The Waterfront: Seven People Making A Difference

The waterfront along both the Delaware and Schuylkill rivers has seen an ecological and recreational resurgence over the last decade.

What was once known as an urban or concrete jungle is slowly being transformed into an urban oasis for people to escape the crowded city of Philadelphia and enjoy the rivers’ edges. From simply belonging to a neighborhood association working to cleanup their area, to designing for the ecological restoration of an abandoned pier, a number of people have been instrumental in this transformation.

Megan Malloy

Megan Malloy (above) is an educator, curator and docent at the Fairmount Water Works Interpretive Center. Throughout the year, Malloy and her associates coordinate with different advisory and research groups in the area to find out more about the state of our waters.

She educates visitors on the history of the Water Works and the adjacent land, beginning with the early, indigenous groups who lived in the area before colonists arrived. The program at the Interpretive Center also puts an emphasis on environmental and ecological issues.

“Recently, I’ve seen red-tailed hawks, a bald eagle and even river otters on occasion,” Malloy said. “These are indicators that the quality and health of the water is on the upswing. These species don’t show up unless there is a viable, sustainable food source.”

Malloy also helps plan upcoming events at the Water Works, including Shad Fest on April 20, 2014.

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Scott Quitel, of the ecological consulting firm AES, discussed Pier 53’s design and look and spoke about the importance of the restoration project, “this land for years was left to do its own thing, so that’s where we pick up.”

Scott Quitel

Scott Quitel is the principal ecologist and branch manager at Applied Ecological Services.

AES was awarded a $1.5 million contract by the Delaware River Waterfront Corp. to design and construct the Pier 53 ecological park, known as Washington Avenue Green,which is scheduled to open in June. Quitel has spearheaded the design process using his extensive knowledge of the ecology of the Atlantic coastal plain area, specifically the Piedmont plateau region.

“My best project is this pier project,” he said.

Quitel also teaches at Drexel University and leads geology tours of the Wissahickon Gorge, which is part of the Fairmount Park system. He has a tour coming up on May 10 called The Power of Geology.

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Maya Van Rossum, right, the Delaware Riverkeeper, alongside Lizzie Woods of the Delaware River Development Corp.,  spoke at the 2014 Tri-State Sustainability Symposium at Temple on March 7, 2014. She emphasized the importance of buffer zones along the river due to flooding.

Maya Van Rossum

Maya Van Rossum, the Delaware Riverkeeper, leads the Delaware Riverkeeper Network in advocating for the preservation and in some cases, restoration, of the Delaware River and all its tributaries.

During Sugarhouse Casino’s construction, Van Rossum and her network were instrumental in keeping the casino from filling in parts of the river. Twenty years ago, Van Rossum and her organization lobbied and was able to get a shale gas drilling moratorium passed on the Delaware River Watershed, which is still in effect today. They’ve also developed stream monitoring protocols in order to keep an eye on whether fracking is occurring.

“The sad part of my job is that I spend a lot more time as the Delaware Riverkeeper trying to push back the bad projects rather than supporting the good projects,” Van Rossum said.

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A.J. Thompson, president of Friends of Penn Treaty Park, was one of a only a few people that showed up at one of the park’s cleanups, on Saturday, March 15, 2014.

A.J. Thompson

A.J. Thompson, president of the Friends of Penn Treaty Park, has been working for a decade in maintaining the beauty of the park, as well as working with the community and the city of Philadelphia in renovating and improving the seven acre stretch of green land on the Delaware River waterfront.

Thompson kicked off the spring season with several Saturday cleanups, which will last through the summer. He also coordinates a summer concert series every year.

“Unfortunately for the city, but fortunately for us,” he said, “this is really the only place on the Delaware waterfront in the city, at least until you get up into the Northeast, that families can come and enjoy the waterfront … and [enjoy] a touch of nature.”

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Steve Richter, a member of the Friends of Washington Avenue Green, spoke about the wildlife that he’d seen in the area along Pier 53, including ospreys, which he said were transients, and therefore not very common.

Steve Richter

Steve Richter is a member of the Friends of Washington Avenue Green and has been a Master Mariner and First Class Pilot for 30 years. The group formed in 2010 as a way to promote recreational and educational uses of Washington Avenue Green, formerly known as Pier 53.

The Friends gather community input for the development of Pier 53 and organize events in the community.

Richter called the park, “a gem of the South Philadelphia neighborhood.”

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Josh Nims, left, engaged with audience members at TEDxPhilly’s reception after the talks held at the Temple Performing Arts Center.

Josh Nims

At this year’s TEDxPhilly talks, Josh Nims, the operations manager for the Schuylkill River Development Corp., also known as Schuylkill Banks, described embarking on a journey that ended with Franklin’s Paine Skatepark.

It began with the roots of a large tree breaking through a section of sidewalk, subsequently forming a skate ramp of sorts. Josh used this tree as a metaphor for the way skateboarding, BMX and rollerblading culture has been able to rise from the underground, claiming ownership of not just the streets, but eventually its own designated parks.

Nims also discussed building other skate parks next to the water: the Grays Ferry Crescent Skatepark and Pop’s Skatepark in East Kensington. Nims manages and maintains the SRDC visitor center. One of his main goals is helping to reconnect the lower Schuylkill River to the urban core of Center City.

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Terry Gillen, who until recently worked as an aide to Mayor Nutter, spoke to a rapt audience at TEDxPhilly on March 28, 2014 about her involvement in the fight to save Philadelphia’s Navy Yard.

Terry Gillen

Terry Gillen, who was the executive director of the Redevelopment Authority under Mayor Nutter, has been working to improve the city of Philadelphia since the early 1990s. She was one of the key players in the fight to save the Navy Yard, with former Mayor Ed Rendell.

After accomplishing this, Gillen’s next goal was transforming the confluence of the Schuylkill and Delaware Rivers into something accessible to citizens while bringing badly needed jobs back to Philadelphia’s foundering manufacturing industry.

In the end, the efforts of Gillen and various other players led to the creation of 11,000 new jobs along the rivers. Gillen also advocated for bike lanes along the South Street Bridge and was instrumental in the plan to allow CSX access to the Schuylkill River Trail. She was also involved with the preservation of buildings in Naval Square.

– Images and text by Mike Kitay, Jennifer Robnett, and Drew Russin.