PARKing Day returns to Germantown with environmental message (and music)

PARK(ing) Day, a worldwide event in which social- and eco-conscious groups convert city parking spaces into day-long mini parks, came to Germantown for the third year on Friday.

Along West Chelten Avenue, Germantown United CDC and Philadelphia University teamed up to focus on an environmentally friendly version of city streets. The Germantown Artists Roundtable also hosted a gathering not too far away.

Water, water everywhere

Outside the First Presbyterian Church in Germantown, Philadelphia University adjunct professor Jen Johnson’s landscape-architecture students chatted with passersby about a display “depicting the story of water in Germantown.”

Several students worked together on a contraption demonstrating the problems of Philadelphia’s combined sewer system which “can degrade our environment” and pollute the drinking water, according to sophomore Penelope Segura.

Fellow students Cody Myers, Matt Schuler and Joe Coryell helped explain the trouble.

In a combined sewer system, water from sinks and toilets runs into the same drainage system that handles storm-water runoff. That can lead to hazardous overflows of pollutants into the Delaware and the Schuylkill rivers and, ultimately, the city’s drinking water.

The students pointed to a small dead tree just 15 feet away from a large drain that whisks rainwater away instead of letting it benefit the immediate environment.

To illustrate the problem, Myers doused some sandy stone tiles with a bottle of water and let the gritty run-off drip down into an open pipe representing the Schuylkill River receiving all the pollutants of our city roads and sidewalks every time it rains.

Schuler took over to explain why it “would be nice to keep it natural instead of laying concrete everywhere.”

One answer to that could be what the students call “tree trenches,” which are intermittent grassy depressions on the sidewalk where water could gather to nourish the plants instead of washing away into a drain.

Coryell demonstrated temporary sample tree trenches and a chunk of semi-permeable asphalt which, unlike the city’s current paving, allows water to sink down into the soil rather than run into a drain.

Semi-permeable pavement is more expensive than the average non-permeable kind, he said, “but in the long run, it’s beneficial.”

PARKed artists

Over in front of a vacant storefront at 65-67 W. Chelten Ave., the Germantown Artists Roundtable activated their parking space with customary verve.

Fiber artists Teresita Stidem, Carole Loeffler and Kathryn Pannepacker all mounted special works, contrived in public that morning on the metal grate of the empty store.

Loeffler’s featured a large sign spelling “Pause” in red glitter, and lots of dangling paper tags for people to write their own wishes on (like “peace between nations” and “a peaceful safe Germantown.”)

Stidem used pieces of plastic bottles and bags for her piece, while Pannepacker applied her trademark “shagging” of yarn, woven right onto the grate with the help of passersby.

Renny Molenaar, co-founder of iMPeRFeCT Gallery, also contributed a temporary installation as part of his long-running “Lighter Statements” series. They’re patterns of colorful plastic lighters he shapes on the ground, in different themes.

He said he’s been collecting lost or discarded lighters on the street since the mid-1990’s, breaking them out every time he does a new “Lighter Statements” piece. He said he has thousands of them.

This piece was titled “Lighter Oil,” for the word “oil” spelled out twice, back-to-front — a design Molenaar put together on the spot that morning.

“I figured it was appropriate for a parking space,” he said.

The Roundtable also continued its tradition of braving the passing sirens, buses and blaring car radios for a five-hour sidewalk-performance schedule including poetry, drumming and song.

Participants included Osiris Wildfire, poets Terri Lyons and Maleka Fruean, Imani Charter School students, Paul and Stevie Nolan’s Bluescasters duo and more.

“It was an honor to be here on the street with you,” slide-guitar player Paul Nolan said at the end of the set, to a small but appreciative crowd.

Those interested in keeping up with the Roundtable are invited to a networking party at iMPeRFeCT Gallery (5601 Greene St.) on Sunday, Oct. 5 from 4 to 7 p.m.

For a full list of Philly’s parking day participants this year, visit http://www.parkingdayphila.org/.

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