January in the American Journal of Public Health, were an eyebrow-raiser. Between 2000 and 2012, incidents of drug possession at the project sites dropped by as much as 27 percent compared with the control sites.

As far as a half-mile away, "we saw a significant reduction," Kondo said.

The study controlled for a number of other factors—gentrification, general improvements in quality of life, etc.—that had occurred over the 12 years of the study and yielded a strong positive correlation between the presence of a Green City, Clean Waters project and incidents of drug possession. 

Clearly, there’s still more studying to be done so we can determine links to other improvements in overall quality of life measures and reductions in crime, but these initial results are very promising! Studies like this help demonstrate the return on investment for each individual green infrastructure project and that the triple bottom line approach is truly paying off! 

London Councillor Takes Note of Green City, Clean Waters

Thames River
Thames River, London. Photo by Matt Buck. 

In a letter to the editor of The Economist (third one from the top), Councillor Harry Phibbs of London's Hammersmith and Fulham Borough responds to their September article "London's Sewers, Smelling Sweet" about the Thames Tideway Tunnel. He makes a point about using green, natural stormwater infrastructure solutions by referencing Philadelphia’s “better, cheaper alternative of green infrastructure that soaks up the rainwater in various ways to stop it causing sewage overflows in the first place.” Of course he's referring to Green City, Clean Waters. (We guess this glowing praise means they’ve gotten over the role
Philadelphia played in that whole revolution thing.)

Here at PWD, we think any investment in infrastructure is worthy and applaud
London’s commitment to reduce sewage overflow into the Thames. In fact, we’re making similar investments in “hard infrastructure” with projects like the recently completed stormwater storage basin unit at Venice Island while also continuing our commitment to green infrastructure. It doesn’t necessarily have to be an “either or” choice. We can (and should) make investments in new pipes as well as new green stormwater infrastructure like tree trenches and rain gardens.

With that said, we are proud of the triple bottom line approach of Green City, Clean Waters. Investment in green infrastructure provides benefits that go beyond simply reducing combined sewer overflows--it also creates social benefits and is good for the economy. For every dollar we spend, we want to provide the biggest return and benefit to the public as well as the environment. Our hope is that green infrastructure, unlike "hard" or "gray" infrastructure, creates a system that will last as long as nature itself. Thanks to Councillor Phibbs for recognizing us for it!

Community Impact: Managing Water in Philadelphia

Penn State Public Media (PSPM), in collaboration with Fairmount Water Works   and The Penn State Center: Engaging Philadelphia is excited to announce a mini grant initiative, “Community Impact: Managing Water in Philadelphia.”
Request for Proposals
“Community Impact: Managing Water in Philadelphia”

Proposals Due by 5:00 p.m. EST, August 14, 2014

Grants made available with funding from the William Penn Foundation, will support projects within the Philadelphia region (Schuylkill and Delaware Watersheds) that combat water quality problems  using green infrastructure and which include an educational component.
Grants ranging from $500.00 to $2,000.00 will be awarded on a competitive basis to eligible applicants. Projects may  include, but are not limited to, local stream restoration projects, community rain garden or rain barrel installation projects, and green infrastructure projects that are implemented in a K-12 (and post high-school) environment . For more information about the grants or to apply, please visit:

“Community Impact: Managing Water in Philadelphia” mini grants are a component of Water Blues, Green Solutions, a public service media initiative. The centerpiece of Water Blues is a nationally distributed public television documentary produced by PSPM  that premiered in 2013. The mini grants initiative will help extend the impact of Water Blues. More information about this national initiative is available at:
**Please feel free to share this information with anyone that might be interested in applying for a grant via newsletters or  social media.

For more information, please contact:
Lindsey Faussette
Manager, Project Implementation
Penn State Public Media

5 ways PWD aims to be a model 21st Century urban water utility

To start off our series about points from the budget testimony PWD delivered this week, we wanted to share a couple of quick pieces for background—our mission and our short- and long-term goals.

PWD mission:
PWD aims to be America’s model 21st Century urban water utility- one that fully meets the complex responsibilities and opportunities of our time and environment. PWD’s mission is to:

  • Provide the Greater Philadelphia region with integrated water, wastewater and stormwater services
  • Protect public health by always delivering PWD’s customers the highest quality of drinking water at a competitive and affordable cost
  • Protect the environment by managing and treating the region’s wastewater and stormwater, protecting and advocating for rivers and streams and their watersheds, and protecting sources of drinking water
  • Support the sustainable growth of Philadelphia and its residents, communities, businesses and industry as well as the financial well-being of the utility
  • Continue to be America’s most innovative utility with a constant focus on quality, efficiency, customer service and affordability

We just LOVE that we’re getting to support sustainable growth as the city’s population continues to be on the rise! The key, as we say, is making sure that growth is smart and sustainable so it also allows us to protect the environment for the next several generations of Philadelphians.

How do we plan on fulfilling this mission? Check it out:

PWD’s short and long term goals:
PWD recently completed a new Strategic Plan, which was created with the input of PWD’s own staff, other city and government agencies, and external partners. The plan focuses on eight key areas:

  • Improve customer service, outreach and assistance
  • Increase workforce strength and diversity
  • Improve our financial health
  • Invest in capital planning
  • Protect our infrastructure
  • Uphold excellence in core services
  • Ensure sustainable utility operations
  • Support a strong and diverse Philadelphia business community

It’s no accident that improved customer service is at the top of the list. It is a top priority for PWD and a place where we’re always striving to get better. Friday we’ll share some more details about how we plan to do this.

Penn State Students Work on Green Stormwater Infrastructure Projects

Image by Chelsea Scott

Saturday, October 5, Penn State students and volunteers helped restore two green stormwater infrastructure projects –a rain garden and a stormwater bumpout-- on Lancaster Avenue. “The two sites we worked on weren’t functioning properly. So we fixed them, prettied them up, mulched, planted — the whole shebang,” said Tommy McCann, an urban agriculture coordinator and horticultural educator at Penn State.

The idea for the volunteer day began when organizers from Penn State met with the Philadelphia Water Department to discuss possible partnerships and to tour stormwater infrastructure sites that PWD had plans to improve, including the rain garden and bumpout on Lancaster Ave. This cleanup day is part of a bigger initiative by Penn State Public Media to produce a documentary that tells the story of how cities acrossthe United States are learning to manage stormwater with green infrastructure. PennState plans to release the film, Water Blues Green Solutions, in late 2013.

Read more about PennState’s work on Lancaster Avenue and check out the preview for the Philadelphia segment of the Water Blues Green Solutions documentary.

Julian Abele Park Grand Reopening

Julian Abele Park: Ribbon Cutting and Grand Reopening from Philadelphia Water Department on Vimeo.

Love your Park week came to a close on Saturday, May 18th with events and festivities around the City. One of these events was the grand reopening of Julian Abele Park in the Graduate Hospital neighborhood. Check out this short video of Shelly Jones, a PWD engineer, speaking about PWD stormwater improvements at the event last weekend. Also, check out Naked Philly’s pre-game coverage for some great photos.

The park has undergone a number of improvements including innovative stormwater management work led by PWD as part of Green City, Clean Waters. The stormwater projects include tree trenches in the sidewalks adjacent to the park with paver accents to match the park's interior design. The tree trenches are designed to manage approximately the first 1.3 inches of rain during a storm. This means that runoff from more than half an acre is managed on site, reducing pollutants that end up in our rivers and streams by keeping stormwater out of the sewer.

City agencies and community advocates worked together to complete the various park improvements including the Department of Public Property (DPP), Parks and Recreation (PP&R), the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society (PHS), and the Friends of Julian Abele Park. Work was funded through neighborhood fund-raising and a grant from The Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR). 

It’s a Wrap! Congratulations to our Rain Barrel Artists

With over 800 votes, the results for our Rain Barrel Wrap contest are in! Congratulations to the top three winners: Philly Pride, Cats and Dogs and Liquid Motion.

Students between the ages of 11 and 21 from Laura W. Waring School and YESPhilly participated in a design workshop with artists from the Mural Arts Program and educators from Fairmount Water Works Interpretive Center and the Philadelphia Water Department to create exciting original artwork that will be wrapped around a limited number of rain barrels. We hope this artwork will help bring attention to small actions in stormwater management (like installing a rain barrel) that can make a big difference.

Thanks to everybody who voted to help select the top three student designs. You are invited to the Fairmount Waterworks Interpretive Center for the Water Department and Mural Arts dedication where we’ll recognize the winning artists. The dedication is scheduled for Thursday, March 14th at 4:00 p.m. right behind the Museum of Art on the Schuylkill River in the Fairmount Water Works Interpretive Center at 640 Water Works Drive. Please send RSVPs to


Philly Pride by Titus Edwards (YES Philly)

Philly Pride

Titus’ idea for this design came from a classroom conversation about pride in Philadelphia. For him, pride in the City comes from the people in his community. He chose the typical rowhomes of ordinary people as a symbol of Philadelphia community pride.

Cats and Dogs, a class collaboration

Cats and Dogs

This design is a playful interpretation of the old saying, “It’s raining cats and dogs!” Students created a whimsical image by using bold colors and drawing a variety of cats and dogs.


Liquid Motion, a class collaboration

Liquid Motion

For this design, students chose blues and greens to represent water. They mixed these colors with glue, let them dry and photographed them against a light, giving the photographs a water-like translucency.

A Kickstart for Green Infrastructure

Photo Credit: PlanPhilly

Innovative green stormwater infrastructure will help breathe new life into the historic Cynwyd Train Station! The Lower Merion Historical Society is working to raise money over the next month for a new multipurpose stormwater harvesting system for the 125-year old train station. They’ve chosen Kickstarter as their fundraising tool—a website that allows individuals to make direct contributions to creative projects. 

Five years ago, the Historical Society began a program to refurbish Cynwyd Station, built in 1890 by the Pennsylvania Railroad. Although the station building is no longer used by Septa, once renovated, the site will be a trailhead with bathrooms and refreshments for the Cynwyd Heritage Trail, a walking and biking pathway. 

The biggest challenge in renovating the building is the waterlogged basement. The station’s current downspouts deposit rainwater too close to the building’s foundation, causing water to soak into the lower level.

North Street Design responded to the Historical Society’s dilemma with a pro-bono design for a combination stormwater tank, downspout planter and bench system for Cynwyd Station. The system will match the station’s aesthetics, manage rain water and serve as a seating area. 

While North Street is covering the design and installation costs of the stormwater system, the Historical Society needs your help covering supply costs. Through the Kickstarter website, the Society has about three weeks to raise about $2,000 in donations. They are already over half-way to their $5,000 goal! Help support this innovative project and learn more details about the plan by visiting the Kickstarter page. In exchange for a donation, the Historical Society is offering free memberships, guided tours and rain garden workshops. 

You're Invited…Infill Philadelphia: Soak It Up! Design Awards Ceremony

The Philadelphia Water Department and Community Design Collaborative invite you to the Design Awards Ceremony concluding the Infill Philadelphia: Soak It Up! design competition. This national, interdisciplinary design competition challenged designers, engineers, and other sustainability professionals to show how green stormwater infrastructure can transform our City.

The design competition is part of Infill Philadelphia: Soak It Up!—an 18-month partnership between the Philadelphia Water Department, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and Community Design Collaborative to revitalize urban neighborhoods through the adoption of green stormwater management in the Philadelphia region. These methods are outlined in Green City, Clean Waters, Philadelphia’s $2 billion, 25-year plan to protect and enhance the City’s waterways by managing stormwater primarily through innovative green stormwater infrastructure.

After a reception and an exhibition of competition entries in the Hall of Dinosaurs at the Academy of Natural Sciences, we’ll move to the auditorium for rapid-fire presentations by the nine finalists. Three winning teams will be chosen by a jury to receive $10,000 prizes. Proceeds from the Design Awards benefit the Collaborative’s Infill Philadelphia program. Reserve your spot!


Infill Philadelphia: Soak It Up! Design Competition Awards

Thursday, March 7, 2013

6 PM to 9 PM 

Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University

1900 Benjamin Franklin Parkway, Philadelphia, PA 

Cost Savings Week Begins With A Project That Will Save Billions!

Liberty Lands Rain Garden

A rain garden manages stormwater at Liberty Lands Park, Northern Liberties.


During our last blog series we talked about how the rising costs of “big ticket items” are a large part of what’s driving PWD's rate adjustments. We should also explain that we aren’t proposing these adjustments without first doing everything we can to balance increasing costs with cuts to our expenses. 

Some of the most significant savings come from the Green City, Clean Waters plan. This is the City of Philadelphia's plan to meet requirements for reducing the overflow of sewage into the Delaware and Schuylkill rivers during rain storms. While other cities have been faced with costs as high as $8 billion for creating entirely new tunnels to separate storm water from waste water, PWD will spend about a quarter of that over the next several years on green infrastructure meant to keep much of the storm water from ever entering the system. The end result: fewer streets torn up for months to install new tunnels and more trees and other greenery throughout the city, providing cleaner air and water while reducing the urban “heat island” effect that cooks us each summer.

These are investments that will pay off down the road in lower maintenance costs, less strain on the current infrastructure and fewer gallons of water that need to be treated at our sewage treatment plants. This doesn’t even begin to capture the lower costs that will come from an overall healthier, cleaner environment when you factor in lower healthcare expenses and less need for massive clean-ups of our rivers and streams.

It’s a win-win… a less expensive way of enacting these mandated measures to clean up our stormwater process and lower costs down the line as we realize the benefits of these investments.

For more information about Green City, Clean Waters, check out the Year in Review to see how far we’ve come already and learn more about where we’re going.  For a highly technical analysis of the cost-savings from Green City, Clean Waters, view Section 9 of the plan which compares alternatives to the green infrastructure approach. 

Have you noticed Green City, Clean Waters projects in your neighborhood? Share them with us on our Facebook page.

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