Going green with the Mayor’s Office of Sustainability

Upon taking office, Mayor Michael Nutter established the Greenworks Philadelphia campaign in an effort to transform Philadelphia into the greenest city in America by 2015.

This Saturday, an intimate but spirited group of Northwest Philadelphians gathered at the Infinite Inch gallery space on Ridge Avenue in East Falls to discuss ways to reach that goal.

Sarah Wu, outreach and policy coordinator for the Mayor’s Office of Sustainability, has been reaching out to community organizations and schools throughout Philadelphia to engage residents in the city’s sustainability mission.

At Saturday’s workshop, she emphasized the importance of collaborating with local business organizations and community members to make the program work.

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“It’s important that we shop in our own closets,” said Wu.

Among the small crowd huddled in scarves, hats and gloves inside the sparsely heated gallery was Jennifer Singerman of East Falls. She was interested in learning more about local and city-wide programs for bicyclists.

“I prefer to be on my bike,” said Singerman. “In this city it’s the easiest way to get around.”

Singerman worked as a bicycle guide in France and Italy before settling in East Falls as a graphic designer and yoga instructor. She said she still cycles between jobs, one of which includes teaching yoga at the Interim House in West Mt. Airy.

“Over there in Europe, bike riding is a way of life,” Singerman said. And it appears that Philadelphia isn’t far behind.

Out of the nation’s ten largest cities, Philadelphia has the highest percentage of bicycle commuters at 1.6 percent, which is twice the national average of .55 percent, according to the 2010 annual Greenworks report. In an effort to make room for these commuters, the city is working to expand bicycle and pedestrian trails as well as install more bike racks on city streets.

But bike ridership is only one component in creating a more environmentally friendly transportation system in Philadelphia.

The city has also added 260 hybrid buses to its SEPTA fleet and, according to Greenworks, the goal is to have 420 hybrid buses by the end of 2011.

Creating green jobs 

Another Greenworks initiative is to double the number of green jobs in the city by 2015.

Wu said the creation of new green jobs will be a profitable motive for young people to become involved in the sustainable movement. According to the U.S. Conference of Mayors, Philadelphia has more than 14,000 green jobs.

The Energy Coordinating Agency, a nonprofit promoting sustainability and energy conservation in Philadelphia, used recovery dollars to open a green jobs training center in the spring and has trained more than 650 qualifying people in weatherproofing and conducting energy audits in houses. Of that number, the ECA estimates that 85 percent have landed jobs in similar fields.

Using trees to reduce stormwater runoff 

Cynthia Kishinchand attended the workshop to represent East Falls Tree Tenders, a local group of volunteers who plant trees throughout the area. She urged Saturday’s group to take part in the Greenworks initiative to plant 300,000 more trees in Philadelphia by 2015.

The roots of those trees would help absorb rain and prevent stormwater runoff pollution in local waterways. Kischinchand said this effort would help to reduce runoff pollution in the nearby Schuylkill River.

Setting an example in East Falls 

Peicha Chang joined the East Falls Development Corporation in the spring after opening her garden design business, Falls Flowers on Conrad Street. Chang had lived in Boston for ten years before moving to Philadelphia.

“Coming from Boston, where being green and recycling is on everybody’s mind, to Philadelphia, I remember thinking ‘What have we done?'” said Chang. “But I think the people in East Falls are very community-minded. It’s a mixed neighborhood and I think the whole East Falls Development Corporation is setting an example.”

Motivating the next generation

Wu hopes to continue that example-setting behavior by inspiring the next generation to continue thinking and acting sustainably in 2015 and beyond.

“I’ve been trying to work with a lot of universities, because college students are only here temporarily but a lot of them stay and get involved,” said Wu.

To that end, the Mayor’s office of civic engagement has launched its Serve Philadelphia website which offers volunteers a place to connect with local organizations at volunteer.phila.gov.

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