Philadelphia Becomes “Smarter City,” Finding Storm Water Runoff Control Has Other Benefits, Too

The winning Stormwater reStore proposal envisioned creating a Grays Ferry greenway

A rain garden at the Shissler Recreation Center in Kensington receives runoff from adjacent streets that previously made its way into nearby waterways but finds crime is also down utilizing natural water cycles, soil management, tree- and shrub-plantings.

The Shissler Recreation Center rain garden in Kensington.

Smart cities doesn’t just mean sensors.  Philadelphia’s 20-year storm-water plan, at $2.4 billion one of the city’s largest, is designed to prevent storm water inundation of the city’s sewers and waterways that carry road oil, raw sewage, and other pollutants by catching rain from such innovative catch-basins as rain gardens to manufactured wetlands to green roofs.

But is also having another unintended but positive benefits.

Research is suggesting that creating parks or cleaning up vacant lots might be linked to lower crime rates and better health among nearby residents, but whether storm-water projects like the rain garden at Shissler Recreation Center in Kensington would do the same is not clear, according Philadelphia Inquirer reporter Sandy Bauers.

The goal of the city’s plan, in partnership with the EPA and the city school system is to pepper the city with myriad small projects–from rain gardens to manufactured wetlands to green roofs– to sop up the first inch of rain and reduce the burden of water in city sewers, waterways, streams, and rivers of unwanted contamination or volume.  One of the biggest costs of city infrastructure is in building or maintaining its stormwater piping network.

Green stormwater management at Nebinger School, Photo courtesy of Philadelphia Water Department

Green stormwater management at Nebinger School in Center City in the Bella Vista and Queen Village section.

Philly is one of roughly 722 communities across the county using a combined sewer system. Normally these systems keep stormwater runoff and sewage separate, but during storms, the sewage and stormwater can mix and discharge into nearby waterways. Under the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Clean Water Act and Combine Sewer Overflow (CSO) Policy, Philly is required to meet certain standards and reduce the amount of sewage-stormwater mix discharged into area waterways.  This, according to Eyes on the Street transportation reporter Christine Fisher.

Sometimes “smart” just means having a good idea and in this case a shovel, soil, and planting shrubs and trees.  Who knew?

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