Four people stand together talking next to an open lot. The man in the center is the focus of attention. He is smiling and gesturing as he talks.
Urban Conservation TNC is proud to partner with local nonprofits including The Delaware Center for Horticulture. © Jordan Bush

Stories in Delaware

Urban Conservation

Using nature-based solutions to help people and nature thrive together.

The Nature Conservancy has established a global cities program and a network of 24 urban conservation programs in the U.S. with the goal of changing the relationship between cities and nature. We know using natural solutions to address many of the challenges facing urban areas can create more livable communities and a world where people and nature thrive together.

In Wilmington, our strategies include promoting nature-based solutions to address a wide variety of social and environmental challenges and demonstrating the efficacy of our projects through sound research and evaluation. We are also working to inspire the next generation of environmental stewards and engage residents in citizen science research to improve water quality and the health of urban forests. Finally, we are working with the city and community partners to develop policies that tackle the challenge of making Wilmington a more sustainable place to live.

Aerial view looking down on the construction site of a large urban park. A wide boardwalk winds through the center of an open wetland area.
Work In Progress Aerial view of the South Wilmington Wetland Park under construction. © Diamond Materials
A rendering sketch of groups of people enjoying a wide, open boardwalk at a new wetland park.
South Wilmington Wetland Park An artist's rendering shows how the area could look after wetlands are restored and trails are built. © City of Wilmington
Work In Progress Aerial view of the South Wilmington Wetland Park under construction. © Diamond Materials
South Wilmington Wetland Park An artist's rendering shows how the area could look after wetlands are restored and trails are built. © City of Wilmington

South Wilmington Wetlands Park

During nearly every major storm event, residents of the Southbridge neighborhood in Wilmington find their streets and sidewalks flooded with nearly 2.1 million gallons of raw sewage and stormwater. Situated within a tidal floodplain of the Christina River, Southbridge has experienced chronic flooding, intenstified by sea-level rise.

Since the early 2000s, the residents of Southbridge have been advocating for solutions through the Southbridge Civic Association. In 2014, the community’s decades-long efforts paid off with the city’s approval of the Southbridge Wilmington Wetlands Park project. Now nearly complete, the project has reengineered the neighborhood’s aged plumbing to separate 36 acres of combined storm and sanitary sewers

Once the sewer is separated, the storm sewer overflow will run into an engineered wetland, where it will supply water for a nearly 30-acre “wetland park.” TNC has supported the project for many years, providing critical funding to backstop the city's acquisition of a final parcel, which expanded the project footprint from 17 to 27 acres.

This award-winning community park includes a range of natural habitats, from freshwater tidal marsh to shrub meadows and upland forests. A boardwalk traverses the park to connect Southbridge with the bustling riverfront to the west. This project illustrates how restoring nature in cities can offer healthy natural ecosystems while addressing community challenges such as flooding.

A group of people work together to plant trees in an urban lot. A man in the foreground rolls a large sapling into a hole.
Wilmington Lot Greening Trainees from Delaware Center for Horticulture Branches to Chances program planted native trees during our first lot-greening effort in Wilmington's West City Center. © John Hinkson/TNC

Greening Wilmington

The Nature Conservancy partnered with the City of Wilmington, the Delaware Center for Horticulture (DCH), Wilmington Neighborhood Conservancy Land Bank and Creative District Wilmington to clean and improve a vacant lot in West Center City using best practices in public greening.

“This joint effort is a wonderful example of people with a common objective coming together to help make Wilmington a cleaner, more attractive city, and also improve the quality of life for the residents of West Center City,” said Wilmington Mayor Mike Purzycki.

Work at the 5th and Madison Street lot began with DCH’s Branches to Chances trainees planting eight trees, generously donated by Mt. Cuba Center, and participants in the Challenge Program installed a wooden fence around the perimeter of the lot. The lot cleanup is the first of several greening projects scheduled for the West Center City area. 

“Working with partners we hope to turn vacant lots into productive uses the community desires,” says Maria Dziembowska, TNC Delaware's Director of Urban Conservation.

Read more about our collaboration with DCH's Return-to-Work program which aims to enhance green space in the city while providing job training to residents.

A smiling woman crouches down at the edge of a stream. She is holding one end of a white tube used to sample water quality.
Citizen scientist A citizen scientist from the Stream Stewards program samples water in the Beaver Valley unit of First State National Historical Park nearin Wilmington, Delaware. © Kim Hachadoorian/TNC

Connecting People and Nature—Stream Stewards

Stream Stewards is a program designed to engage people of all ages and backgrounds in taking care of their waterways. Adult volunteers are invited to sign up for a series of training sessions and actively participate in monitoring the water quality of streams that flow through First State National Historical Park to Brandywine Creek. A curriculum is being developed for students and their families to become engaged in water quality monitoring near their schools and homes in Wilmington. Participants will learn about stewardship opportunities for improving the health of their watersheds, and contributing to conservation action in their communities.

Water rushes over low falls on a narrow creek. Large stones and riprap edge the creek bank in the foreground.
Brandywine Creek We are working throughout the Brandywine-Christina watershed to ensure clean drinking water for Delaware's residents. © TNC

Brandywine-Christina Revolving Water Fund

The Brandywine-Christina watershed provides over 100 million gallons daily to 500,000 area residents. Yet most of its waterways are unsafe for recreation and water treatment is costly. The Revolving Water Fund will coordinate the financing and prioritizing of conservation projects in the watershed—often at a cost far lower than traditional efforts. That’s good news to any area resident who turns on their drinking water tap.

View of Wilmington, Delaware's city skyline across the Brandywine River. Tall buildings stretch up towards the low clouds.
Wilmington From a Distance View of the Wilmington, DE riverfront. © Jordan Bush Photography

Looking Ahead: Planning a Greener, More Equitable Future

For decades, cities across the country have been experimenting with solutions to legacy problems faced by many urban communities in the United States—problems rooted in the nation’s history of racial discrimination in housing and urban planning.

Sharing experiences, lessons, science and best practices both locally and globally is what sets TNC apart. Now that TNC's conservation efforts in Wilmington and Philadelphia are being integrated into one program, TNC stands to have a more regional conservation impact, embedding both cities into the broader landscape of the lower Delaware River.

As the nation works to rebuild the global economy, the recovery process must include opportunities not only to resume our old way of life, but also to rebuild businesses, industries and jobs in ways that enhance equity, strengthen resilience and support a healthy environment. Economic recovery and environmental action must go hand-in-hand. Nature’s future is our future.