InFill Philadelphia Wants to Improve Storm Water Management in Philadelphia

Philadelphia’s stormwater management efforts might soon be privy to ideas generated by the best minds working in that field across the country.

This fall, those behind the Infill Philadelphia initiative, brought to us by folks at the Community Design Collaborative (CDC), plan to host a nationwide design challenge for three sites chosen by an interdisciplinary jury. The goal is to figure out how to be smart about stormwater management and also raise consciousness and awareness about the issue, according to Beth Miller, executive director of CDC.

This initiative is the next chapter in Infill’s revitalization efforts across the city, which began in 2005 with a pilot program that hosted a design challenge to generate new ideas about affordable housing prototype models. The efforts continued in three later phases, examining commercial corridorsfood access, and industrial sites (which concluded in 2010), and focused on refreshing underutilized areas of the city. The success of that project was analyzed and discussed in an article in the Philadelphia Social Innovations Journal.

Redesign effort from Broad & Passyunk intersection, from Commercial Corridor phase
Design concept for Girard Ave. supermarket, from Food Access phase

This upcoming stormwater aspect of Infill’s vision relies on collaboration between the Philadelphia Water Department and Environmental Protection Agency Region 3. According to Miller, the PWD model is based on an international model and is one of leading departments across the nation in terms of its proactive vision for creating stormwater management that reduces the need for expensive large infrastructure projects by revitalizing existing sites.

“In this case,” said Miller about PWD’s policy approach, “Philadelphia is the [national] model.”

Due to a high concentration of paved surface area across the city, PWD and others are using various stormwater management projects to mitigate the high loss of the city’s natural sponge-land.

One of many surface lots in Center City

In addition to renovations of numerous buildings and parks that include gardens and landscaping designed to catch and direct rainwater (like at the Kensington High School for the Creative and Performing Arts), the first step was the recent stormwater management design charrette hosted at the Henry C. Lea School in West Philly. There, various design professionals and community members met to talk about how they could improve the stormwater situation at the school. There’s also the city’s Green City, Clean Waters program, and the recent initiative announced by the Department of Parks and Recreation to transform blacktop at five city schools and five city rec centers to greenspace.

Currently, lots of blacktop at the Lea schoolyard

While this latest InFill Philadelphia initiative is still in its early stages (even in terms of promotion), we recognize it as the type of forward thinking program that will influence the shape of the city for the next half-century and beyond. Next Friday (June 29), InFill will announce its Precedent Exhibition Call for Entries, which solicits best practices to use a backdrop for their fall competition. That competition launch will occur in September at the Center for Architecture.

“We have the framework for it but we have to fill out a lot of blanks,” said Miller.

Well, readers, what are some sites across town that could best be renovated to incorporate modern stormwater management techniques?

–Lou Mancinelli