Kensington: Philadelphia’s First Big Green Block

Neighborhood Kids planted flowers around newly planted sustainable tree.
Neighborhood Kids planted flowers around newly planted sustainable tree.

The block between Front Street and Frankford Avenue and Palmer Street and Norris Avenue has undergone a major makeover. Together the Philadelphia Water Department, New Kensington Community Development Corp., Philadelphia Horticultural Society, the Mural Arts Program and with the help of Philadelphia Parks and Recreation, these corporations and services have turned the block in Philly’s first Big Green Block.

Centered around Kensington High School for the Creative and Performing Arts and the Shissler Recreation Center, the block incorporates green roofs, rain gardens, porous parking pavement, geothermal well field, storm water trees and trenches, infiltration basin, rainwater cisterns and murals.

“Our partner have really helped us turn this section of the neighborhood around,” Executive Director of New Kensington Community Development Corp. Sandy Salzman said. “All these wonderful pipes and everything that go over to the rain garden center, it has just made this neighborhood so much more sustainable and so much more green. It is such a wonderful place to be, we always thought it was a wonderful place to be, but now our kids get to play on a ball field that has grass instead of cinders.“

'Soak It Up, Philly!' presented the new green block.

The Big Green Block falls in place with the rest of the city’s sustainable plans, which is to green many of its streets and alleys while beautifying the city, neighborhood by neighborhood. Recently, Kensington celebrated its green street and newly planted trees through the Philadelphia Water Department’s city-wide green initiative, Soak it Up, Philly! During the ribbon cutting ceremony, the public was given a tour of the Big Green Block and was also educated in how the entire thing operates.

“It’s a $2.4 billion program that’s going to be implemented over the next 25 years. We are the only city in the country that’s actually approaching this problem this way. A lot of cities have been doing this for a long time addressing this problem through those pipes expansions and treatment fund expansions, but we are the first ones to address water pollution through greening,” Public Outreach Specialist and Consultant for PWD and Public Affairs for the Office of Watersheds, Tiffany Ledesma Groll said. “So you’re going to see this all over the city, pretty much 60 percent of the city has those sewer problems. So in those sections of the city, basically the older parts of the city, you’ll see a lot of that.”

Ribbon was cut to open the new green block.

As rainwater runoff flows into the drain at the corner of Frankford Avenue and Montgomery Street, it is collected in the inlets and plumbing underneath the street and sidewalk. The plumbing system is designed to hold 16,000 gallons of water, which prevents a mixture of sewage and rain (stormwater) runoff from flooding the sewers in the city, because once the sewers are filled they can’t properly filter the water which ends up going directly to the rivers and polluting the city’s natural waterways. Another part of this plan is that it will not only prevent pollution from entering Philadelphia’s drinking water, but the water that is held underground will first go to the newly planted trees and trenches which provides them with life and the neighborhood with something fresh and beautiful to look at.

“Right now the water department and the street departments are rewriting the book, literally, on how our streets are designed and they are going to be designed going forward as a green structure. What is important about green infrastructure is that it will not only handle the basic transportation needs of our streets and neighborhoods, but it also adds value to those neighborhoods,” Mayor’s Office of Transportation and Utility Chief of Staff Andrew Stober said. “Having trees on your block managing the storm water increases the value of the neighborhoods. Its so much more pleasant to walk down a street that has trees on it.”


Map of the big green block.

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