Philadelphia, December 7, 2010- Building on Philadelphia’s commitment to become the greenest city in America, Mayor Michael A. Nutter today announced a bold action plan to transform 500 acres of empty or underused land into publicly accessible green space in neighborhoods throughout Philadelphia over the next five years. The new plan, called Green 2015, pledges that the City will partner with communities, local institutions, foundations and the private sector to assemble acreage that “connects people to parks” in underserved neighborhoods throughout the City. At the same time, the plan provides an innovative way to boost the City’s compliance with new federal stormwater regulations that require the City to reduce stormwater runoff into local rivers and streams.
The plan was announced at a press conference this morning at the Hank Gathers Recreation Center in North Philadelphia, where future greening initiatives will include a community garden, new street trees, and stormwater improvements and the partial greening of a paved recreation area. City officials will use existing public funds to pay for the greening initiative at Gathers. Later today, the Green 2015 plan will be presented to community leaders, horticulturalists, and other opinion leaders at a formal presentation held at the Academy of Natural Sciences in Center City.
“Green 2015 is a strategy for using green space to improve the lives of our fellow citizens, more than 200,000 of whom have no access to parks today,” Mayor Nutter said. “At the same time, it works as an effective tool for economic development by improving quality of life in neighborhoods all across Philadelphia. “This plan also improves the City’s compliance with the federal stormwater regulations,” the Mayor said. “But Green 2015 is more than just a way for us to meet this federal mandate. The genius of Green 2015 is that it offers us a way to turn an obligation into an opportunity – a chance to make our City a more attractive place to live, work and play for those who live here now as well as those we seek to attract in years to come.”
While the City will look to reallocate existing public funds to acquire land parcels that “maximize opportunity,” the Green 2015 plan does not contemplate the City’s acquisition of the entire 500-acre commitment. Instead, much of the land targeted for this initiative already is publicly owned and therefore requires no public funds to acquire. The City also will rely on private partners like the University of Pennsylvania, which has pledged to make the new, 24-acre Penn Park accessible for public use, to help reach the 500-acre goal over the next five years.
Green 2015 was commissioned by the Department of Parks and Recreation in cooperation with the City Planning Commission, under a grant from the William Penn and Lenfest Foundations. Other project partners include PennPraxis, a unit within the University of Pennsylvania’s School of Design, and the Philadelphia Water Department. City officials also are in early conversations with the School District of Philadelphia about the possibility of greening some public schoolyards. If successful, these concepts could be expanded across the system as part of the District’s facilities master plan, which could provide new green space for citizens while also reducing stormwater runoff.
“Our goal is to focus on parks and green space as a long-term investment in Philadelphia’s future,” said Parks and Recreation Commissioner Michael DiBerardinis. “Green 2015 charts a course for action that will make our city more equitable, livable, and competitive. “We can improve the air we breathe, protect the water we drink, provide children and families with places for recreation, and increase the attractiveness of our neighborhoods – all by taking affordable steps to transform existing land into publicly accessible green space,” DiBerardinis said. “By any standard, Green 2015 makes sense for Philadelphia, and we look forward to engaging with many partners to advance this work.”
Green2015 offers a set of criteria to guide decision making about adding new parks, while at the same time maintaining and improving our existing parks. These criteria include ensuring that new parks serve residents without current access to parks; meeting the requirements of the Philadelphia Water Department’s Green City, Clean Waters program and the Planning Commission’s comprehensive plan, Philadelphia2035; and addressing environmental, public health and economic objectives. In collaboration with the Philadelphia City Planning Commission, Green2015 offers a long-range vision for a city-wide trail and greenway network to connect all Philadelphia neighborhoods with our great waterfront parks and regional trails along on- and off-road dedicated bike and pedestrian paths.
Green 2015 provides a variety of short-term “greening” goals that can be achieved without major new sources of public funds: paved recreation centers that already are budgeted for green improvements, for example; or the large stock of publicly- owned vacant lands; or paved public schoolyards. These sites are located in every Philadelphia neighborhood, and they present attractive opportunities for low-cost, high-impact greening that can create viable parks in areas that currently lack them.
“The plan’s recommendations offer a way for us to make a dramatic start in improving the look and feel of the City,” said Penn Praxis Executive Director Harris Steinberg. “By contrast, it’s time to look at the cost of doing nothing. There are more than 40,000 public and private vacant parcels in Philadelphia that cost taxpayers more than $21 million a year. “We are effectively subsidizing blight in Philadelphia when we could be using those funds in ways that improve the lives of our citizens, make our city more attractive for economic development, and preserve and protect our water supply,” Steinberg said. “Green 2015 recommends a new course of action, one that provides a sensible new way to address these issues and build a world-class city in the process.”