This page was updated on December 4, 2020.
Cities are having an ever-increasing impact on nature. By 2050, it is estimated that 70 percent of the world’s population—more than 6 billion people—will live in urban areas.
The Nature Conservancy has established a global cities program with the goal of changing the relationship between cities and nature. We know that using natural solutions to many of the challenges facing urban areas can create more livable communities, and a world where people and nature thrive together.
Cities tend to be hotter than their rural counterparts, largely due to fewer trees and more paved surfaces which retain heat from the sun. Many urban centers are near coastal areas, which face increasing climate risks from sea-level rise and more powerful and frequent storms.
In recent years, the Northeast U.S. has felt the effects of increased flooding, with its resulting property damage and amplified pollution in our waterways. Add stormwater to the mix—considered by the EPA to be the fastest growing source of water pollution in the U.S—and the result is waterways in which people can neither swim nor fish.
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.
Cities As Part of a Regional Landscape: Delaware River Watershed
Cities play a significant role in the ecological and economic health of their watershed.
The Delaware River and its tributaries are the lifeblood of the Northeast, providing drinking water to 13 million people in New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Delaware. The Delaware River provides countless ecological benefits to our region—more than 200 avian species that migrate along the Atlantic flyway rely on the Delaware. The river also supports over 60 types of fish, including critical migratory species like the American shad.
The Delaware River generates $22.5 billion per year of economic revenue from water supply, recreation, fishing, the Port of Philadelphia, agriculture and more. These ecological and social benefits are inextricably linked and make up a complex socio-ecological system. We cannot think of one without the other—both benefit or perish without the support of each side.
Collaborating in the City of Brotherly Love
In Philadelphia, TNC is partnering with the Friends Rehabilitation Program (FRP), a local nonprofit providing affordable housing and social services in low- and moderate-income communities. TNC and FRP have been working together in Philly’s Belmont neighborhood to collaborate on neighborhood-scale greening approaches and solutions.
In the fall of 2020, TNC and FRP began the process of planning and constructing eight green stormwater projects across four city blocks in Belmont that will filter stormwater pollution, restore urban habitat and create new green space.
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.
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.
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.