How Green a City is Philly? Much, Much Greener Than You Think.
From Day One, Mayor Nutter has trumpeted his pet goal of putting Philadelphia among the green city elite. It’s a daring goal, to be sure, given the starting point—the former Workshop of the World is still visibly shedding the cocoon of its industrial past. There have been some visible signs of change recently, from prominent new bike lanes to a gaggle of solar-powered waste receptacles on street corners. But are they token gestures or the tip of a greening iceberg? Decisively the latter, as it turns out, a quickly emerging success story detailed in the 2011 Greenworks Progress Report.
Over the last few years, Philadelphia has emerged as a leader in “clean tech,” attracting a mix of major government and private funding. The U.S.’s first LEED Platinum school building, in Kensington, was followed by a private LEED-Platinum upgrade of two mixed-use Fishtown properties. Meanwhile, city recycling has quadrupled in just four years as it simplified to single-stream and expanded to accept all plastics. And those new bike lanes serve the nation’s leading big-city bike-commuter population. Green stormwater infrastructure like green roofs and permeable pavement are sprouting up in a variety city projects. Even the transition to synchronized, LED traffic signals will save fuel and electricity. Finally, the city is already implementing its “Green 2015” initiative, which seeks to convert 500 acres of under-utilized city-owned land into green spaces. A great example of that undertaking’s transformative potential: the gorgeous new Race Street Pier (pictured above), which has instantly expanded the appeal of the Delaware River waterfront.
The beauty of many of these initiatives is that they address problems facing the city now, while securing Philly’s place as a city of the future. Becoming a green-tech center adds jobs and broadens the tax base. Converting unused city lots to parks makes neighborhoods safer, cleaner and more hospitable. Facilitating bike commuting eases congestion and air pollution. Greening city infrastructure saves on energy costs and eases the burden on municipal water treatment facilities. It’s a genuine case of the “win-win” cliché.
But, lest you think me a breathless shill for Philly and the Nutter Administration, I should point out that the city still has quite a long way to go. For example, its recycling rates are still relatively low (Seattle’s is close to triple); it lacks the curbside composting of leading green cities such as San Francisco, Seattle and Boulder (despite grassroots efforts like Sustainable 19125’s Compost Co-op); Chicago and New York are adding green roofs more quickly; and we can’t really compete with Portland for bicycle-friendliness (though we’re neck and neck for best beer town in the U.S.). These (mostly) West Coast cities are the leaders, but at least now they can hear Philly’s rapid footsteps behind them.
To do your part: work on greening your home and your commute, encourage your office to take the Philadelphia Bar’s sustainability pledge, and generally strive to be more thoughtful and informed about your environmental impact. It all adds up quickly!