Habitat Network Focal City: Philadelphia, PA.

Photo © Liana Jackson

Philadelphia, the city of brotherly love, was first settled around 1643 by the Swedes and Dutch at the confluence of the Schuylkill and Delaware River. Since then, Philadelphia has been a major player in American cities, including being the largest city when the U.S. gained its independence and since then has stayed within the top ten populous cities in the country. As Philadelphia grows, it puts tremendous pressure on natural resources, essentially increasing the importance of protecting and restoring them. The City of Philadelphia has declared that it will become the greenest city in the U.S. and has launched initiatives with partner organizations, including The Nature Conservancy, to implement conservation actions such as installing rain gardens or planting trees to address this growing pressure on natural resources in urban areas.


Photo © Mike Linksvayer

Since 1643, Philadelphia has grown exponentially and ranked in the top five populated cities until the 1950’s. With this population growth came industries, businesses, and development. After the 1950’s, like many other large cities in the U.S. at the time, Philly experienced a shift in population growth from the cities to the suburbs. When the suburbs grew faster than the city, industries and business left, leaving vacant and blighted lots. Often, these vacant lots are alongside concentrated pockets of poverty where residents have few opportunities to engage with nature and are at the most risk for flooding. To add insult to injury, Philly, like most cities on the east coast, has an old and outdated sewer system that overflows and pollutes the waterways during storm events. The Nature Conservancy’s Philadelphia Chapter and Urban Conservation Program are engaging and supporting solutions to help absorb stormwater, planting trees to keep neighborhoods cool and reduce air pollution, and engaging and inspiring new environmental stewards to tackle the challenges of making cities more sustainable and more resilient places to live. Below these strategies are highlighted along with information about Habitat Network’s involvement. Keep reading and let us inspire you to get involved!


Photo © Megan Whatton

Enhancing natural areas improve livability and public health, raise property values, and increase public access to outdoor recreation, especially among vulnerable populations. The Nature Conservancy wants to see more nature in Philadelphia—more trees, more parks, and more green spaces alongside homes, public areas, and rivers. The Conservancy also wants to increase the health of existing natural areas, such as the Wissahickon Valley and Fairmount Park. The Habitat Network is working with the Conservancy’s Urban Conservation Program in Philadelphia and local partners on projects to map current and future greening opportunities to enhance and develop natural areas throughout the city.

Bioswale on Columbus street in Manhattan.

Photo © The Nature Conservancy (Kevin Arnold)

Ensuring healthy waters starts by helping to design and develop new projects that use natural features— like floodplains and wetlands—to absorb excess stormwater and reduce flood risk, filter pollutants draining into the Delaware and Schuylkill rivers, and create functional and beautiful spaces for outdoor recreation and wildlife habitat. Installing a rain garden, bioswale, and/or rain barrel are all actions that the public can take to support and manage storm water. Habitat Network encourages
citizen-scientist to take actions like these and provides the information needed to add to this effort in Philadelphia.

Downtown Louisville, Kentucky.

Photo © The Nature Conservancy (Devan King)

Improving air quality in Philly is an important project the Conservancy is working on by building a healthier and more robust “urban forest” to filter air and keep heat levels down, particularly in neighborhoods where economic conditions limit resources and opportunity. The Nature Conservancy is also supporting a scientific effort to better understand the role nature can play in improving air quality while reducing extreme heat effects in cities. Many of the natural actions encouraged by Habitat Network serve similar purposes including supporting new plantings of native trees, shrubs, and forbs which all contribute to better air quality. Habitat Network allows for these plantings to be mapped, measured, and monitored to help scientist understand how to improve air quality and reduce heat.

The Brightside Organization, The Nature Conservancy, UPS and Brown-Forman partnered to plant 150 trees along West Broadway from 20th Street to the end at Shawnee Park in Louisville, Kentucky.

Photo © The Nature Conservancy (Devan King)

Building community leadership is another important environmental issue being focused on by working in partnership with local communities to address critical challenges facing individuals, neighborhoods, and Philadelphia as a whole. Our goal is to galvanize a network of conservation champions from all walks of life, ranging from business and community leaders to public officials, and in particular—youth. Habitat Network, as its name implies, is a network of citizen scientists and organizations who are like minded and are working together to support each other in achieving similar goals. Our goal is accomplished with the help of this this tool to address the three strategies outlined above. We can build a Philly community filled with healthy living spaces for humans and and wildlife alike.

Nature-based Solutions a.k.a. Green Infrastructure

Nature-based solutions are the good kind of “old school,” you know –the kind where things make sense. Basically it is addressing environmental issues by taking it back to basics and letting nature fix the problem. Nature-based solutions or green infrastructure are living solutions, that use natural processes and structures designed to address various environmental challenges while simultaneously providing economic, social, environmental, and health benefits.


Photo © Megan Whatton, The Nature Conservancy (Devan King), Megan Whatton

A.Rain Gardens are gardens built to collect, store and absorb storm water. These specific gardens allow for polluted stormwater runoff from developed areas, like roads and rooftops, to be captured and absorbed into the ground to naturally filter and recharge water tables.

B.Native Trees and Shrubs provide ideal ecosystem services in our landscapes for both humans and wildlife. When it comes to wildlife, there is nothing like a native tree or shrub because they provide food, shelter and nesting materials and locations. For humans the benefits are numerous, including beautification, shade/cooler temps, storm water retention and purification, reduced erosion, and cleaner air.

C. Reducing lawn and impervious surfaces by adding native vegetation is a great way to reduce non-point source pollution, clean our waterways, slow down rainwater drainage velocity, reduce erosion, and recharge our water tables.


Habitat Network Maps in Philadelphia Area

Photo ©

The Habitat Network will work closely with the Conservancy’s Urban Conservation Program in Philadelphia to map and track green infrastructure installations and tree plantings through the use of our web-based, citizen-science mapping application. Over the next two years, we will also work with local partners and citizen scientists to field-test practices that private property holders can undertake to restore ecological functions and services, map the properties, and collect feedback on how to improve and adapt Habitat Network for an urban environment. The data collected through the mapping process allows us to track current and future green infrastructure and native habitat projects and assess how they can contribute to the solution of specific, local environmental issues.

Bioswale on Columbus street in Manhattan.

Photo © Kevin Arnold

How can you help? Whether you are located in Philadelphia or anywhere in the state of Pennsylvania, participating in a citizen-science program like Habitat Network assists scientists in the collection of data about the kinds of conservation practices that are in place and where they are located, and how well those efforts may be working. By joining Habitat Network and mapping your property, school, campus, office, or public space, you are participating in a citizen-science effort designed to empower and bring conservation into the hands of the individual.

Live around the Philadelphia area? Get Involved

If your site happens to be within the Philadelphia Metro Area, use our Groups tool to add your site to the Habitat Network-Philly Group and help us track habitat in the city.

Step #1 Sign into Habitat Network and navigate to the Groups Tool

Step #2 Search for a group within the tool by either:

  1. Using the “find a group” search in the left-hand panel in the groups tool.
  2. Expanding the list of groups found at the bottom of the Groups page.
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Photo © Habitat Network

Choose the Group Habitat Network-D.C.

Step #3 Once you are viewing the Habitat Network-D.C. Group, choose the “Join Group” at the top right of the Group Summary page.

Step #4 From the “Join this Group” dropdown, choose the map from the list of your sites that applies to the Habitat Network-D.C. group.


Photo ©

Step #5 Some groups might have membership conditions. If you want to add any justification as to why your map should be accepted into the group, please include before submitting your property to the group.

Step #6 Submit your map to the group for review. The creator of the group will review your map based on the group conditions (which can be found on the group summary page) and likely accept your map into the group.


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