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 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.

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.

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.

A man stands on the edge of a short dock and casts a fishing line in a wide flat river.
Philadelphia Skyline The Philadelphia skyline is reflected in the Delaware River as a man casts a fishing line in the water. © Severn Smith / TNC

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.

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

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.

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

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.

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