Green Infrastructure & A Tale of Two American Cities: Philadelphia and Chicago

Note to Reader:

In March 2018, the Editorial Board of the Chicago Sun-Times newspaper published an editorial lamenting that “Philadelphia has more to teach Chicago than the right way to make cheesesteaks”.

Philadelphia shows Chicago a greener way to manage stormwater

“Philadelphia is a river city like Chicago that also has large swaths of older neighborhoods crisscrossed by “combined” sewers, which carry both rainwater and sewage. As in Chicago, that means when increasingly heavy storms overwhelm the treatment system, the overflow into waterways carries untreated sewage and polluted runoff,” stated the editorial.

“But instead of building larger sewers and new treatment plants, Philadelphia decided to put its chips on what environmentalists call nature-based infrastructure. It has built hundreds of subsurface storage projects, rain gardens, planters, storm water tree trenches, porous pavement projects, swales and green roofs that reuse storm water or intercept it and let it absorb into the ground or evaporate.

“The Chicago area is ahead of Philly in gray engineering, but it sure needs to catch up on the green variety,” concludes the editorial.

Green City, Clean Waters

Philadelphia’s plan envisions transforming the city into an oasis of rain gardens, green roofs, treescapes, and porous pavements, which advocates say is cheaper than tunnels and makes for a more liveable, prettier city with higher property values and better community health.

When he was appointed Water Commissioner in 2011, Howard Neukrug focused on making the Philadelphia Water Department a sustainable 21st Century urban water utility – one that would fully meet the complex responsibilities and opportunities of our time and our environment. He retired as Commissioner in February 2016.

Prior to that, Howard Neukrug began Philadelphia’s Office of Watersheds in 1999. As director, he led the department in creating the vision and the plan for Green City, Clean Waters, Philadelphia’s long term plan to clean up the city’s waterways. Howard Neukrug fundamentally changed Philadelphia’s relationship with nature, and other cities are watching with great interest

Philadelphia has produced a video that explains how this green vision will be accomplished over time.

To Learn More:

To read the complete editorial, download Philadelphia shows Chicago a greener way to manage stormwater.

And then read “Green City, Clean Waters”: An interview with Philadelphia’s Howard Neukrug about the bold vision for re-imagining the urban landscape