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Water as an Urban Feature in Philadelphia

Philly Tram I’m an engineer, I love to design things, and I’m lucky enough to have a job where I get to design residential and industrial subdivisions. But again and again I’m left as the lone voice to battle for the right to let the water flow, let it out of the pits and pipes into natural channels and creeks, as well as habitat welcoming ponds.

Council’s design criteria rarely include aesthetics, normally quantity and quality of the outflow are all that count, regardless of how the answers were derived.

Today I was cheered by the following article which shows innovation in a large city dealing with vacant lots and way too much stormwater. Philadelphia is built on a natural watershed, originally crisscrossed by creeks and streams which have become polluted, filled in, and replaced with pipes. The new plan aims to return the water cycle to one that employs natural processes and allows for visual amenity through form and function of the system. Read more after the jump…

[ad#125-right]Right now, Philadelphia has too many vacant lots and way too much storm water.

When an average summer storm slams our old sewer system, the sudden downpour overwhelms the city’s wastewater treatment plants. During storms, oily street sewage is mixed with human sludge, and dumped into the Delaware River. That’s bad for a river where bass, shad and other marine life are finally returning to this city’s shores…..

The plan uses waterworks like pebbled ponds and grassy swales to hold the overflow and purify the downpour. Their sketches of the neighborhood around Parkside Avenue and 51st Street show how canals and streams would carry clean water from neighborhood to neighborhood. Waterwork would displace no one, because the new, man-made waterways respect the existing grid of streets. It’s expandable and scaleable, because one-by-one, households would divert water from their roofs into neighborhood waterworks.

Source: Just Add Water :: Opinion :: Philadelphia City Paper

Sounds like a perfectly sustainable concept.  Housing prices should improve through the increased amenity provided, and the fact that the vacant lots would no longer be vacant. The stormwater would be treated, and clean water would follow the age old channels that existed prior to the development of the city.

This project identifies the heart of sustainable stormwater and total water cycle management projects in city or urban areas, space is needed, but often space exists, it just needs to be reconsidered as being available.

Mike Thomas

Mike Thomas P.Eng. ENV SP, is the author of UrbanWorkbench.com and Director of Engineering at the City of Revelstoke in the Interior of British Columbia, Canada. If I post something here that you find helpful as you navigate the world of engineering, planning and building communities, that’s wonderful. But when push comes to shove: This is my personal blog. The views expressed on these pages are mine alone and not those of my employer.

4 thoughts on “Water as an Urban Feature in Philadelphia

  1. Philadelphia Orchard Project has been planting orchards on vacant lots. Highest and best use of land in a city camped thousands of miles from its winter food, while food prices rise. There are 50,000+ chronically hungry children here.

  2. @Paul – thanks for your link to the project, it is important to see efforts like this growing in communities across the continent. Best of luck with the endeavor,

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