By Matt Blanchard
A sneak peak at GreenPlan Philadelphia reveals that the plan is extremely green indeed.
In the works since 2006, this parks and recreation planning effort won’t deliver a final report until the fall. But on Wednesday, GreenPlan director Robert Allen offered some early highlights that, if carried out, would mean a block-by-block transformation for much of our city in the next twenty years.
GreenPlan school yard "before and after"
That other sort of green – funding – remains an open question. But few doubt Philadelphia needs such a plan. While the city has plenty of green space, it’s concentrated in Fairmount Park and Germantown, which enjoys 34% tree coverage. Elsewhere, in places like South Philadelphia and Kensington, the lightly treed streets will be sweltering again this summer with under 2% coverage.
To correct this, improve real estate values and hopefully reduce energy costs and crime, GreenPlan’s 2028 goals are breathtaking:
• Plant 995,000 new trees to get Philadelphia’s tree cover up to 30%, double its current coverage, the lowest of any major east coast city. Baltimore already enjoys a 29% cover and is headed for 40%. New York is aiming for 26% in the next ten years.
• Create 4,000 acres of new parkland (a 33% increase) primarily in underserved areas.
• Green 100 school yards (37% of total)
• Green 50% of all city streets (over 1300 miles) with a tree every 30 to 40 feet.
• Ensure all Philadelphians are within walking distance (1/2 mile) of a trail.
No green for trees
As with so many other measures of municipal health, Philadelphia’s tree planting picture is grim: Portland, Oregon, for example, is one third the size of Philadelphia yet budgets $14 million for tree planting each year. We spend just $300,000.
In an era where “green” solutions are being found for everything from cars to carpets -- and where “green roofs” and “green buffers” are reducing energy use and air pollution – Philadelphia streets are actually experiencing a net loss of trees.
“The city spends 4 to 5 times more on tree removal than they do on planting,” says GreenPlan’s Allen. “That’ll give you some sense of the tree situation in Philadelphia.”
Allen says his team ran a modeling test on one square mile of South Philadelphia. Simply by raising the area’s shade cover to 30% -- his citywide goal – Allen claimed residents would save $1.1 million in energy costs each year. The effect on property values, he said, could be even more dramatic: The total value of all real estate in the study could rise by $121 million.
Philly vs. Trees
It all sounds like a win-win. Who doesn’t like trees? Yet observers were quick to point out that trees don’t come cheap. Once a tree goes in the ground, some human must care for it with occasional watering, pruning and the sweeping up of leaves. GreenPlan appears to rely on a hefty helping of community volunteerism, which some said won’t work.
“We can’t even get the property owners to maintain their trees,” said Marion Johnson, legislative aide to Councilwoman Marian Tasco. “Community groups would like to do it, but they don’t have the wherewithal.”
Developer John Westrum raised a slightly more bizarre obstacle to greening. For his recent 230-unit town house development in South Philly, Westrum planted more than 500 trees – only to see dozens ripped out by residents.
“We put them in the ground, and they pulled them out and sold them!,” Westrum said. “These were $300 trees. But only about a third are still in there because [residents] wanted their back yards for something else.”
Previous PlanPhilly coverage of the green infrastructure
Mayor Nutter addressed the Zoning Code Commission on Wednesday, stressing again his campaign pledge to make zoning and planning a top priority.
“The fact that only about six people in the city understand the zoning code is a problem,” Nutter said. “We cannot continue to operate in the dark ages with this code.”
He also vowed again to restore the Philadelphia Planning Commission to its 1950s reputation as a model for planning agencies across the nation.
The visit was mostly a social call: Nutter shook almost every hand in the room before speaking.
But the mayor also cracked the whip just a bit, calling for the group to hire an executive director. Despite its daunting task, the ZCC still has no support staff. Nutter said he wants to review candidates soon and make a hire by the end of this month.
In other Administration news:
Nutter appointed Mark Alan Hughes Director of Sustainabilty. See news release.