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Pinchot focus areas:

Climate & Energy
Can a Federally-led Partnership Facilitate Regional Change?
Sarah Low — US Forest Service, Northern Research Station, Philadelphia Field Station

The Delaware River Watershed, specifically Philadelphia and Chester, Pennsylvania, Camden, New Jersey, and Wilmington, Delaware, was made an Urban Waters Federal Partnership site in June 2011. In developing this Partnership the lead agencies for this site, the USDA Forest Service, NOAA, and Department of Interior National Park Service, decided to convene gatherings of federal agencies, community nonprofit organizations, and local agencies to find out from communities what the pressing issues and needs are. Several themes emerged across the four cities—brownfields, parks/trails/open space, habitat and river restoration, water quality and quantity, and climate resilience. The first four themes are easily connected to existing or possible projects, the kinds of projects that can be delineated on a map, funded, monitored, and completed, but climate resiliency projects are not as easy to identify.
Phoenix Park in Camden, NJ - Camden County Municipal Utility Authority
Connecting climate change projection models, studies, and reports to local action at the scale of a city or region can be challenging; however, it may be possible to use existing local efforts to create climate resiliency. In our meetings in Chester, Camden, Wilmington, and Philadelphia, we heard about work already happening that contributes to climate resiliency, such as the conversion of former industrial sites into parks. One site in particular is the future Phoenix Park located on the Delaware River in Camden and led by the Camden County Municipal Utility Authority. When the park is completed, it will infiltrate onsite stormwater, thereby reducing the runoff entering the Delaware River and reducing Camden’s impact to cities downstream, such as Chester and Wilmington. The site is currently devoid of vegetation but once the construction is completed, trees and other vegetation will be planted— at the very least reducing heat island effect.

Phoenix Park also brings together a variety of partners, including the Partnership for the Delaware Estuary, a nonprofit that has been planning and monitoring living shorelines throughout the Estuary. A living shoreline will be created at Phoenix Park to reintroduce mussels, which may improve the water quality of the Delaware River for downstream communities that depend on the river for drinking water. If the conversion of one brownfield to a park can carry with it the potential for regional benefits, what could happen if brownfields throughout the watershed were converted to green space?

While climate resilience may not be the initial impetus for projects like Phoenix Park, it may be an important outcome. If projects like Phoenix Park were completed throughout the region in a way that compounds benefits at each site, perhaps a strategic approach to climate resilience could come from the act of gathering and sharing. For this reason, the Urban Waters Federal Partnership has been developing Communities of Practice that link Federal agencies with local and regional organizations and agencies.

Communities of Practice are not only valuable to their region, but they also offer lessons learned that can be shared with the network of 17 other Urban Waters Federal Partnership sites throughout the country. These Communities of Practice are intended to create real, sustained change that improves peoples’ lives by increasing access to information about existing resources and elevating regional knowledge through the sharing of lessons learned.
Grey Towers National Historic Site Support Our Work Best in America