The Center for Sustainable Communities at Ambler Campus recently received a $25,000 grant from the Wells Fargo Foundation to support a new capstone class in the Department of Community and Regional Planning. The class will be service-learning based and is aimed to benefit low-income neighborhoods in Philadelphia.
The new capstone class will expand on the efforts to help promote green communities while the Wells Fargo grant will provide funding for “Green Neighborhood Toolkits,” a project targeted at providing community-based organizations with tools to educate residents about green living.
“This spring is the first time that we are offering Community and Development workshops,” Dr. Lynn Mandarano, associate professor of Community and Regional Planning, said. “I thought to make this an effective project. It helps to support the work of New Kensington.”
The New Kensington Community Development Corporation’s ‘Sustainable 19125’ program will serve as a basis for the capstone. The corporation trained outreach volunteers called “Green Guides” to go door-to-door in the neighborhood to provide education in the field of sustainability, Mandarano said.
“The students should be really excited,” Dr. Mandarano said. “The project will give the students first-hand experience talking with and working with community leaders and residents to understand how they envision making their neighborhoods more sustainable and why. The students also will learn that achieving sustainability is a complex, challenging and long-term process as they review the multiple plans and projects that the city has created.”
This is the third grant that the Center for Sustainable Communities has received in the past six months, behind a $60,000 U.S. Environmental Protection Agency grant and a $1.235 million grant from the William Penn Foundation, both aimed toward watershed restoration in Philadelphia and the greater Philadelphia area.
Dr. Jeffrey Featherstone, the Director of the Center of Sustainable Communities, said that the water restoration grants are some of the largest grants that the center received this year.
“Philadelphia has not done a very good job of taking care of their watersheds,” Dr. Featherstone said. “Bulldozing and roads that were paved over the streams, for example, created unsanitary sewers. Now we’re trying to figure out how to restore them.”
Dr. Featherstone said that the hope is to begin at the upstream cluster of Philadelphia and turn storm water basins into infiltration facilities.
“Getting enough of them built may be difficult, but we are hoping that others may help us along the way,” he said. “Though work needs to be done, Philadelphia has become a national leader, doing more to implement green storm water management and sanitary sewers.”
The Center for Sustainable Communities is continuing to research green architecture to find solutions to the problem.
“If you can get the first inch of run-off in the ground, you’re handling 85 percent of the precipitation,” Dr. Featherstone said. “We’re working with private and public properties in Philadelphia communities, trying to implement tree trenches, green streets, green roofs and rain gardens to prevent sewer overflow.”
Trevor Klein, a graduate student in earth and environmental science who is assisting with the watershed research, said he supports the community-oriented projects funded by the recent grants.
“The most crucial aspect of sustainability is indeed that a project is sustainable and that the funding and interest have to be in place to ensure that the project is completed and adequately assessed,” Klein said.
“I am very grateful to have this opportunity to continue building my knowledge of restoration practices and I feel that this experience will serve me very well in the future,” Klein said.
Ted Mullen, also a graduate student in the department of environmental design, said that he thinks the recent grant from the Wells Fargo Foundation will continue to provide the funds for hands-on, service-based education in the same way that the EPA and William Penn Foundation grants have.
“I think I’ve started to gain a better understanding of sustainability as a marketing or buzz word versus sustainability as a goal or an objective,” Mullen said.“There is the need to understand what the public really needs, and effectively relate and give information to them. It’s really where all these things come together that interests me, so this project has really become the perfect way for me to dip my feet in the planning field.”
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