Philadelphia Water provides lessons for community, urban innovation 

The federal government regulates some U.S. cities based on their size and infrastructure to manage storm water. In the city of Philadelphia, these regulations inspired Green City, Clean Water, a 25-year initiative that applies sustainable practices to reduce water pollution and beautify urban communities. 

While such projects deliver economic, social, and environmental benefits, associated costs and upfront considerations can create key challenges. 

Top factors to address include time, funding, existing infrastructure, and community engagement. 

As a passerby visiting Philadelphia as part of a B Corp conference, the last factor of community engagement stood out as both a pain point and opportunity. Our group, comprised of about 50 people, did not remotely resemble the populations of the community we toured. And our guide also expressed regret around how some past initiatives projects stumbled when it came to the timing of communication, input, and engagement with surrounding neighborhood. 

As our groups walked up a hill we passed an African-American woman with disabilities in a motorized wheelchair. Instead of letting this single individual pass, everyone continued marching upward hardly acknowledging her presence. Instead, many participants asked questions saturated in privilege about access to real-time water data by mobile app and the lack of water recreation options beyond regattas. For me, this moment was a key reminder that progress — no matter how well intended — should not ignore or leave behind the people most affected by economic, social, and environmental challenges. Look around as well as ahead. And listen more than we talk. 


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