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Philadelphia’s 'Green' Awards

April 27, 2009

(Kathryn Pyle is producing a documentary film about the post-conflict period in El Salvador. This is the fourth installment in a five-part series that explores the growing movement to recover and maintain the urban canopy in the Northeast. In her last post, she wrote about the re-issue of a beloved field guide to Washington's urban canopy.)

Washington, of course, is but an example -- maybe the best supported, thanks to the Casey gift -- of a nationwide movement to recover and maintain an urban canopy, along with other "green" activities.

Mayor Michael Nutter also has a tree plan to help Philadelphia catch up with its peer cities. Like Washington, Philadelphia suffered from the urban exodus of the 1970s and 1980s, losing 200,000 trees by 2004, including more than 20,000 removed through maintenance. New trees will be planted over the next two years to replace those removed, but the city has a long way to go.

Fortunately, the mayor has some great local partners, including Philadelphia Green, a city-wide program of the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society that pioneered community gardens and pocket parks thirty years ago in response to abandoned factory buildings and the resulting decimation of neighborhoods. Philadelphia Green is still working with community-based organizations and thousands of volunteers to turn vacant lots and urban blight into locally grown food, shade, and an improved quality of life -- reducing crime and isolation along the way.

Casey Tress_Philly Awards The third annual Sustainability Awards, presented by the Pennsylvania Environmental Council and hosted by the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society at the Philadelphia Flower Show in March, illustrates some other, complimentary approaches.

Selected from seventy qualifying projects, the five winners included the nonprofit Energy Coordinating Agency, which has helped 80,000 low-income households with weatherization rehab and recently received a $1.1 million grant from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation to expand its Green Jobs training center. "Young people are streaming into this field," said Pam Carunchio of ECA in accepting the award. "We now have a convergence of a mayor, a governor, and a president who are united in the biggest infusion of 'green' in our history, so that we can build this clean energy future together."

Farm to City, a small business founded by former city planner Bob Pierson, operates fourteen farmers' markets around town, bringing local farmers' goods to urban neighborhoods, and organizes buying clubs where consumers invest in family farms for a share of the produce. In partnership with a neighborhood development alliance, the organization also has set up a nonprofit wholesale distribution center, Common Market Philadelphia, for farm products from Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Maryland, and Delaware.

And who knew that Philadelphia's football team, the Eagles, has an extensive green program that encompasses a range of activities, from reimbursing employees for signing up for wind energy to using corn-based beer cups and recycling trash produced at the games. One hundred percent of the team's energy needs, year round, are produced by solar and wind.

Other Sustainability Award winners included Onion Flats, an architecture firm that bills itself as "just good architects" rather than "green architects" to emphasize the momentum building for all things green, and Schuylkill Banks Greenway, which was honored for having rescued eight miles of land along the Schuylkill River, creating walkways, concert spaces, and a bike path from downtown Philadelphia all the way to Valley Forge.

All these programs, Casey Trees, the Anacostia gardeners -- and similar activities and organizations across the nation -- are part of a new environmental awakening reminiscent of other periods in American history. Earth Day, April 22, was designated in one such era thirty-nine years ago. We have learned that it takes partnerships between the public and private sectors, committed professionals and dedicated citizens alike, to address the environmental challenges confronting us. As the architects at Onion Flats like to say, we have to get to the point where "green" is assumed when we talk about our homes and jobs, community development, recreation, or any other aspect of our lives. Earth Day is a reminder to pay attention: no less than the health of our communities and the planet is at stake.

Tomorrow: D.C. Gets a 'B'

-- Kathryn Pyle

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