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Pennsylvania

Urban Conservation in Pennsylvania

View across the river of the Philadelphia skyline. A tree in the foreground frames the city skyline in the background.
Philadelphia The Philadelphia skyline emerges in the distance from the Belmont Plateau. © J. Smith for Visit Philly

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

This page was updated on November 2, 2021.

In Pennsylvania, Philadelphia is the first city in the state to join TNC's urban conservation initiative. Here, our strategies include promoting solutions to help absorb stormwater, planting trees to help cool cities and reduce air pollution, and engaging and inspiring the next generation of environmental stewards to tackle the challenge of making cities more sustainable places to live.

Aerial view looking down on a construction site around a church in an urban neighborhood. A narrow strip of ground in the center of the photo has been cleared and stripped down to bare earth.
Greening Our Cities Holmesburg Baptist Church and Christian Academy in Philadelphia, where TNC is working with the landowner on a series of green stormwater infrastructure projects. © Oak Leaf Media

Green City, Clean Waters

In Northeast Philadelphia, TNC has partnered with the Holmesburg Baptist Church and Christian Academy to implement a series of green stormwater retrofit projects. One of the city’s oldest neighborhoods, Holmesburg has a rich history, and the Holmesburg Baptist Church has been serving the community since 1829. 

The retrofit projects completed on the church's property in September 2021 replaced impervious surface with green stormwater infrastructure that will capture and clean an estimated 3.5 million gallons of stormwater annually. Filtering and slowing runoff will allow for better infiltration into the earth before it reaches Pennypack Creek and the Delaware River, helping to improve water quality.

These projects were funded by the Philadelphia Water Department through a stormwater management incentive program grant, as well as contributions from the William Penn Foundation and other private donors.

Philadelphia can have healthy creeks and rivers again, but it will require innovative partnerships and investments at the community level—particularly in communities and neighborhoods that have historically been underrepresented and under resourced. By partnering with private, community-based landowners, TNC supports the Philadelphia Water Department’s Green City, Clean Waters Program.

TNC’s collaboration with the Holmesburg Baptist Church and Christian Academy is a great example of how a global conservation NGO can help bridge gaps at the community level between private landowners and local municipalities.

Two men crouch next to a small sapling they have just planted. A small group of volunteers look on from the background.
Planting in the Community Community volunteers and TNC staff work together to plant trees in Philadelphia's Belmont neighborhood during a community event in 2019. © Kat Kendon | Kendon Photography
× Two men crouch next to a small sapling they have just planted. A small group of volunteers look on from the background.
A group of people planting trees. Two women in the foreground use shovels to dig holes for the small potted saplings.
Tree Planting Day Volunteers plant fruit trees with Friends Rehabilitation Program in Philadelphia, October 2019. © Kat Kendon/Kendon Photography
× A group of people planting trees. Two women in the foreground use shovels to dig holes for the small potted saplings.
Planting in the Community Community volunteers and TNC staff work together to plant trees in Philadelphia's Belmont neighborhood during a community event in 2019. © Kat Kendon | Kendon Photography
Tree Planting Day Volunteers plant fruit trees with Friends Rehabilitation Program in Philadelphia, October 2019. © Kat Kendon/Kendon Photography

Neighborhood Scale Solutions

Our partnership with Holmesburg Baptist Church builds on existing relationships TNC has built in Philadelphia. In the fall of 2020, TNC and the Friends Rehabilitation Program (FRP) began the process of planning and constructing eight green stormwater projects across four city blocks in the Belmont neighborhood that will filter stormwater pollution, restore urban habitat and create new green space.

FRP is a local nonprofit providing affordable housing and social services in low- and moderate-income communities. TNC and FRP have been working together in Belmont to collaborate on neighborhood-scale greening approaches and solutions.

These upgrades to infrastructure will provide layered benefits to residents, like food production, flood mitigation and meaningful job training. The stormwater projects will create living wage jobs opportunities in operation and maintenance of green infrastructure—jobs that will continue to grow in demand as a result of the city’s Green City, Clean Waters plan.

A lone tree stands at the edge of an urban residential street. The trunk is surrounded by the concrete sidewalk.
Tilden Middle School PA The neighborhood around Tilden Middle School in Philadelphia, PA. © Jaci Downs

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.

TNC’s urban conservation initiatives are strategically designed to develop new creative partnerships and bring direct and tangible benefits to city landscapes. We aim to prioritize conservation initiatives that foster equitable outcomes for historically underrepresented and underserved communities.

Sharing experiences, lessons, science and best practices both locally and globally is what sets TNC apart. Now that our conservation efforts in Philadelphia and Wilmington, Delaware 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.

View looking down on four sets of gloved hands placed closely together on a newly laid brick path.
Healthy Cities Working with communities to help cities thrive. © Devan King / TNC

North America Cities Network

TNC's Cities Network fosters innovation and learning through communication, capacity building and best practices that can be universally shared.

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