Philadelphia's Story

February 1, 2012, Department, by NRPA

Philadelphia's mayor, Michael Nutter, is ambitious to make the city a leader in environmental stewardship--and parks play a major role in that plan.Like every other city in the country, Philadelphia is struggling with budgetary pressures that too often lead to abandonment or commercial development of its parks. But, according to Time magazine, public parks may actually save billions for the city. A forward-looking use of open land proposes to save Philadelphia’s parks, and add more green space to manage storm water more efficiently.

This city has made the connection between the public’s love of its parks, and the growth of smart new green technologies. They’ve realized the potential economic and environmental benefits of using planted, percolating land to replace aging, expensive, polluting storm sewer systems. Mayor Michael Nutter has pledged to make Philadelphia the greenest city in the nation, and has launched a campaign to create the public support and political will to accomplish it.

Philadelphia sits between the Schuylkill and the Delaware Rivers. When the rain is heavy, its aging storm sewer system dumps raw sewage into those waterways. The proposed solution has been a complicated renovation involving a huge tunnel under the Delaware, with a price tag of $9 billion.

Mayor Nutter has a different idea. He wants to eliminate the tunnel project, and cut the cost to correct this problem from $9 billion to $2 billion. By supporting preservation and creation of parks, public and private development of rain gardens and green roofs, incorporation of systems that capture storm water runoff, and replacement of asphalt and concrete paving with new permeable, percolating surface materials, this ambitious initiative proposes to create 15 square miles of urban land that processes rainwater the way a natural forest does.

This approach could manage the city’s storm water in an efficient, sustainable way by keeping most of it from going into the sewers at all. At the same time, the green project would improve the river water, the air, the beauty, and the quality of life in this historic city.

America’s Backyard works to save parks by increasing public awareness of stories like Philadelphia’s, and of the wide-ranging benefits our public parks bring to our cities and towns. Beyond the need for natural places to gather, play, and recharge our energies; beyond the health benefits of fresh air and exercise, and the restorative calm we experience there, our parks and green spaces can return environmental and economic benefits many times greater than their costs.

America’s Backyard, a grassroots initiative of the National Recreation and Park Association, is working to preserve and protect public parks by bringing together citizens who love parks and want to save them. We see parks as part of our irreplaceable national heritage – our birthright, and our responsibility. Learn more by visiting us at