The Storm

Pondering Philadelphia’s resilience in the aftermath of Hurricanes Harvey and Irma


By Sam Boden

Every day, I walk the cement patchwork of the city’s streets and sidewalks, navigating the bumps and cracks of the well-worn roads that make up our neighborhoods. I have seen the ways water gathers in the streets after a heavy rain and, through working with the Philadelphia Water Department, witnessed firsthand how Philadelphia has been managing stormwater with green spaces. I’m proud to be part of the city’s work.

Watching the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey, in which America’s fourth-largest city was left underwater, closely followed by devastation in Florida from Hurricane Irma, I was struck by just how precarious our urban situation is—how quickly a storm becomes a flood, and a flood becomes a catastrophe.

I have always viewed cities as bastions of power and success; fortresses that are not vulnerable to the elements. Of course, there is always a threat from extreme weather—cities are not immune to wind and water—but I have always believed in the oft-touted “resilience” of these cities. I always assumed that they were prepared to weather the worst storms.

It was not until recently that I came to terms with the fragility of our urban ecosystems: We are as vulnerable in our wood and concrete and glass structures as any other creature is in their den. The photos of Houston’s famed sprawl returned overnight into an urban delta, entire island communities flattened, and the Southeast U.S. overwhelmed by storm surge should remind all of us that there is no real distinction between the “natural” and “built” environments—all are subject to the same forces, standing on the same earth. And the earth is changing.

As a young person, just starting my career, I am inheriting a new world—one defined by more droughts, storms and heat than my ancestors, and those changes have multiplied previous threats and upended our models and predictions. While debates rage in governments around the world about the costs of adaptation and mitigation, I am left wondering: How do we move forward in the face of such an alarming future?

It’s tempting to play the blame game, to accuse everyone else of ignorance about the causes of climate change. But we have all, through our consumption habits, played a role—we’ve collectively allowed for the devastation of cities like Houston and states like Florida.

I cherish the stories of people who recognize the threats from climate change and realize that the onus is on them—and all of us—to fight back and prepare well. I have faith in the power of voices raised together to change course, and I find hope in the engagement of others in my generation.

Supporting the use of green infrastructure for managing stormwater, attending local planning meetings, encouraging decision makers to act responsibly and changing our own behavior are some of the ways that we can effect change. Watching the recent hurricanes unfold was a wake up call for me, and I desperately hope it was for others. Our days of sleepwalking through our current reality should be over. The ability to safely traverse our city’s streets depends on it.


Sam Boden is an AmeriCorps VISTA with the Philadelphia Water Department, working on its green infrastructure initiative, Green City, Clean Waters.

There’s No Place Like (a Green) Home

A Q&A with Lynne Templeton of Renewal Design Showroom


By Emily Kovach

You love your home, but there are always improvements to be made, right? Perhaps an outdated bathroom needs a facelift; a backyard deck isn’t looking so hang-friendly anymore; or—the big one—it’s time to rip out and redo the kitchen. But even smaller scale-projects, such as replacing an appliance or painting a room, may leave you overwhelmed with choices.

In addition to style and price, green and healthy options should be high on your list of priorities.

Every single material that goes into home renovation and design is at risk of bringing chemicals and potentially harmful toxins into your home and the environment. So how does a homeowner make well-informed decisions about architecture and interior design?

Lynne Templeton of the Renewal Design Showroom in Wayne, Pa., has been in the design business for over 35 years. In the early 2000s, when “green” was picking up steam as a buzzword, she did a ton of work in corporate workspaces, helping to make offices more eco-friendly and efficient. “I became inspired by that work,” she says, “and I wanted to create a studio to help create green spaces at home, too.”

To that end, Templeton helped to found Greenable, a Philly-based design showroom in 2006. The company folded after the recession, but she went on to found Renewal in 2013 to help residential clients with space planning, interior design and access to eco-friendly materials. The Renewal Showroom boasts a huge selection of material samples, including flooring tiles, carpet, cabinetry, countertops, furnishings, drapery, plumbing, lighting and more.

“Everything here is either reclaimed, recycled or recyclable and has low or no VOCs,” says Templeton, referring to the volatile organic compounds that make paint smell bad and hurt your respiratory system. She makes the comparison that shopping at Renewal versus a big-box hardware store is like “going to the health food store instead of a supermarket.”

Who better, then, to field our burning home improvement questions?

Let’s start with the obvious question: Will choosing “green” products be way more expensive than traditional materials?
LT: Well, no. In any design application, I take the whole job in general and take the budget and prioritize. Pricing has come down overall, and you can usually achieve what you want and get an eco-friendly product in your price range. But, you have to keep in mind that you get what you pay for. There’s a durability factor, so when you buy cheap stuff it will still end up in the landfill.

It’s pretty apparent how “greenwashing” has made certain terms meaningless.  What are the legit certifications we should be looking out for?
LT: There are lots of certifications out there, and some better than others in terms of being strict. Greenguard is good for people who are worried about air quality, and it applies to a lot of materials. Cradle to Cradle certification is given to products that can be recycled. FSC Certification [Forest Stewardship Council] for wood guarantees that the lumber has come from a managed forest, and not a clear-cut forest. Another really important thing to look for is a NAUF label [No Added Urea Formaldehyde], which is often seen on plywood and flooring.

In the last few years, have you seen certain home improvement products trending green?
LT: When I started working with residential clients, there were only like five things available that were more natural, and the choices were uninspiring. Now, we get new products all the time; the tile options are amazing, there’s more and more carpet available, and countertops are coming out in all kinds of recycled materials, like concrete, plastic and paper. It’s so much better than it used to be. There’s pretty much an alternative to everything that’s eco-friendly or holistic.

Say we’re not ready to tackle a whole bathroom or kitchen renovation. How can we make a big impact with small changes?
LT: Water efficiency is a great place to start. Switch an old toilet out for a more water efficient one. The old ones use up so much water. Old appliances can be real energy hogs, so if you can, upgrade to Energy Star certified ones. Then, there’s always the paint and cleaning products. Especially if you moved into a new apartment that was freshly painted with toxic paint, that’s horrifying right? You can encapsulate that paint to take care of the off-gassing… many non-VOC paints can encapsulate toxic house paint. Cleaning products, too, are easy to make nontoxic choices. The best part of all of our products [is that] you can use all-natural products with them, gentle cleansers or just plain old soap and water.   

The Split

Breaking up with your old furnace and window air conditioner units


By Brion Shreffler

If your air conditioner or heater won’t make it another season, it may be time to think about a highly-efficient (and space saving) mini-split system. It’s easy to zone your home, so that you aren’t heating and cooling each room all the time. The small units can be installed through through a relatively small, three-inch hole in the wall to connect the inside and outside air handlers.

“These systems are usually about 18-20 inches high and about 30 inches long and they come away from the wall about 5 or 6 inches. So they really don’t take up much room,” says Michael Yaede, the service manager at Global Services in Bensalem.

Tom Molieri, owner of South Philadelphia based Air Master (he also owns Green Street Coffee with his brother, Chris Molieri), says that “If the duct work is already there, the efficiency angle isn’t that enticing [for heating]. It’s cheaper to stay with the heating system that’s already in place. If you’re talking AC, then it’s a good option. It’s probably the most efficient for air conditioning,” Molieri says, adding that the up front costs are comparable to other systems.

The savings will be in your energy bill. Yaede says you can save up to 5 percent on yearly energy use. Users can also count on rebates from PECO based on the system they purchase.  

“The minimum energy efficiency on these things is 21 SEER [Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ratio] which is a pretty high rating compared to a traditional system and you can control them room by room so you’re not heating or cooling the whole house. At night, you can shut them off in sections and you’ll save a ton of electricity that way.” He says more and more of his customers are choosing the systems. “Where people are rehabbing homes—close to 40%,” he says. “Mini-split systems have the advantage of being highly efficient while offering a level of control you don’t get with a furnace or boiler.”  

Especially for older homes going through a renovation, where tearing into the walls can give you all sorts of surprises, Molieri says it’s a good option. “I’ll get calls from people in the city who live in a row home or just outside the city in a hundred year old house that wasn’t designed for duct work. There’s plaster and lath and you’re not cutting through that without a question mark in years to come if the entire wall is going to crack where you cut into it.”

Bottom line: It’s not for every application, but it’s worth looking into when you’re planning for an upgrade, or for that fateful morning when your window unit or boiler has unexpectedly said goodbye.

The (New) Energy Frontier

Passive house gets active, and affordable net-zero housing is on its way

Oct2017_TheNewEnergyFrontier (1).jpg

By Justin Klugh

Before there were trains, cranes and Comcast towers, the city of Philadelphia was a church, a chapel, a great hall and, finally, homes—the purpose of which was to put some form of insulation between the elements and the Quakers and others settling here. Brick walls held up 500 houses in what one Swedish pastor called “a very pretty town” between the Schuylkill and the Delaware.
We now have more pressing concerns than marauding bears or strong gusts of wind—modern science has revealed a whole world of natural horrors awaiting humanity in the future if we don’t deal with climate change or out-of-control electricity consumption—but local builders are up to the task. 

Passive house, a stringent energy efficiency standard created in Germany and Sweden, is increasingly one of the tools in their toolbelt as Philadelphia developers try to provide the city with homes that conserve energy and normalize an emphasis on sustainability. For Onion Flats, one local design-build team, it’s not just an option: It’s an imperative. 

The new gravity
A gentle rain has started to fall on West Laurel Street in Northern Liberties. For a cat in the window of the Capital Flats apartment building, this is prime snoozing weather. But across the street, the soft shower is throwing the work crew on the building site of Capital Flats II into fits. According to radar, that this rain is here means harder rain is right behind it. There’s still a crate of solar panels to unload. The concrete is on its way. People are moving in here in three weeks. 

“There is no good time [to talk] at this phase of a project,” Patrick McDonald says.

Patrick and his brother Tim would know. Since starting their company, Onion Flats, in 1997, they’ve been in the business of “testing limits of forgotten strengths.” Patrick is the VP, master plumber and co-founder; Tim is the president and CEO, architect and co-founder; their brother John is a licensed realtor and COO, and their friend Howard Steinberg is the CFO. They’ve been pushing sustainable buildings forward, viewing their work as crucial to adapting cities for a more environmental age out of necessity. This isn’t a movement to them. It’s common sense.

The McDonalds have designed low-income housing under the passive house banner, including in Belfield near Temple University campus, the first certified passive house project in Pennsylvania. They’re also responsible for the original Capital Flats apartment building, an adapted meatpacking plant converted into housing in 2002, and Thin Flats, another complex which was awarded LEED platinum certification in 2009. LEED, which stands for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, is also a voluntary standard that comes out of the U.S. Green Building Council. 

Capital Flats II will meet passive house standards and will also be “net zero”—the building will create more energy than it consumes. Continuing an Onion Flats tradition of firsts, it will be the first net-zero multi-housing unit in the United States.
“Here’s the problem with being somebody who takes on something the world doesn’t consider the general consensus,” Patrick McDonald says. “There are no rules.”

When Patrick was working on Rag Flats, a housing development in Fishtown completed in 2005, he hit a wall while trying to install a rainwater management system. “Nobody could give me a permit, so I did it anyway and figured I’d beg for forgiveness later,” he says. “Instead, I got an award from the water department and they used it as an example to build their whole water management program.”

The 25 families who live in Capital Flats II will have no energy bill, thanks to geothermic wells for heating and cooling. Solar panels will cover energy needs. And there is no gas; all of the appliances and lighting are low-energy. A one bedroom unit is $1,300-1,600 a month, and the two bedrooms are $2,500 a month.

If a tenant is consuming too much, everyone will know it, thanks to a color-coded lighting system from unit to unit on the front of the building that will change to indicate who is leaving their lights on.

“There’s no reason to build a building that doesn’t question how much energy you’re using,” Patrick says. He turns to Tim McDonald. “Buildings are responsible for how much of…?”

“Forty-eight percent of all greenhouse gas emissions,” Tim responds, muscling a crowbar into the side of the crate. Such firsthand effort is not a typical role for a building’s architect to take on, but these are not typical times, as Tim lays it out: “The point is, we’re screwed as a society if we don’t start making buildings that are carbon neutral. And it’s not just how you build carbon-neutral buildings, but can you do it affordably? Because if you can’t, then it’s going to be this boutique way of thinking about buildings...” Tim trails off. Someone is calling to him from the ground. 

“Concrete’s here,” he explains.
Sustainable homes have to be both: sustainable and a home. Even with green intentions as they move forward, Onion Flats’ projects are still based on the architecture itself.

“The issue isn’t sustainability; the issue is, people live in these spaces,” Tim says. “They have to be inspiring. People who only focus on sustainability don’t get that. That’s the first order of the day: Make them beautiful, make them inspiring, make them communities people want to be a part of.”

“Literally,” Patrick continues, “what we said from the very start, was if there’s not eight people—”

“In the city!” Tim shouts, now further away.

“--in the world,” Patrick escalates, “that want to use our product, that think it’s desirable, then we’re doing something wrong.”

He places a solar panel he’s helping to unload on the ground.

“Not to mention that I’m kind of an old hippie who believed in recycling before there was recycling,” he adds. “It’s common sense.” 

“At this point,” Tim says, “imagine if you had an architecture program out there teaching students to design buildings where they said on day one, ‘By the way, design whatever you want and gravity is optional. You don’t have to worry about gravity. It doesn’t really exist.’ That’s the height of irresponsibility. Right? So why don’t we think of this as the new gravity of our age?”

A conference at Temple University this past summer—at which Tim spoke—bore the name of the concept he’s just explained: The 2017 New Gravity Housing Conference, at which workshops, lectures and training were held to convey how climate change is reshaping the scope of construction. Because part of passive house is showing others a reason to adapt, examples, training and information-sharing are critical in furthering the trend. The McDonalds seem ready to share.

At this point in the battle to combat climate change, places like Onion Flats are using money everybody’s trying to save and time that nobody has to build homes for humans now and in the future. It can lead to frantic afternoons. 

Maybe in a decade, people will read about a glowing shame-grid on the front of an apartment building—meant to track residents’ energy usage and indicate who is to blame for higher consumption—and consider it a nostalgic whimsy indicative of the era. 

But for now, such aspects are within the realm of practicality in Philadelphia, once “a very pretty town,” but now another urban cluster exhausting energy in all of its forms as quickly as it can be generated. In response, there are people working furiously, tirelessly—and repeatedly—in the hope of making common sense a little more common. 

Not just for new construction
The idea of the energy-efficient passive house movement—and the less-energy-stringent but more comprehensive LEED standard—is to go, voluntarily, beyond code. That’s important, particularly in Pennsylvania, which has chosen not to adopt new building codes, largely for political reasons: Homebuilders in the state think the codes are too expensive to comply with, and they’re organized enough to have sway in Harrisburg. Nearby states, including New Jersey, use newer codes that are more stringent—30 percent more stringent on energy efficiency—than what’s required of builders here.

But the vanguard of design community in Philadelphia isn’t waiting around for politicians in Harrisburg. They’re using these standards to help transform our humming, power-guzzling boxes stacked on top of each other into cleaner, healthier and far more efficient homes, with aspects such as solar power, strategic use of natural light, utilizing heat from internal sources, natural ventilation, geothermic wells and lighting with low-energy voltage. As such structures become more prominent, they gently nudge neighboring projects into complying with more energy-efficient building procedures.

Though these standards are relatively new, they aren’t just for fancy new buildings.

Passive house retrofits are also happening in pockets all over the city. BluPath Design, an architecture firm, has retrofitted an historic row home on Pine Street to passive house standards. It’s now constructing a single-family residence in the Italian Market up to the same standards. The 2200-square-foot property features double-height windows in the living room facing south to capitalize solar absorbency in the winter, while in the summer, a structure is in place to shield the property from the sun; solutions that seem more like common sense than a radically sustainable movement. 

The Delaware Valley Green Building Council touted a series of buildings back in April as models to what future passive houses could attain. One such property, the Wynne Theater on 54th Street in Overbrook, was renovated—over the course of years—to the passive house standard, and it is now the 51-unit Wynne Senior Residences. 

Its restorations were shown off by its architects, builders and planners as a success story, illustrating how even structures with deep historic roots can remain relevant in modern times  while leaving intact the architectural personality that gives the city its character.

But it’s not always easy. As the Wynne building was a survivor of nine decades, it had been through a lot.

“When we first took possession of the property and we came here to do a survey, we couldn’t get into a lot of the building,” said project manager Ray Rebilas. “Three quarters of the roof had already collapsed. There was a large tree growing in the auditorium area.”

The Wynne Theater also had a gloriously retro sign sprouting from its rooftop. Simply reading “Wynne,” the old sign’s survival was brought into question when workers went to touch it for the first time.

“It crumbled in our hands,” Rebilas said. “The letters are a little bit different—they’re now LED bulbs—but we still have the historic character of the building.”

Challenges abounded. While discussing the glass going in the front windows on the lower level of the project, one designer traveled back in his memory, all too easily, to a day before the panes had been installed and were merely just sheets of glass, leaning precariously against the wall. 

“I had turned away, and there was a gust,” he said. “And I just heard the crash.”

Human-made issues like energy overuse require human-made solutions like passive house standards. Occasionally, the primal elements remind us that nature doesn’t make mistakes. It’s just doing its best to grow around ours.

Infrastructure and Design Shorts

Projects remaking the face of Philadelphia


By Belinda Sharr

LOVE Park Construction Moves Forward After Lengthy Delay; to Open in November
After nearly two years of construction, LOVE Park is inching closer to completion. Demolition began in February 2016 with the redesign plan detailing a new green space, concession stands, structural improvements and a water feature. The LOVE statue was relocated to Dilworth Park, and it is now at another undisclosed location during the continued work. The delay was caused by the discovery of bricks, pipes, excess dirt and a ventilation system found underground during excavation, and the removal of these items added many more months to the project timeline. However, work has picked up and LOVE Park is set to make its holiday season debut in late November when it will host the 2017 Christmas Village, which typically opens during the Thanksgiving weekend, according to Philadelphia Parks and Recreation. The grand opening of the park, which will include a completely renovated welcome center sponsored by Saint Gobain, will open in full in the spring of 2018.

I-95 Cap Park Plans Include Greenery and Trees with a View of the River
Plans are in the works for Philadelphia’s I-95 park, which will connect the waterfront to Center City and provide 4 acres of green space above the current roadway, as well as an 8-acre adjacent civic space. The $225 million initiative will span from Chestnut and Walnut streets and is in development by Delaware River Waterfront Corp. The park will be a “vibrant destination location for recreational, cultural and commercial activities for the residents and visitors of Philadelphia,” according to the DRWC website. Current renderings show possible architecture including benches, walkways, water fountains similar to those in Dilworth Park, a café, grass and trees. The sloping of the ground toward the river combined with current pedestrian bridges tilted away from the water presents a challenge—both for construction purposes and for ensuring visibility of the river. However, the city thinks the problem can be easily fixed. Design, permits and building plans will be ready by the end of 2019, with construction to begin in 2020—and the completion of the park is expected around 2022.

Rail Park Phase One to Open This Winter Ahead of Schedule
Phase One of the Philadelphia Rail Park—Philly’s version of the High Line—will open in January 2018, nearly a year earlier than expected. Construction moved quickly on the old Reading Railroad lines throughout early 2017 due to the mild winter, according to Friends of the Rail Park. This early portion will stretch from Broad and Noble to Callowhill Street between 11th and 12th streets, and it will feature walkways, trees, art installations and a space for gathering. A 1920s railcar will be refurbished and installed as a welcome center near the middle of the park at some point in 2018. The $10.3 million cost for the first phase, which will serve as a “proof of concept” and measures one quarter of a mile, was raised by public and private funds. The entire Rail Park will be divided into three parts (the viaduct, the cut and the tunnel) and is slated to measure 3 miles from 31st and Girard, through Phase One and up 8th and Fairmount.

‘Living’ Fence at 30th Street Station: Beautifying a Normally Unattractive Necessity
Typically, construction work and fences can appear unsightly while in progress, although they allow an attractive result at the end of a project. But what about during the building process? SHIFTSPACE architects and designers beautified the typical construction fence by installing a temporary piece at 30th Street Station that hid the worksite while creating a visually pleasing wall of plants for pedestrians to view. The company worked with Amtrak and University City District to create units that housed various-sized planters that either hung on or were installed in front of the fence. The anchor tall planter, low planter and wall planter were filled with colorful shrubbery which created a wall of greenery that juxtaposed with the silver metal fence links and concrete sidewalk. The planter units were designed to be reusable and have already been moved to a new location at another construction project in the city, offering sustainability and attractiveness elsewhere.

LEED Gold Mixed-Used Building Opens on Race Street
The “Bridge” development project—named for its proximity to the Ben Franklin Bridge—is a mixed-use, 17-story project that features a combination of 146 residential units as well as four retail spaces; the project has achieved LEED-Gold certification from the U.S. Green Building Council. United By Blue, a lifestyle and apparel company that is heavily involved with water cleanup projects in the region, will be one retailer at the 205 Race St. location. The building met strict green architecture and construction standards, and now the focus will be on sustainable amenities for residents: Energy-efficient appliances will help keep electricity bills in check, the parking garage offers both electric vehicle chargers and bike storage and maintenance facilities, and the 100 percent nonsmoking building will also employ a green housekeeping program to keep indoor air quality high. Native plantings in the outdoor gathering spaces are designed to manage stormwater onsite.

Stronger Together

Philadelphia joins other cities in fighting climate change through the 2030 Districts project.


By Danielle Corcione & Grid Staff

President Trump may have withdrawn the country from the Paris Climate Accord this past May, but major cities across the country are sticking to their climate adaptation and resilience plans, including Philadelphia. Mayor Kenney doubled down after Trump’s move, issuing a strong statement in opposition.

“President Trump’s decision to withdraw from the Paris climate agreement goes against the interests of Philadelphians,” he said, and then renewed the city’s commitment to reducing carbon emissions 80 percent by 2050, with an interim goal of hitting 26 to 28 percent by 2025.

Given that most of those emissions come from operating our buildings—all those houses and job sites and supermarkets that make up our neighborhoods—it shouldn’t come as a surprise that the Delaware Valley Green Building Council, a longtime advocate for more energy-efficient construction and building-operation practices, wants to help the city reach its goals.

DVGBC has signed on as the local lead in a national coalition of cities that are each working toward creating what they call 2030 Districts—coalitions of private building owners, service providers and other stakeholders who want to significantly decrease fossil fuel emissions by the year 2030. To qualify to be part of the project, buildings must reduce 50 percent of their energy, water and transportation use by 2030 in addition to meeting short-term reduction goals every five years.

“The Philadelphia 2030 District is a great tool to reach the [2030 reduction] goal because it focuses on deep reductions in energy and water use from the building sector,” explains Katie Bartolotta, policy and program manager of DVGBC. “It’s a great way to have a concrete and supportive community to think through [how] the city, in its own municipal buildings, can work toward making these reductions, [and to also] have a network of peer buildings throughout the city that are trying to do the same thing.”

Why 2030? Architecture 2030, a nonprofit founded in response to the climate change crisis, is ambitiously 20 years ahead of the United Nations. According to the latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Fifth Assembly report, fossil fuels must be phased out by 2050 to avoid detrimental damage to the planet. 

Currently, there are five property partners, including the city of Philadelphia and Brandywine Realty Trust, committed to 2030. DVGBC will continue to reach out to building owners of all kinds, including large commercial buildings down to smaller, multifamily residential properties. 

According to Bartolotta, our sister city of Pittsburgh is ahead of the pack on committed square footage. Other cities involved with 2030 Districts include Cleveland, Albuquerque, Austin, Burlington, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Toronto, Portland, Denver, Stamford, Seattle, Grand Rapids, San Antonio, Detroit, Ithaca and Dallas. 

“Cities are the epicenter of climate change action, nationally and internationally,” Bartolotta emphasizes.

Although city governments are heavily involved with this initiative, private property owners and building managers in major cities will play the most crucial role in normalizing sustainable business practices. Scott Kelly, a DVGBC board member and a principal at high-peformance building consulting firm Re:Vision, says, “The private sector has really stepped up and engaged in a meaningful way. They’ve really demonstrated their leadership.”  

The Sweet Side of the Beverage Tax

Cleaner parks, lower crime, better libraries and living wage jobs are all part of the ‘Rebuild’ program being funded by the city’s ‘soda tax’


By Danielle Corcione and Heather Blakeslee

If you live in Philadelphia, you’ve heard of the brouhaha over the “soda tax,” and have been paying a little more lately if you have a Coke habit. But unless you’re in the habit of lurking on the Urban PHL Facebook page or getting into the wonky details of city planning, you might not know that those extra pennies are being invested in Philadelphia’s libraries, parks and recreation centers through a program called Rebuilding Community Infrastructure—Rebuild for short.

It’s a massive undertaking that will revitalize hundreds of spaces all over Philadelphia, spearheaded through the Mayor’s Office and carried out by many different city departments, including Parks and Recreation and the Free Library of Philadelphia.

Critically, the investments will be in neighborhoods outside of Center City that have long been neglected. 

“We want to be investing in the neighborhoods of Philadelphia that need these investments the most,” explained Nicole Westerman, Rebuild’s executive director. “We want to make investments that have a good chance of catalyzing additional growth and stabilizing neighborhoods in transition.”

Investing in public spaces, specifically libraries and parks, has some obvious benefits for communities, including better access to educational opportunities and safe places for recreation. But it can also reduce crime rates, as the city has seen in other projects. As the initiative’s website explains, when “the City [of Philadelphia] and the Fairmount Park Conservancy invested $5 million in Hunting Park, crime around the park went down 89 percent over the next three years.” 

“The community engagement work is a key piece of the kind of ownership that results in crime reduction,” Westerman added. 

Though officials were vague on what the program’s community engagement strategies will be, they insist it will be a big part of the initiative, and also want to emphasize that the program isn’t just new light bulbs and boilers in a cycle of routine capital upgrades.

“We don’t just want to replace and plant equipment,” said Mike DiBerardinis, managing director of the city. “We want to transform these facilities into 21st century facilities that are beautifully designed with great materials, which grow over time like good investments should.”

The project’s $500 million budget will revitalize 400 possible sites all over the city, including 128 neighborhood parks, eight watershed parks, 130 playgrounds, 93 recreation centers, 53 libraries and 14 other community facilities such as trails and adult centers. The first $300 million comes from the city’s newly implemented soda tax, and Rebuild received a $100 million grant from the William Penn Foundation, which is the largest grant the organization has ever given.

Over the next seven years, during the first phase of funding, 150 to 200 sites will be renovated. 

These specific locations were chosen using data collected in early 2016 by Interface Studio, a project that was funded by the William Penn Foundation and the Knight Foundation. This citywide mapping explored neighborhoods through population density, demographics, income and poverty, crime and neighborhood health indicators.

Job creation is another potential benefit of the program. The city’s first contract is with Talson Solutions, a Philadelphia-based minority business enterprise within the construction industry.

The Rebuild website lists information for contractors on how to get involved, and nonprofits that want to spearhead their own revitalization projects under the mission of Rebuild will be able to apply for grants.

“We are doing our best to connect small local business with Rebuild contract opportunities,” says Westerman. “[We want to] develop a program of support to help those businesses grow and develop.” 

Mariner 2 Natural Gas Pipeline Continues Construction 

Spills and safety concerns have slowed, but not halted, construction 


By Justin Klugh

A lateral journey across Pennsylvania is not a simple or a brief one, but the natural gas pulled out of the ground in the Marcellus shale and transported through the Mariner East pipeline to Sunoco's Philadelphia distribution facility in Marcus Hook makes it every day.

Sunoco Pipeline LP is now attempting to install a $2.5 billion sequel to the project: the Mariner East 2 extension, which would transport 275,000 barrels of natural-gas liquids a day lengthwise 350 miles across the Keystone state, including a 23.6-mile stretch of Chester County and an 11.4-mile trip through Delaware County. Sunoco had the pipeline aiming for a debut in late winter or early spring of this year. Though the Mariner East 2 extension may not yet have completed its journey, it has already left a trail of concerns across the state.

In a July 19 statement calling for a halt to construction, Rep. Leanne Krueger-Braneky, a Delaware County Democrat, cited a “series of safety issues,” including a 1,500-gallon spill of bentonite drilling fluid in Middletown Township that had leaked into an aquifer and possibly a private well. Such spills had occurred 61 times by late July during the construction process. Sunoco offered hotel rooms, bottled water and additional water supply testing to those affected. 

“It is reckless and potentially dangerous to allow construction to continue until steps are taken to protect residents, their property and our water supply from future spills,” Krueger-Braneky said. 

In response to the multiple incidents since July 3, Judge Bernard Labuskes Jr. of the Pennsylvania Environmental Hearing Board had ordered work on Mariner East 2 to stop at all 55 locations where horizontal drilling was underway, with an expiration date to the order of Aug. 7. Sunoco reached a settlement with three environmental groups that required the oil company to re-examine geology at drilling sites, inform landowners with water supplies within 450 feet of a drill site 10 days before drilling is to begin, and to file reports with the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection. Work has since resumed.

Continued concerns led to a telephone town hall on Aug. 29, during which Rep. Chris Quinn of Edgmont, state Sen. Tom Killion of Middletown, other state and federal officials including representatives of the Pennsylvania DEP and the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, as well as a Sunoco spokesperson, addressed questions and concerns from 60 residents. Of particular contention have been the protests of parents of Glenwood Elementary School students in Media, Pa., who have issued complaints about a pipeline valve station being located 650 feet from the school’s playground. 

The Pennsylvania DEP has since issued a Notice of Violation to Sunoco of the Aug. 7 agreement, due to an investigation indicating that Sunoco failed to clean up a 50-gallon bentonite fluid spill on Aug. 17 under the Susquehanna River in Dauphin County before continuing to drill on Aug. 24. According to the DEP, “Operations had continued without containment and successful recovery.”

Power Up

Why Philadelphia is shifting to a just energy system


By Brittany Barbato

Danaje Elliott knew he wanted to work in computer science or hardware engineering. He also knew he needed a job to save money for college. He never imagined, though, that he’d soon be standing on top of a roof in order to achieve both.

A few weeks after graduating high school, Elliott found himself several stories off the ground learning how to install his first solar panel through Find Your Power, a six-week WorkReady Philadelphia course launched this summer by the Philadelphia Energy Authority in partnership with the School District of Philadelphia’s Office of Career and Technical Education. Through the program, Elliott and 17 others received hands-on training in solar installation including technical skills such as mounting panels, securing legs and wiring modules. They also learned best practices around clean energy and general job readiness skills. 

“When I first started, I was unsure if I even had an interest in doing this type of work,” shares Elliott. “But when I finished, I was more interested than I ever. The math and science behind [solar power] is really cool, and it’s important work because it will reduce a lot of fossil fuel usage and make less of a strain on our city and our planet.”

Solar For All
Once thought to be reserved only for those who could afford it, the reputation of solar technology is changing. In fact, Philadelphia Energy Authority views it as a trio of opportunity for all: a clean energy option for the eco-conscious, a smart investment for those looking to save money on their energy bill, and a viable career path for people entering or re-entering the workforce. 

“We hope to change the perception and the math,” says Emily Schapira, executive director of PEA. “It’s critical that access to the new clean energy economy be equitable, diverse and reach all neighborhoods. Solar can be accessible for all.” 

Find Your Power is a subset of PEA’s Solarize, the first citywide solar initiative that allows homeowners to install solar together at a reduced price. The concept of Solarize is simple: The more households that move forward with installation, the less the upfront cost for each household. For those who can’t access traditional financing, PEA and the Office of Sustainability are collaborating to create a lease option expected to launch in January 2018. Schapira says panels on an average row home could cover a household’s electricity consumption almost entirely. It typically takes about 10 years for a household to pay off the upfront cost and fully realize savings.

“The upfront cost is a disadvantage, yes, but the more people who participate the more the cost comes down for everybody until there are solar panels on every block,” says Jess Edelstein, a Bella Vista homeowner who first heard about Solarize through Facebook. “We see our participation as an investment in our home, our community, our city and, ultimately, our planet.”

Because solar installation is a labor-intensive process, more installations also mean more jobs. For every 100 participating households, 15 new living-wage jobs are created. With more than 120,000 eligible rooftops across Philadelphia, there is potential for a significant boost in workforce opportunities. 

This is an intentional result of PEA’s larger Philadelphia Energy Campaign, which plans to invest $1 billion in energy efficiency and clean energy as well as create 10,000 new jobs—supported by training and local, inclusive hiring—over the next 10 years. Improvements through the campaign will focus on four sectors: public schools, low- and moderate-income housing, small businesses and municipal buildings. Each area will pilot projects, like Find Your Power and Solarize, in various neighborhoods and then scale up and out to the rest of the city. 

PEA is leveraging best practices and additional support through collaboration with the city. The Energy Office, housed within the Office of Sustainability, leads municipal building projects within Philadelphia Energy Campaign; Adam Agalloco, the city’s energy manager, helps coordinate by serving on the PEA board of directors. The office also provides assistance in implementing long-term energy contracts.

This close kinship signals a new synergy in clean energy action across Philadelphia, allowing for smoother and more rapid progress. “Everyone involved understands there is a real economic opportunity for the city that will not only save energy and support our climate change efforts but, beyond that, create real economic value in an equitable way,” says Schapira. 

Amanda Warwood, an energy analyst for the Energy Office, adds that the relationship is mutual. “Working with PEA on PEC initiatives, the city can continue to accelerate the pace of energy efficiency upgrades and expand projects to invest in all varieties of city facilities.” 

The City’s Stake in Sustainability
According to the Office of Sustainability, Philadelphia’s regional electric grid mix is currently composed of 40 percent nuclear, 31 percent natural gas, 23 percent coal, 4 percent renewable (such as solar) and 2 percent miscellaneous fossil fuels. Buildings throughout the city (not just municipal) account for more than half of Philadelphia’s carbon emissions. The Philadelphia Museum of Art, for instance, is the city’s biggest electricity user. 

The Office of Sustainability knows there is work to be done and, in light of a political climate that includes the Trump administration withdrawing the country from the Paris Climate Accord, the office is prepared to forge ahead with or without federal support. 

“Since the White House has opted to step away from its obligations to this issue, all cities–including Philadelphia–must step up,” stated Mayor Jim Kenney during a press event in June. “The hotter, wetter, more extreme weather brought by climate change disproportionately harms our city’s most vulnerable residents. Transitioning to a just energy system that is clean and affordable for all will slow these changes and make Philadelphia a better place for current residents and future generations.”

One way the city is making good on this shift is by creating the Energy Master Plan. This roadmap will outline municipal government energy management and citywide energy policies that build toward the administration’s commitment to reduce carbon emissions 80 percent by 2050. In addition, this December the city will release the Citywide Energy Vision highlighting current and expected trends in our energy system as well as opportunities for residents and businesses to lead climate and energy goals. The Office of Sustainability says PEC will be an important tool for success in both cases, and PEA says they are ready.

“We’ve been incredibly proud of leadership in the city and how they’ve been talking about these issues, especially in the face of what’s going on at the federal level,” shares Schapira. “It’s an amazing time to be part of city government.”

Powering Dreams
“Programs like Solarize will help move us toward the mayor's goal of a 100 percent clean energy Philadelphia, reducing the causes of climate change while creating local jobs, lowering utility bills and improving air quality for all Philadelphians,” says Christine Knapp, director of sustainability for the city. These results, according to Schapira, will strengthen communities. “We’ve heard from lots of folks that, in Philly especially, they like to hand their houses down to their kids,” says Schapira. “Making an investment in solar is an investment in the property and in the future. To be able to leave your kid something that has no electric bill—that is exciting to a lot of people.”

As PEA and the city work toward their goals, Jess Edelstein and her husband, Marc, are installing panels on their home this fall. 

“When we went over the carbon footprint reduction [information] and were told that having this system would be like planting 73 trees a year—in terms of home improvements, that felt like a sounder investment than a roof deck,” she says. “We can't wait to see what the future holds for solar and our city.” 

Meanwhile, Danaje Elliott is keeping his fingers crossed for a job with Solar States, the local solar installation company that provided the hands-on training during his time with Find Your Power. After his first interview, he says he “has a good feeling” and is excited for what’s next.

“[Solar power] is a big deal for Philadelphia,” says Elliott. “It’s one step toward saving more money and putting it toward things you want... things you dream about.”

The Other Sharing Economy

Creatives, wealthy homeowners and anchor institutions in liberal cities need to do more to share the wealth


Interview by Heather Shayne Blakeslee

Richard Florida’s 2002 book, “The Rise of the Creative Class,” chronicled how cities could redevelop their cores by attracting knowledge workers—a rising tide that would lift all boats. But instead of gains trickling down to blue collar and service sector workers, rising housing costs only deepened inequality. “The New Urban Crisis” looks at a decade’s worth of global data to provide a roadmap for cities like Philadelphia that stand on the precipice of either deepening or demolishing structural inequality. 

What was the main premise behind “The Rise of the Creative Class”?
RF: Throughout most of my life, people were moving from the cities to the suburbs. I grew up in Newark, New Jersey, so the city was—even more so than Philadelphia—most commensurate with white flight, the industrialization decline and decay. Beginning in the 1990s, we could begin to see… that there was a group of people, who mainly work with their minds, professionals in management, in business, education and law, high-tech people who were coming back to cities—and of course the artists, musicians, designers—that was about a third of the workforce. And the rise of this group of people, from less than 10 percent of the workforce before 1950 to more than a third of the workforce, was creating a new way of living, a new way of working and a new kind of demand for cities. 

People ask me, “Well, what did you get wrong?” and I would say what I got wrong is that I really underpredicted the extent and vigor of the urban revival. Philadelphia is the best case of this in the world. From 2000 to now is when the urban revival picks up real vigor, and it really has been astounding—both for good and bad.

What should a city like Philadelphia be wary of as it hatches further plans for development?
RF: Look, Philadelphia isn’t in the straits of New York or LA or San Francisco, but… it has a rising level of inequality, it has a rising level of economic and social segregation, and it’s becoming less affordable. What I said to the leadership of your city is, “You gotta come to grips with this now, and you’re lucky because you’ve seen the warning signs of New York and San Francisco and London and LA and Washington, D.C., and Boston. But boy, oh, boy, you’ve gotta be very proactive.” 

Because you’re the place people are coming to now, right?: “New York’s a wonderful place, but I can’t have the life I want there.” Philadelphia’s close, you have this gift of location, gift of great airport, gift of history, gift of train connectivity. … You are a place people want to be. 

You’re going to have to build more housing, for sure, to renovate more housing, but that’s not enough. You’re going to have to double down and build affordable housing. And then, of course, you have good transit, but really investing in upgrading that transit. If we’re going to build a new middle class that can afford things, we’ve got to make these bad service jobs better—family supporting jobs. We did it with manufacturing work 100 years ago; we now can do it today with these jobs.

You write that it’s really landlords and wealthy homeowners, not corporations, that are accruing the most economic benefit in our cities, and you recast NIMBY homeowners as “the new urban Luddites.” 
RF: The “new urban crisis” is really the fundamental crisis of our time because the same force that drives our innovation and progress, of greater tolerance and greater civilization—all the good things—economic and social progress, this clustering of people and talent and knowledge and all sorts of diversity in cities. … That’s the same thing that carves the deep divides in our society and separates us.

The most advantaged of us—the most advantaged companies, the most advantaged people, the wealthiest people—can buy into these locations; others get shoved to the side. There’s only so much land to go around. So, what happens, then, is that these wealthy landowners, real estate people, but also homeowners, want to protect that asset. So what do they do? Instead of acting in the interest of the city or society, they say, “No, no no, I don’t want a new condominium tower in my neighborhood. I don’t want more development. I want to protect my pristine, historical, lovely neighborhood.” That’s why I call them the new urban Luddites: It not only makes housing less affordable, it holds back the very economic and social progress that makes cities great.

We can add density by doing infill development, we can add density on top, we don’t have to knock down historic buildings, we don’t have to go up 50 stories; we can add four stories on top, we can set it back. … I think it’s not about deregulating land use and getting rid of this stuff and building just big towers. It’s about building great neighborhoods with more density, and there’s a lot of room to do that.

Many people in Philadelphia live in deep poverty, and they are essentially trapped in their own neighborhoods. 
RF: Through all the neighborhoods surrounding the campus area in West Philadelphia, you see it. You see a knowledge-based district that’s been renovated, and then you see—like in many cities—poverty that looks like third-world conditions. The disturbing and the liberating part of this is, for most of my life we thought the federal government would swoop in and solve this problem, whether that was President Clinton or President Obama—or President Clinton, again. With the rise of Donald Trump and this conservative swing, I think the message has come through: No one at the federal government is going to solve this. 

We’re going to have to solve it the same way we rebuilt Philadelphia—we did it locally. The federal government didn’t rebuild Philadelphia. Neighborhood groups did it, community groups, university leaders. But it needs a real commitment. Dealing with this concentrated poverty means a full-bore strategy for better education, better skill development and, I think most importantly, better connection to economic opportunities in the service sector. 

It’s about giving people living-wage work.
RF: One of the things that really worries me is that urbanists have not thought enough about how the key to really making an inclusive city is to make better work for the half of us—think about that: the half of Philadelphians who toil in these low-wage, precarious service jobs… disproportionately women, disproportionately Hispanic, Latino and African-American. It’s just tragic.

I was reminded at a panel by Angel Rodriguez, formerly of Asociación Puertorriqueños en Marcha, that the median incomes in the neighborhood they work in are $5,000 to $15,000 a year. 
RF: The creative class really has to grow up and say, “Look, we’re going to pay more. We are going to pay the people we get our food from more. We’re going to pay more for that food so that they make more. We’re going to pay more if we want to have personal service, or someone to come in to keep our homes… We’re going to make sure that people have a family-supporting living wage.” I think the burden there is on this creative class to say, “We don’t want to run the service class into the ground, and we can share, in a way, by paying higher prices.” I think it could be a movement which is like “Made in USA”: The people who work in [a] company are being paid decently, and that’s why I buy that product.

In Philadelphia, you’ve had these great anchor institutions that have driven your urban turnaround: universities, hospitals, real estate developers, and you can even consider high-tech companies like Amazon or Google to be anchor institutions. I think they have to belly-up to this, too. Our universities pay their professors great, but their service workers are often nonunionized and make minimum wage. Some universities provide affordable housing, or Stanford University provides mortgage subsidies to their professors. Their service workers, who live who knows where, commute up to an hour each way. 

When we invite companies to come to our cities and provide them with tax abatements, why not reinforce this and say, “It’s not only about paying your high-tech workers a great wage and bringing creative-class work; it’s about creating good jobs for service workers, and we’re going to make you part of that. You’ll be part of our inclusionary prosperity.”

If real estate developers are going to start to develop in our cities, some people are saying they’re going to have affordable housing, but what about making sure they select retail anchor tenants in their buildings [who] pay workers well? And that can be an offset for greater density. I think there are a lot of ways to think about involving anchor institutions in more inclusive prosperity.

Do you think Philadelphia has an opportunity that other cities don’t? 
RF: I think Philadelphia’s going to be a case study in how to do this. …  You mentioned urban schools that are still quite problematic, the legacy of poverty and disadvantage that is very deep, a legacy of racial and economic segregation that remains. Those are deep problems, but I do think Philadelphia is going to make it. If we look to 2030 or 2035, I think Philadelphia should look like a place that’s more inclusive and more democratic and more community based. I really do. 

Climate Change’s 900 Pound Gorilla

Energy efficiency remains a giant opportunity for building resilient cities

Illustration: James Heimer

Illustration: James Heimer

By Alex Dews

Over the past 15 years, the Philadelphia region has been deeply involved in a national movement to change everything about the building industry: how buildings are designed, built, operated, demolished, disposed of and rebuilt. “Green building” is now in the mainstream, and this greater emphasis on efficiency and healthier materials has resulted in tangible benefits ranging from cost savings to improved occupant health. 

But it is far more important to acknowledge that progress to create a more sustainable built environment has been incremental. 

In the next 15 years, progress needs to be exponential in order to meaningfully address local goals for affordability, health and climate resiliency. The recent, historic devastation caused by severe weather, including Hurricanes Harvey and Irma reminds us that buildings are our only refuge from the increasingly frequent destructive events that accompany a changing climate. They are also the primary source of carbon emissions that cause climate change. To adapt and survive, we need better buildings.

The Kenney administration has committed to work to reducing carbon emissions 80 percent by 2050, in keeping with the Paris Climate Accord and the commitments of many other global cities. The city’s sustainability and energy offices released some preliminary findings this summer on several potential pathways to reach this ambitious goal, and the results are eye-opening; a full Citywide Energy Vision will be released later in the year. 

For example, we could focus on putting solar panels on most of the rooftops in Philadelphia (effectively adding 40 megawatts, or 13 Lincoln Financial Field-sized solar projects, every year for the next 33 years). If that were possible, the result would be a meager 4 percent reduction in carbon emissions.

The same city analysis shows that maximizing energy efficiency would yield a 36 percent emissions reduction by 2050. This significant reduction potential in this category area is due in part to the fact that Philadelphia has issued more than 10,800 building permits since 2014, and most of these projects are using an outdated building code that is at least 30 percent less efficient than what all of Pennsylvania’s neighboring states use. That’s a huge missed opportunity with a simple solution, but it’s politically elusive: Pennsylvania’s Uniform Construction Code requires all municipalities to adopt the state’s building codes, and that reality is compounded by the cumbersome process by which the unelected Review and Advisory Committee (RAC) adopts new code standard. As a result, Philadelphia, unfortunately, adheres to 2009 ICC codes. 

But on the bright side, solutions abound: Using existing technologies while strengthening building codes and incentives that encourage above-code certifications such as LEED, passive house and the Living Building Challenge can help to significantly reduce emissions. Passive house buildings—which use 80 percent less energy for heating than code-compliant buildings—are popping up all over the state, primarily in the affordable housing sector. Meanwhile, City Hall and its municipal “quad-plex” neighbors have gone from energy hogs to Energy Star buildings by investing a modest portion of the city’s annual energy spend on simple conservation measures and improved operations.

We can (and should!) have a robust debate about optimal strategies to achieve the deep carbon reductions that will equitably distribute economic impacts and enable a livable future. But while we’re doing that, we already know that energy efficiency will be a huge part of the eventual solution, and that it is always a sound investment. That’s why it should be the top priority for climate adaptation at the local scale.

Alex Dews is the executive director of the Delaware Valley Green Building Council.

We’re excellent collaborators, but what are we building?


Walls and Windows

by Heather Shayne Blakeslee

We’ve long debated what makes us human. But as our understanding of other species becomes richer and more complex, brick by brick we’re dismantling the imaginary wall that separates us from the natural world. 

We’ve learned that we are not the only species to have verbal language (whales), emotions (cows) or self-awareness (magpies). Other species use medicine (sheep), build housing (beavers), solve math problems (dogs), have social rules and are offended by a lack of fairness (chimpanzees), the latter of which we’ve attributed to a moral compass in our species, but it turns out to be basic biology. Not all species share these traits, of course—but even one other distant relative who also mourns their dead (such as elephants) or performs an activity out of sheer joy (such as dolphins) should help unite us with our fellow Earth dwellers. 

We do hold the distinction of being best equipped to dominate whatever habitat we’ve claimed. According to the venerable biologist E.O. Wilson, Homo sapiens exist alongside a dozen or so other species—among the millions on the planet—that have been so successful. Our brethren include ants, termites and a handful of marine species. 

In his book “The Meaning of Human Existence,” Wilson gives us a window into what makes this subgroup special: Each of these super species nests, and also cooperates within a societal structure. If you think about the similarities between a city and an ant colony, you will start to visualize our kinship. We have collectively decided to make a go of it in certain places that are hospitable to our survival and then divided up our labor and resources—in the case of humans, not exactly evenly. 

There are massive differences among these species, of course. Our ability to reason is more advanced, as is our ability to communicate complex abstract concepts. Termites can build subterranean nests, arboreal nests and nest towers that are 30-feet high—but they’ll never have Paris. 

But as with any trait that gives you advantage, it can also be your downfall. Too good at cooperating and at building structures? You may think that there are no limits—that an unlimited number of you can live anywhere on the planet. 

But we’re building houses of cards: We continue to cover up our swamplands with concrete, build houses next to the ocean, and live in climates where extreme heat or extreme cold require extreme amounts of fuel to keep us alive. In doing so, we pump more carbon into the atmosphere, exacerbating the climate change that has taken aim at the houses we’ve built on sand.  

Our perceptions of safety and abundance are comforting but fanciful notions. Perhaps what makes us human is our ability to say, “It’s fine!” as the house falls down. But that’s getting harder to do as the hurricanes grow more destructive, as each drought brings more political destabilization and as each ensuing refugee crisis grows more volatile and heartrending. We can see more clearly that we’ve altered the planet’s chemistry—and that we are losing people and whole cultures as a result. 

We have tried forever, in both spirit and practice, to wall ourselves off from nature, and each other. How long we continue to do so will be the window through which future humans take the measure of our species.

The time is here to use our abilities in the service of better city planning that takes into account social equity and the limits of place, for better building codes that help us mitigate and adapt to climate change, and for energy-efficient design that keeps carbon emissions to a minimum—all initiatives underway in Philadelphia. We are up for the challenge. We must be.