Growing Greener empowers communities to revitalize themselves in ways that are cost-effective and environmentally-friendly, while leveraging local and private support for improvement projects. The result is healthier, happier, and safer communities where the land and water are protected, residents have access to the outdoors, and cultural legacies are preserved.
Abandoned industrial properties, known as brownfields, occupy hundreds of thousands of acres across Pennsylvania, especially in historically-neglected waterfront areas. These remnants of 19th and 20th century production now lie idle and pose environmental risks like groundwater and soil contamination. They also hamper economic development in communities struggling to reinvent themselves in a post-industrial world. Crumbling, neglected buildings are eyesores that take up valuable land while providing no economic or recreational benefits to municipalities and their residents.
Outdated Parks and Trails
There are more than 5,000 parks and trails across Pennsylvania, and they play an important role in the fabric of communities. They give people the chance to be physically active while enjoying the outdoors with family and friends, and can stimulate economic growth by attracting visitors. However, many were developed in the 1960’s and 70’s when funding was more plentiful. The years have taken a toll, and today a substantial number of these treasured local spaces require upgrades to improve safety, modernize facilities, and accommodate new recreational demands. Many are also in need of changes to promote accessibility so that all Pennsylvanians have the chance to enjoy them.
Pennsylvania has over 83,000 miles of streams, and the federal government has officially mapped floodplains in a majority of the commonwealth’s municipalities. Floodplain management, therefore, impacts the daily lives of most Pennsylvanians. Poor land development patterns in floodplains over the past three centuries have negatively affected water quality and contributed to dangerous flooding that can destroy property, devastate communities, and in some cases cause injury or death.
Loss of Tree Cover
Tree-lined streets are aesthetically pleasing and offer other benefits as well. They clean the air, help control stormwater, and can increase property values. Unfortunately, loss of tree cover is a growing problem. In the past two decades, for example, the lower Delaware Valley saw 34,000 acres of tree cover destroyed. This loss results in millions more cubic feet of stormwater runoff each year, at an estimated cost of $105 million in economic and environmental damage. Fewer trees also suppress the value of neighboring private property.
Damaged Stream Corridors
Hundreds of miles of urban streams have been channeled, ditched, and buried to make way for roads and buildings. These alterations to natural water corridors contribute to flooding during storms and runoff damage downstream.
Limited Access to Local Food
Though Pennsylvania is one of the nation’s leading agricultural producers, access to locally-sourced food, especially healthy fruits and vegetables, is a major obstacle in many communities. In some regions of the commonwealth, there are only a handful of farmers markets or retail stores selling local food, making it difficult or altogether impossible for people to buy food produced nearby. This hurts consumers, who would benefit from fresher food, and it hurts the family farmers trying to earn a living from their land.
GROWING GREENER ACCOMPLISHMENTS
Improving Community Parks and Trails
Communities throughout Pennsylvania have used Growing Greener investments to improve and expand their networks of local parks and trails. Some projects, like the North Shore Riverfront Park in Pittsburgh, have redesigned and upgraded neglected waterfront areas to be used for a variety of activities. Others have created entirely new green spaces, like the Fishing Creek Nature Park, where children and adults alike can play, fish, and relax outdoors. Growing Greener has also funded efforts to continue development of important connector trails like the Cynwyd Heritage Trail, which is a keystone link in the larger Schuylkill River Trail.
Cultivating Neighborhood Gardens
Growing Greener has helped local leaders transform abandoned lots into productive neighborhood gardens by supporting nonprofits that can address the complicated legal and environmental issues that arise when farming on abandoned properties in urban areas. These gardens provide fresh, locally-sourced food in areas where access to healthy fruits and vegetables is limited by a lack of grocery stores and farmers markets. By offering self-sufficient, hands-on solutions, they empower individuals and connect communities.
Pennsylvania Heritage Areas
The Pennsylvania Heritage Area program, supported in part by Growing Greener investments, has been extremely popular and successful. By showcasing the unique cultural and environmental assets of twelve regions across the commonwealth, the program promotes recreation, tourism, and education, which generate economic activity in local communities.
Restoring Tree Cover
Growing Greener helps municipalities across the Commonwealth restore their tree covers and revitalize stream corridors. Communities provide the volunteer labor, and Growing Greener, through a program of the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society called TreeVitalize, pays for the trees and planting materials. It also provides technical guidance to ensure sound planning and implementation of projects. One of these projects planted 100 trees at Ridley Creek State Park as part of an ongoing effort to restore 16 acres of the Ridley Creek corridor.
THE POTENTIAL OF GROWING GREENER
Fostering Sustainable Community Development
Growing Greener would promote efforts to interweave sustainability and conservation into community development through grant funding focused on energy efficiency and green infrastructure, while encouraging smart land use policies. Appropriate uses of funding would include retrofitting buildings, implementing streetscape improvements like bioswales and energy-efficient streetlights, and fostering the growth of neighborhood gardens. Municipalities would be encouraged to incorporate bike and pedestrian-friendly routes to accommodate healthy, zero emission modes of transportation. Energy Harvest grants would allow small businesses to install renewable energy systems on rooftops or open space, resulting in cost savings that could be invested back into the business.
Public Safety Grants
Aided by Growing Greener, the Department of Community and Economic Development (DCED) would administer a grant program to help county planning and emergency response coordinators monitor the release of hazardous materials that threaten public safety. The grants would ensure that county officials and regulators have the necessary technology to safeguard communities.
Increased investments would further efforts to restore brownfields by making grants available for site characterization and remediation to eliminate environmental hazards. A $10 million investment has the potential to bring forty properties back into productive use.
Parks and Trails for Thriving Communities
Pennsylvania’s network of parks and trails is valued by residents and visitors alike. New Growing Greener investments would provide communities the funds needed to improve and expand this network. Through a competitive grants program, DCNR would leverage additional funding from local partners, increasing the amount of projects that can be completed. More funding would fix unsafe parks and help close gaps in the Pennsylvania trail network. Ultimately, it would create thriving, healthy communities in every county of the commonwealth by ensuring that people have access to places where they can walk, bike, and play.
Preserving Historic Places
By supporting the Historic Preservation Project Grant program, Growing Greener would help nonprofit organizations and local governments protect buildings and other sites listed in or eligible for the National Register of Historic Places. These grants would support projects to identify, preserve, and promote the historic and archaeological resources unique to communities across Pennsylvania.
Storm Sewer System Plans
Growing Greener would fund efforts to design and implement Municipal Separate Storm Sewer System (MS4) Plans and projects to eliminate stream impairments. These projects would bring communities into alignment with water quality regulations, including the Chesapeake Bay Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) requirements.