This spring, 22 stormwater planters will be added along 12th and 13th streets in Yorktown, a neighborhood just south of Main Campus, as a part of its five-year plan to add green infrastructure to the community.
The addition of stormwater planters is part of the Green and Complete Streets project established by the Yorktown Community Development Corporation and the Philadelphia Water Department, which aims to decrease pollution in the city’s rivers.
The planters are containers installed in the sidewalk designed to catch runoff rainwater. The soil and plants absorb some of that runoff, and the rest is filtered down through the planter and into a pipe that connects to the sewer system.
The Green and Complete Streets project is expected to break ground in the spring and will be completed before 2019, city officials said. It is part of the Philadelphia Water Department’s city-wide initiative called Green City, Clean Waters.
The 22 stormwater planters will beautify the area and reduce the burden on the city’s combined sewer system by catching the first inch of rainfall per green acre.
Along with the planters, Yorktown will add two bus shelters, upgrade ramps for people with disabilities and widen and pave bike lanes.
Ariel Ben-Amos, a strategic coordinator at the Philadelphia Water Department, said the city’s sewer system carries both stormwater and sewage through the same system to a water treatment facility. When there is excessive rain or melting snow, sewage overflows. To decrease the burden on the water treatment facility when it overflows, some of the sewage and stormwater mixture is redirected and released into the Delaware River.
According to the Philadelphia Water Department’s website, stormwater runoff and sewer overflows are the two biggest factors that contribute to river pollution in Philadelphia.
The water department measures its progress in “greened acres,” which are a unit of measurement used to describe the transition from an impervious acre of land into one that will catch at least one inch of rainfall. The city plans to create 9,500 greened acres in Philadelphia, with at least two acres in Yorktown.
Yorktown Community Organization President Robert McMichael said he is confident in the city’s commitment to making the streets of Yorktown more sustainable.
“This will prevent so much of the contamination,” McMichael said. “We’ve had a hard winter here, and we’ve had a lot of salt put down in these parking lots. All that stuff will drain right into the ground and not into the rivers, where they have to do the filtration and everything to try to clean up all the water before it’s released.”
The Green and Complete Streets project began planning in 2011, but was delayed in 2012 due to cost. The project was tabled until an additional source of funding could be found, wrote Kathryn Drake, a Philadelphia Water Department design engineer, in an email.
In 2014, the Green and Complete Streets group was awarded more than $800,000 in grants from the Multimodal Transportation Fund, which is the Pennsylvania Department of Community & Economic Development’s reserve focused on funding reliable transportation systems.
But, Ben-Amos said, construction was delayed in 2015 due to procedural complications regarding the release of the funds from the Multimodal Transportation Fund and increased scrutiny during the review process due to Yorktown’s 2012 designation as a National Historic District.
Ben-Amos said the Green and Complete Streets project was developed because of the Yorktown residents’ concerns for the environment.
“We heard the residents wanted greening in the community,” Ben-Amos added. “The green is the most visible part of [the planters] but much of the work happens below the surface. We specifically designed this project to meet community concerns and desire for greening in their community.”
“We have control structures within our system to channel the water before it hits the outfall to go to our wastewater treatment plants, but with climate change we’re having more rain, and that means our system is often at overcapacity and then that water goes into the outfalls and directly into our rivers,” Ben-Amos said.