October 22, 2009
"Greenworks Philadelphia is not a panacea for the city and its current economic struggles. Rather, it is a vision for how Philadelphia can and should seize this moment, building upon the assets left to us by earlier Philadelphians and creating a better future for ourselves, our children and generations still to come." --Mayor Michael A. Nutter, City of Philadelphia
Philadelphia has ambitions to become the greenest City in America. Its recently released comprehensive sustainability plan, Greenworks Philadelphia, articulates that vision. And yet, its infrastructure is crumbling. Facing increasingly scarce resources, simultaneously achieving green-city goals and a state of good repair will require a change of approach.
Enter green infrastructure, an emerging paradigm that couples the economic benefits of traditional infrastructure with the ancillary environmental and social benefits that can accrue from natural design elements. Studies have shown this new approach to be a good dollar-for-dollar investment, particularly for cities seeking innovative ways to undertake cost-effective development programs and promote future economic competitiveness.
Still, green infrastructure's incorporation into Philadelphia's redevelopment strategy has been anything but seamless. Despite well-researched plans, clear economic, environmental, and social benefits, and growing public consensus, stakeholders have failed to develop a consistent method for implementation.
This frustration is not for a lack of vision. Proposed projects and plans languish for lack of funding, but the impasse runs deeper. Solutions demand strategies that match the scale of proposed investments. A scan of national best practices reveals two: making the case, and "routinizing" the investment.
But, of course, best practices only go so far. Philadelphia's unique challenges add complexity to the decision-making process. This reality is reflected in the report. In sum, its recommendations form a comprehensive road map to provide City leaders with new tools for navigating the path towards Philadelphia's green-city goals.
Framework of a Winning Strategy
Phase 1: Show Visionary Leadership
With the creation of the Mayor's Office of Sustainability, the release of Greenworks, and the Water Department's innovative approach to stormwater management, this is well underway. Still, more can be done to:
Phase II: Reconstitute Structures and Policies
Again, progress has been made, particularly of late by the Zoning Code Commission and Task Force on Tax Policy and Economic Competitiveness. For green infrastructure, additional reforms are necessary to:
Phase III: Leverage Existing Assets
Leadership and structural reform will pave the way for more strategic asset management. To accomplish green infrastructure goals in an era of increasing fiscal constraint will require redeploying existing monetary and non-monetary resources. Opportunities are emerging to:
Phase IV: Find New Funding Sources
Ultimately, achieving ambitious goals will require new resources, particularly at the local level. Leaders should begin planning now so that, when the time is right, the City is prepared to take advantage of opportunities to: