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Newark–Philadelphia Study Visit Focuses on Implementing Green Infrastructure at Scale

September 27th, 2017 by

This article was written by New Jersey Future Managing Director for Policy and Water Chris Sturm and Planning and Policy Associate Kandyce Perry.

Newark and Philadelphia staff represented the many departments and functions involved with green infrastructure, including water and sewer, engineering, roads, public works including parks and recycling, economic development, workforce development, public affairs, finance, legal and sustainability.

The City of Newark recently capitalized on the Philadelphia Water Department (PWD)’s considerable experience managing stormwater. Both cities face major regulatory requirements to upgrade old combined sewer systems that overflow raw sewage into waterways. But Philadelphia is about 10 years ahead, having responded to a federal consent decree by submitting its Green City Clean Waters plan in 2009. The ensuing program has earned national recognition for the use of green stormwater infrastructure (GSI) techniques like rain gardens, green roofs and green streets. In order to take advantage of PWD’s head start, 11 staff members from Newark traveled to the city in mid-September for a busy day-and-a-half exchange.

Partnerships were among the topics of dinner conversations, when nonprofit representatives joined city staff.

The Newark delegation sought to learn how to implement green infrastructure at scale, both to reduce combined sewer overflows and to help make neighborhoods and downtown districts healthier, more beautiful and less prone to flooding. As Director of Water and Sewer Utilities Andrea Adebowale explained in her introduction, Newark wants to be proactive in managing stormwater runoff, and it wants to be green. Marc Cammarata, PWD’s deputy commissioner for environmental planning, responded warmly in his opening remarks, noting, “We can’t do it alone. As members of the water industry, it’s time for us to band together and share. Communication and collaboration are the secret to efficiency and growth.”

PWD staff demonstrate how stormwater runoff from the road is channeled to water street trees with large underground (and invisible) tree pits on this “green street.”

Mark and his staff kicked off the afternoon with an overview of the Green City Clean Waters program, followed by in-depth presentations covering GSI planning, design and maintenance; partnerships and outreach; and stormwater management regulations and incentives. The sessions concluded with an open panel discussion. The group was joined at a lively dinner by seven nonprofit partners, including Jersey Water Works steering committee member Larry Levine from Natural Resources Defense Council and JWW member Scott Dvorak of Trust for Public Land. The following day, PWD staff led a tour of three GSI installations and were fortunate to encounter a maintenance crew in action.

At the wrap-up session, Marc Cammarata shared 11 summary recommendations:

  1. Clearly define your goal.
  2. Explain the benefits.
  3. Leverage partners and investments.
  4. Explore paths to compliance.
  5. Standardize as much as possible.
  6. Diversify the workforce.
  7. Seek support from state and federal government.
  8. Look for ways to streamline the procurement process.
  9. Incorporate feedback loops from monitoring data into all departments.
  10. Continue to push. Don’t stop.
  11. Celebrate successes.

View the full slides from the visit here.

Contract workers describe their private-sector green jobs maintaining green infrastructure, for which they were hired after graduating from job training program Philly Power Corps.

Cammarata and GSI Manager Jessica Brooks also suggested two basic approaches for getting started: First, harness redevelopment to make sure it reflects the city’s vision as a green, inclusive community, and second, “jump in and do it,” meaning build a few green infrastructure demonstration projects and learn from them.

Before leaving for the trip back to Newark, engineering director Phillip Scott, concluded, “We have a long way to go, but it’s helpful to know that it took Philly many years to get this far. Now we have a better idea of what we need to do.” Newark staff has already reconvened to identify next steps.

As the New Jersey Future staff members who facilitated the trip, we would like to thank the Philadelphia Water Department for being such generous and well prepared hosts, especially GSI Partnerships Supervisor Jessica Noon, who pulled together a remarkable program, and Marc Cammarata, who led enthusiastically. We appreciate the entire Newark delegation’s curiosity, commitment and stamina, and are especially grateful for Chief Sustainability Officer Nathaly Agosto-Filion’s key role in coordinating their participation. And now, we look forward to watching Newark “go green!”

This project was made possible with generous support from the Victoria Foundation.

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