Panorama 2023

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Photo: Jonathan Zisk

Welcome to the 31st edition of Panorama!

Panorama is a curation of work from students of the Department of City and Regional Planning at the University of Pennsylvania’s Weitzman School of Design.

As planners, preservationists, designers, and urbanists, we strike a balance between remembering the past and preparing for the future. This edition of Panorama encompasses time and scales—from intimate stories to global policy recommendations. Through writing, cartography, and photography, students explore topics such as green finance, the future of mobility, affordable housing policy, restroom access, creative economies, and much, much more.

Panorama 2023 also features work from the Weitzman School’s Fall ’22 semester, including urban design for climate resiliency in St. Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands; a reimagination of the DC-295 highway in Washington, D.C; data visualization and historical research exploring Boston’s mobility future; and, in a joint studio with the Department of Landscape Architecture, strategies to foster transnational solidarity, ecological renewal, and economic prosperity at the border of Haiti and the Dominican Republic.

This magazine seeks to create discussions at the intersections of challenges that all of us, planners or not, witness in our everyday lives, be it rising temperatures, increasing housing costs, a lack of viable mass transit, or poorly organized settlements. The future of planning rests on our collective ability for thought, dialogue, and action. We have thoroughly enjoyed bringing together this edition of Panorama and we hope that when you turn the last page, you feel challenged, informed, and hopeful for our future.

With hope, and in solidarity,

Riddhi Batra

Bailey Bradford

micah epstein

Katie Hanford

Jackson Plumlee

Jonathan Zisk

NO. 31
Dr. Panorama

Meet the Panorama Meet the Panorama

Riddhi Batra: Copy Editor

Riddhi is a second-year Master of City Planning student with a background in architecture and urban action, research, and advocacy. A firm believer in the potential of design and communication to transform our lives, she is currently exploring the intersection of mobility, infrastructure, and environmental planning to develop solutions for social and ecological equity. When not glued to her laptop, you can find her playing with a dog (or a cat), flipping through a book, sniffing coffee beans, running (for fun), or clicking photographs of almost everything.


Bradford: Design Editor

Bailey (he/him) is a first-year Master of City Planning student with a focus in Sustainable Infrastructure and Transportation Planning. He is passionate about the role of transportation accessibility and equity in building safe, climate-resilient, and vibrant communities. Prior to becoming a graduate student, he developed paid digital media campaigns for clients such as the Georgia Democratic Party and Voto Latino. When not browsing bus network maps, he is probably deep in a new dinner recipe or blasting Beyoncé’s Renaissance.


epstein: Design Editor

micah (they/them) is a second year Master’s in City Planning student concentrating in Housing, Community, and Economic Development. They are a storyteller and systems meddler raised on vast swathes of fantasy and science fiction, which taught them the power stories have to change hearts, minds, and systems. As a designer, they’ve designed web experiences and print artifacts for the ACLU of Washington, the MIT Media Lab, the coveillance collective, and many others. When not pushing pixels, you can find them headbanging in grimy basements or racing (and beating) c*rs on their rusty fixed gear.

2023 Editorial Team

2023 Editorial Team

Katie is a first-year Master of City Planning student concentrating in Housing, Community and Economic Development. After studying anthropology as an undergraduate, Katie worked for a few years in the nonprofit sector, focusing on youth development and community support. Katie is interested in the intersection of culture, power, and community-led design, specifically how communities come together to create urban space that fits their needs. When not people-watching, Katie spends her timeplaying/listening to all things heavy, watching ‘90s romcoms and finding the best food and drink deals Philly has

Jackson Plumlee: Design Editor

Jackson is a design editor for Panorama and a third-year dual degree student in Landscape Architecture and City Planning programs. He believes that planners and designers can support the collective will of communities and amplify their people power through research, advocacy, and participatory action. His studies focus on the intersections of climate justice, community organizing, and methods of cooperative land ownership. Otherwise he’s out watercoloring on location or daydreaming about whis next illustration project.

Jonathan is a first year city planning master’s student concentrating in sustainable transportation and infrastructure planning. He comes to Penn with experience working at the School District of Philadelphia and at Philadelphia’s Office of Community Empowerment and Opportunity. Jonathan has an English degree from Reed College in Portland Oregon and also attended Deep Springs College in California. He believes that cities are remarkable spaces for sustainable and equitable life and wants Chestnut and Walnut Streets to be permanently closed to cars. If you have any questions, you can find him in Clark Park at 6:30pm every Wednesday.

NO. 31
Katie Hanford: Copy Editor Jonathan Zisk: Content Editor Photos: Katie Hanford Photo: Katie Hanford


1 NO. 31 02 The Magician Charlie Townsley 4 Access to Clean Source Water and Indigenous Rights in Canada Mariya Lupandina 14 Contamination in the Floodplains Zoe Kerrich 24 Delaware River Seasonal Cycles Chelsea Wang, Devon Bruzzone, Junyi Yang, Mariya Lupandina 26 Scaling-up Finance for Green Infrastructure Riddhi Batra 36 Embracing the Guts Studio Project Contents 46 Rage Against the Machine micah epstein 50 Planning an Equitable EV Transition Laura Frances 56 Your Order is Delayed Lindsey Hover 64 Anacostia River Corridor Studio Project 78 Found poem Alex Charnov 80 Increasing SEPTA Bus Operators’ Restroom Access Jasmine Wu and Zoe Yoo 86 Three Case Studies on Transit Equity Jonathan Zisk 94 Affordable Housing Preservation Christopher Brzovic 102 The Key to PHL Katie Hanford 108 Healing Borders Studio Project 118 Rebuilding Peace in Colombia Carlos Andrés González
I don’t know where to put my anger Sofia Fasullo
Saving City Cropland Alex Charnov
Planning to Rave Devon Chodzin
Ferryman Monologue Anastasia Osorio

The Magician

Waiting at the crosswalk, I saw a magician today. Displaying mastery of everyday magic. He aimed a finger gun Point.

Red Traffic stopped The street transformed and I crossed.

Shoot. to

at the stoplight Voila. green. a miracle

Grandma would understand. She who first taught me the enchantments of cities. From whose heart the routine miracles The conjuring The magnetism on common ground.

I remember riding the El together when I was young Not to understand the city’s profound intricacy.

She taught me then, that through the alchemy of shared space everyone can charm common moments into the sublime.

These lessons had dimmed. But a crosswalk magician And how every moment can be magic.

I first learned of trains of construction sites of strangers into Chicago enough but to feel today reminded me of her


About the Author: Charlie Townsley

Charlie Townsley is an organic farm boy from Wisconsin who, after getting a bachelor’s degree in architecture at the University of Minnesota and practicing architecture in Minneapolis for a couple years, is now in his second year of Penn’s Master’s in City and Regional Planning program. Charlie’s program concentration is in Housing, Community, and Economic Development and he is passionate about all things related to community building and empowerment.

POETRY The Magician

Access to Clean Source Water and Indigenous Rights in Canada

Wateris life-giving and essential to a fulfi lling and dignified life. This is obvious and feels silly to write. Yet, many First Nations living on the land where Canada now stands do not have access to a clean, reliable water supply. Arguably, this issue is underreported and seldom makes front-page headlines. I am a Canadian citizen and consider this land my adopted home. As such, I am using the writing of this article to educated myself and to provide others with a concise overview of the problem, its symptoms and causes, and viable solutions. As of February 6th , 2023, according to Indigenous Services Canada, there are still 32 active long-term drinking water advisories (LTDWAs). I support First Nations’ right to self-government, self-determination, and to greater control over their drinking water systems.

Canada is one of the most water-rich nations on Earth, with roughly 20 percent of the world’s freshwater within its borders.1 For most Canadians, safe and reliable water is easily accessible. This is not the case for many First Nations communities where source water is often contaminated, hard to access, or at risk due to faulty treatment systems. 2 The lack of clean, safe water for drinking and hygiene in First Nations

is one of Canada’s greatest violations of the 2010 United Nations (UN) Charter of Human Rights and the 2007 UN Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, which advocates for greater control by and for First Nations over water.3

In 2016, the federal government under Prime Minister Justin Trudeau pledged billions of dollars to end all water advisories in First Nations by March 2021.4 As of February 2022, there were still 36 active LTDWAs in 29 First Nation communities, many of which have lasted for decades. Bureaucracy and jurisdictional issues, underfunding, and systemic racism are all obstacles that impede progress.5 While tackling these issues is essential to ending the First Nations’ water crisis, infrastructural improvements and increased financial investment are not enough. Canada must go further. The country’s government and its citizens must embrace a One Water approach and foreground Indigenous stewardship in water security planning.6 By fostering a relationship guided by Indigenous cultural practice and grounded in respect for this life-sustaining resource, Canada can ensure a sustainable water supply for future generations.


Disproportionate Burden

The number of water-borne infections in First Nations communities is 26 times higher than the national average, and residents on First Nations reserves are 90 times more likely to live without running water than other Canadians.7 These long-standing water safety issues are illustrated by a high number of drinking water advisories in First Nations communities compared to the rest of Canada, with the majority concentrated in Ontario. These advisories are reactive measures issued by the federal government at three levels of severity and advise on-reserve residents to boil, not consume, or not use the water on their land.8 Some communities have had long-term advisories for over one year, but just as many have frequent short-term ones. And The Council of Canadians considers 73 percent of First Nations’ water systems to be at a high or medium risk of contamination.9

Common contaminants found in source water on First Nations reserves included E. coli and other coliform bacteria, Trihalomethanes, and uranium.10 Some contaminants are naturally occurring, some enter source water through poor wastewater management, and others, like cancer-causing Trihalomethanes, result from organic

materials reacting with disinfecting chemicals in poorly maintained plants.11 A legacy of toxic heavy metals from negligent industry and continued pollution from farms, factories, and urban development further contribute to degraded source waters.12 Exposure to these contaminants can result in a variety of health impacts, including serious gastrointestinal disorders, increased risk of cancer, and chronic skin conditions like eczema.13 Irrespective of the health impacts, it is unjust that Indigenous populations are at risk of ingesting fecal matter, while their direct neighbors in non-Indigenous communities would not even dream of this risk.

Quality of Life Impacts

While Indigenous communities have mostly avoided the most severe public health concerns (i.e., serious illness and related deaths), we cannot ignore the economic and social costs of the water crisis. Many First Nations residents must buy bottled water for drinking and household use and are responsible for the additional upkeep costs of private wells and septic systems since these are not eligible for federal funding.14 The impact of these costs is substantial since many First Nation households are not serviced by community

ESSAY Access to Clean Water and Indigenous Rights in Canada
Canada is one of the most water-rich nations on Earth... For most Canadians, safe and reliable water is easily accessible. This is not the case for many First Nations communities...

systems. For example, in Ontario, one in five Indigenous households relies on a private well for drinking water, and 57 percent rely on a household septic system.15 These additional costs place an uneven economic burden on people living in Indigenous communities compared to other Canadians, and further set back a population that experiences poverty at a disproportionate rate – Indigenous people living on-reserve have a median income that is less than 50 percent of the non-Indigenous population’s income.16 Those who cannot afford these costs must ration clean water or drink what is potentially contaminated.

In addition, wastewater and water treatment systems are often at or beyond capacity and, as such, contribute to severe housing shortages on reserves.17 Communities cannot expand their housing stock because they cannot fund the necessary upgrades to their water treatment infrastructure. The

inability to construct more homes leads to high housing costs, long waiting lists for subsidized housing, and overcrowding. In 2020, Indigenous Service Canada classified twelve percent of dwellings on reserves as crowded, compared to two percent of non-Indigenous dwellings.18 As housing prices in Canada continue to skyrocket, these pressures will continue to grow.

The water crisis also carries with it significant psychological impacts. Some communities have had water advisories for over two decades, meaning that children have grown up in a landscape surrounded by water but have not been able to freely experience it19. For example, the community of Neskantaga in northern Ontario has been under a water advisory since 1995, despite having a water treatment plant20. In addition, Curve Lake First Nation Chief, Emily Whetung, says “the emotional and spiritual damage of not having clean water, [while]


Systems on Reserves. There are likely many more compromised water systems that are unaccounted for in the federal data. The Council of Canadians estimates that 73% of First Nation’s water systems are at high or medium risk of contamination, by Indigenous Services Canada

6 Ottawa Yukon Northwest Territories Nunavut Manitoba Saskatchewan Alberta British Columbia Ontario Quebec Prince Edward Island Newfoundland & Labrador Nova Scotia New Brunswick ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! !! ! !!! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! !
Figure 1: Long-Term Drinking Water on Public

having to look at all of the water surrounding us on a daily basis and unable to use it, is almost unquantifiable.” The daily hardship of living under a water advisory for years also means that some people become frustrated and drink the water without boiling or otherwise treating it and risk exposure to contaminants21. In addition, caregivers, and most frequently women, shoulder the brunt of care, work, and worry for sick or at-risk individuals, like elders and children22 .

Impacts on Cultural Practices

The lack of clean source water also impacts the cultural rights of First Nations people. Many First Nations see water as the essence of life and a life-giving entity. 23 In this view, the relationship between water and wellbeing is rudimentary and direct – when waterways are impaired, so is our ability to lead healthy lives. 24 First Nations recognize a responsibility to care for water, and it is customary for Indigenous people to collect and consume water directly from natural sources. 25 Consequently, as the Chippewas of Nawash Unceded First Nations argues, if federal and provincial policy only focuses on protecting drinking water, then it is doing so at the expense of tolerating environmental harm and hindering the ability of First Nations to protect the “health of all our relations as well as our own.”26 Many communities see bottled water and water that has passed through chemical treatment as dead and not suitable for consumption from a spiritual standpoint. 27 Not being able to drink the water from their own community is distressing to some elders, and poor water quality may hinder ceremonies when First Nations cannot consume the water that is used. 28

and foraging. Pollutants can make fish inedible, and if waterways are not safe for drinking, hunters and foragers cannot stay out on the land for long periods since they must return to their communities for clean drinking water. 29 In addition, for hundreds of years Indigenous women traditionally played a fundamental role in water source stewardship – correlating the life-giving abilities of women and water.30 However, colonization and imposed (male-dominated) governance systems have caused a significant disconnect between women and their water stewardship roles.31 The impact of contaminated water over the past century threatens to further erode a disappearing way of life by impeding First Nations’ ability to share traditional knowledge with the next generation.32

The Causes and Why the Problem Persists

Jurisdiction & Lack of Local Control. While specifics that lead to unsafe water vary between communities, the high number of water advisories across the country points to systemic issues. These issues can largely be attributed to colonial-era laws that bar Indigenous communities from funding and managing their water and wastewater treatment systems. The Constitution Act of 1867 gave jurisdiction over “Indians and lands reserved for the Indians” to the federal government.33 Under this constitutional provision, Canada’s Parliament passed the Indian Act in 1876. This Act, although amended multiple times, still governs many aspects of Indigenous life.34

Contaminated water can also impact traditional practices, including hunting, fishing,

According to the Indian Act, First Nations chiefs and councils and the federal government must work together to manage water and sanitation problems on reserves. Yet, in practice, the federal government is the

7 ESSAY Access to Clean Water and Indigenous Rights in Canada

largest source of revenue for First Nations and so controls water management practices on reserves.35

Provincial and territorial governments are generally responsible for water management and have developed regulations for monitoring water quality and source water management planning.36 However, under Canada’s constitution, these regulations do not extend to reserves. Although

Indigenous Affairs Canada recommends that First Nations communities adhere to provincial standards, there is no accountability framework when requirements are not met.37 As late as the mid-1990s, Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada supported the construction of drinking water systems that did not meet federal and provincial filtration standards38 and many of these plants are still in operation without any ramifications. There is also no federal source water protection legislation,

and it is difficult to address water quality issues when the activities that impact reserve source waters are off-reserve.39 In addition, the federal government only funds and monitors the condition of public water systems that serve five or more household connections and does not monitor the incidence of waterborne illness.40 Consequently, the water quality problem is likely more severe than federal data indicates since many Indigenous households rely on private systems.41 As such, the federal government must address private well contamination and leaking septic systems to bring the water crisis to an end.

Many First Nations leaders identify their role as stakeholders in water security planning as a central impediment to improved water quality on reserves.42 The current provincial source water planning framework includes First Nations as one of many interest groups with the same

8 Connecting to Water Implementation Monitoring Plan development Enhancing understanding Community inventory Determine decision criteria Rank Priorities Build a structure that aligns with community values Physical Emotional Spiritual MentalIntellectual Celebrating Successes Community Engagement
Figure 2: Water Protection Process viewed through the lens of the Medical Wheel. Adapted from “Moving towards Effective First Nations’ Source Water Protection: Barriers, Opportunities, and a Framework” (Marshall et al, 2020) based on the teachings of Elder Joanne Keeshig from the Ojibiikaan Indigneous Cultural Network.

level of authority as farmers and business leaders, instead of as equal partners with the provincial governments. First Nations state that their representation as stakeholders disregards their constitutionally recognized Indigenous and Treaty Rights,43 and their voices are often drowned out in planning meetings and on committees.44 For example, water management projects often impact many First Nations communities, but the provincial government will only allocate a few seats for First Nations representatives. Since all communities have unique priorities, the representation of a community by a member of a different First Nations can be problematic and results in conflict between First Nations.45

Insufficient Funding & Bureaucracy

First Nations are responsible for providing water and wastewater services on reserves per the Indian Act. While most Canadian municipalities rely on taxes, user fees, and provincial and federal subsidies to fund these projects, First Nations reserves have little tax revenue and depend on the federal government for funding.46 Federal funding is often strained and requires First Nations to choose the lowest bid, even if a project does not adequately address their needs. Companies also frequently cut corners to be the most competitive.47 For example, federally funded projects do not require backup power,48 yet according to Indigenous Services Canada (ISC), a significant portion of short-term water advisories on First Nations are caused by power outages.49 Managing these crises adds costs, and retrofits are also expensive.50

Many First Nations community members identified a lack of funding for engaging in the water planning process as another barrier to local control of their water systems.51

The federal government requires that First Nations complete a feasibility study and project proposal before it releases funds but does not provide expertise or financial support for doing this work.52 Instead, community members must rely on grants and other funding sources to hire someone to complete the planning phase. Gathering funding requires additional coordination, time, and effort from First Nations, who are in many cases already dealing with limited capacity and other compounding issues.53 Beyond these direct funding issues, the approval process is often slow and delays urgent upgrades and repairs. Sometimes, approval is so delayed that the proposed project becomes obsolete by the time the proposal is approved.54

Systemic Racism

ISC admits that racism exists in several outdated federal policies related to water and wastewater management – most notably in the lack of government initiative to devolve management of funding for water planning to First Nations.55 However, the Federal government plays down the water crisis’s severity.56 When Ontario’s provincial government inspected the Curve Lake treatment facilities in 2017, the government found that the plant was not disinfecting water to the province’s standard. When the federal government examined the plant the same year, it deemed it a “low risk” project.57 Ed Morrison, the long-term manager of the Mitaanjigamiing First Nation in northwestern Ontario, also notes that the federal government does not take his expertise seriously until he hires a white male consultant to relay information.58 These observations display the paternalistic attitude from the federal government towards First Nations. Dr. Anna Banerji, a medical doctor at the University of Toronto

9 ESSAY Access to Clean Water and Indigenous Rights in Canada

who specializes in Indigenous health, argues the First Nations water crisis is indicative of “an apartheid system that gives rights, privilege, funding to one group of people differently than another group of people based on race.”59

Actions to Date

2016 Government of Canada Commitment

Efforts to address the water crisis in First Nation communities began in 1977 with a memorandum by Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau to Cabinet that put forward a new federal policy to improve the quality of life on reserves.60 The persistence of advisories into the twenty-first century points to apathy and a lack of urgency. In 2016, the federal government committed to “eliminating all long-term drinking water advisories on public water systems on First Nations reserves by March 31st, 2021.”61 To this end, parliament allocated over 2 billion Canadian dollars (CAD) over six years towards infrastructural investments and long-term advisories decreased from 164 in 105 communities to 36 in 29 communities between 2016 and 2022.62 Yet, the federal government missed its deadline and there is still a 138 million CAD annual deficit in funding for the maintenance and operation of drinking water systems.63 The Auditor General’s 2021 report on Access to Safe Drinking Water in First Nations Communities found that Indigenous Services Canada had not amended its operations and maintenance funding formula in over 30 years and that low salaries contribute to problems retaining

qualified water system operators.64 The report also found that the federal government still had not established a regulatory regime to help benchmark progress towards ensuring access to safe drinking water in First Nations communities.65

Class Action Litigation on Drinking Advisories on First Nations

In 2019, the Neskantaga First Nation, Curve Lake First Nation, and Tataskweyak Cree Nation filed a national class-action lawsuit against the federal government and the provincial governments of Ontario and Manitoba aimed at addressing the

prolonged drinking water advisories on reserves across the country.66 In December 2021, the Federal Court of Canada and Manitoba’s Provincial Court approved an eight-billion CAD settlement between Canada and certain First Nations.67 Among its commitments under the settlement, the federal government agreed to provide 1.8 billion CAD in compensation to individuals and impacted First Nations and 6 billion CAD towards “supporting construction, upgrading, operation, and maintenance of water infrastructure on First Nations land.”68,69 The federal government also agreed to create a First Nations Advisory Committee on Safe Drinking Water and support First Nations in developing their own safe drinking water by-laws and initiatives. The claims period opened on March 7th, 2022.

We all could benefit from taking a step back and acknowledging the privilege that an abundance of water brings.

Healthy Headwaters Lab

The quality of source water has a direct impact on drinking water. Heavily contaminated source water can also make water treatment more difficult and expensive.70 Protecting water within the entire watershed is essential and a cornerstone of Indigenous water stewardship. To this end, many Canadian universities have been actively working with First Nations to document Indigenous Knowledge. These activities produced many studies and literature reviews – some cited in this report – and several research labs have formed to focus on integrating First Nations’ practices into water system planning. One notable lab is the Healthy Headwaters Lab at the University of Windsor’s Great Lakes Institute for Environmental Research. The lab’s mission is to “restore freshwater ecosystems to full health and vitality for the benefit of future generations” with an emphasis on headwaters.71 To this end, the lab is committed to “advancing science that connects land, water, and people, beginning with the First Peoples of the region.” 72

Recommendations Jurisdiction & Funding.

As noted in the Class Action Litigation on Drinking Advisories on First Nations settlement, First Nations should, first and foremost, have the autonomy to administer water treatment projects and maintenance on reserves, just like provinces and territories.73 First Nations should also be regarded as an equal government partner in the planning process, not as one of many stakeholders.74 The federal government should work with First Nations to develop enforceable drinking water and sanitation regulations and establish an independent First Nations water commission to monitor water quality. Finally, all water security

tools should incorporate an assessment of a community’s capacity to implement, operate, and maintain its infrastructure.

One water approach to water planning. Indigenous Knowledge combined with Western Science could result in a framework that ensures equitable and culturally appropriate access to clean water for all Canadians. The emphasis on stewardship and respect in Indigenous practices “realizes the responsibilities associated with the rights” to water. We all could benefit from taking a step back and acknowledging the privilege that an abundance of water brings.75 In addition, the Indigenous precautionary principle to plan “seven generations ahead,” is a timely parable in our current climate crisis.76 In practice, Indigenous stewardship aims to protect water at the source and throughout the entire water system.77 It does not distinguish between potable water, wastewater, and water in our waterways. This approach is proactive and targets pollutant reductions at the source instead of cleaning up pollution once it happens. In effect, it also reduces the longterm costs of water and wastewater treatment because avoiding pollution is always cheaper than cleaning it up.78 Since planning is an ongoing cyclical process, water quality planning would benefit from referencing the Medicine Wheel used by many First Nation communities.79 (See Figure 2) This framework is intended to be repeated, incorporates feedback loops from the previous stages, and emphasizes the cyclical nature of our environmental systems.

Water insecurity in Canadian Indigenous communities is ongoing and results from the intersection of jurisdiction, bureaucracy, underfunding, and systemic racism.

11 ESSAY Access to Clean Water and Indigenous Rights in Canada

The UN Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples advocates for access to water that is culturally acceptable to all and recognizes Indigenous peoples’ right to maintain and strengthen their spiritual relationship with traditionally owned waters in a way that upholds their responsibilities to future generations.80 In practice, First Nations people in Canada cannot engage fully in their relationship with water if the water is contaminated. While the federal government has made progress in lifting long-term water advisories, the First Nations water crisis will not end until Indigenous communities are given more autonomy over their water security and Canada adopts a more comprehensive water planning approach.


1 Indigenous Services Canada, “Indigenous Services Canada - Annual Report to Parliament 2020” (Ottawa: Indigenous Services Canada, November 3, 2020)

2 Human Rights Watch, “Make It Safe - Canada’s Obligation to End the First Nations Water Crisis” (Human Rights Watch, June 7, 2016)

3 T Westcott, “Indigenous Canadians Speak for Water on World Water Day 2018,” Water Canada, March 23, 2018,; United Nations, “United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples” (New York: United Nations, 2007).

4 Human Rights Watch, Make it Safe.

5 Human Rights Watch; R Marshall et al., “M., Levison, J., Anderson, K., & McBean, E. (2020). Moving towards Effective First Nations’ Source Water Protection: Barriers, Opportunities, and a Framework,” Water 12, no. 11 (2020): 1–25; APTN National News, “Drinking Water Solutions in First Nations Impeded by Feds Say Leaders,” APTN National News, February 18, 2021.

6 Catherine Febria, “Water Is Life: Reframing Indigenous Partnerships in Water Stewardship and Research in the Great Lakes.,” International Joint Commission - Great Lakes Connection, July 14, 2020; Marshall et al., “M., Levison, J., Anderson, K., & McBean, E. (2020). Moving towards Effective First Nations’ Source Water Protection: Barriers, Opportunities, and a Framework.”

7 C X Luo, “The Water Crisis in Canada’s First Nations Communities. Academic Data Centre,” February 16, 2022.

8 Indigenous Services Canada, Annual Report 2020.

9 The Council of Canadian, “Safe Water for First Nations” (The Council of Canadian, 2020).

10 Indigenous Services Canada, Annual Report 2020.

11 Human Rights Watch, Make it Safe.

12 Leyland Cecco, “Dozens of Canada’s First Nations Lack Drinking Water: ‘Unacceptable in a Country so Rich,’” The Guardian, April 30, 2021.

13 Human Rights Watch, Make it Safe.

14 Office of the Auditor General of Canada, “At a Glance: Report 3-Access to Safe Drinking Water in First Nations Communities, Indigenous Services Canada,” government, Government of Canada, Office of the Auditor General of Canada, February 25, 2021; Human Rights Watch, Make it Safe

15 Human Rights Watch, Make it Safe.

16 Indigenous Services Canada, “Indigenous Services Canada - Annual Report to Parliament 2020.”

17 Human Rights Watch, Make it Safe.

18 Indigenous Services Canada, Annual Report 2020.






T Latchmore et al., “Critical Elements for Local Indigenous Water Security in Canada: A Narrative Review,” Journal of Water and Health 1, no. 6 (2018): 893–903.; Febria, “Water Is Life: Reframing Indigenous Partnerships in Water Stewardship and Research in the Great Lakes.”; Marshall et al., “M., Levison, J., Anderson, K., & McBean, E. (2020). Moving towards Effective First Nations’ Source Water Protection: Barriers, Opportunities, and a Framework.”

24 Latchmore et al., Critical Elements.

25 Human Rights Watch, Make it Safe

26 Marshall et al., “M., Levison, J., Anderson, K., & McBean, E. (2020). Moving towards Effective First Nations’ Source Water Protection: Barriers, Opportunities, and a Framework.”

27 Latchmore et al., “Critical Elements for Local Indigenous Water Security in Canada: A Narrative Review”; Marshall et al., “M., Levison, J., Anderson, K., & McBean, E. (2020). Moving towards Effective First Nations’ Source Water Protection: Barriers, Opportunities, and a Framework.”

28 Human Rights Watch, Make it Safe

29 Human Rights Watch; Cecco, “Dozens of Canada’s First Nations Lack Drinking Water: ‘Unacceptable in a Country so Rich.’”

30 Latchmore et al., “Critical Elements for Local Indigenous Water Security in Canada: A Narrative Review.”

31 Ibid.

32 Cecco, “Dozens of Canada’s First Nations Lack Drinking Water: ‘Unacceptable in a Country so Rich’”; Febria, “Water Is Life: Reframing Indigenous Partnerships in Water Stewardship and Research in the Great Lakes.”


33 Marshall et al., Barriers.

34 Human Rights Watch, Make it Safe

35 APTN National News, “Drinking Water Solutions in First Nations Impeded by Feds Say Leaders.”

36 Marshall et al., Barriers

37 Office of the Auditor General of Canada, “At a Glance: Report 3-Access to Safe Drinking Water in First Nations Communities,Indigenous Services Canada.”

38 Human Rights Watch, Make it Safe.

39 Marshall et al., Barriers.

40 Indigenous Services Canada, Annual Report 2020.

41 Human Rights Watch, Make it Safe.

42 Marshall et al., Barriers.

43 Ibid.

44 APTN National News, Drinking Water.

45 Marshall et al., Barriers.

46 Human Rights Watch, Make it Safe.

47 APTN National News, Drinking Water.

48 Ibid.

49 Ibid.

50 Office of the Auditor General of Canada, “At a Glance: Report 3-Access to Safe Drinking Water in First Nations Communities,Indigenous Services Canada.”

51 Marshall et al., Barriers

52 Human Rights Watch, “Make It Safe - Canada’s Obligation to End the First Nations Water Crisis.”

53 Marshall et al., Barriers

54 APTN National News, Drinking Water.

55 Ibid.

56 Ibid.

57 Vjosa Isai, “Canada to Pay Billions to Indigenous Groups for Tainted Drinking Water,” New York Times, December 23, 2021.

58 APTN National News, Drinking Water.

59 APTN National News.

60 Isai, “Canada to Pay Billions to Indigenous Groups for Tainted Drinking Water”; Luo, “The Water Crisis in Canada’s First Nations Communities. Academic Data Centre.”

61 Office of the Auditor General of Canada, “At a Glance: Report 3-Access to Safe Drinking Water in First Nations Communities,Indigenous Services Canada.”

62 Indigenous Services Canada, Annual Report 2020.

63 The Council of Canadian, “Safe Water for First Nations.”

64 Office of the Auditor General of Canada, “At a Glance: Report 3-Access to Safe Drinking Water in First Nations Communities,Indigenous Services Canada.”

65 Office of the Auditor General of Canada.

66 Isai, “Canada to Pay Billions to Indigenous Groups for Tainted Drinking Water.”Deloitte, “First Nations Drinking Water Class Action,” First Nations Drinking Water Settlement, March 10, 2022.

67 McCarthy Tetrault, “Class Action Litigation on Drinking Water Advisories on First Nations.,” Class Action Litigation on Drinking Water Advisories on First Nations, 2022.

68 Isai, “Canada to Pay Billions”.

69 Deloitte, Class Action.

70 Human Rights Watch, Make it Safe

71 The Healthy Headwaters Lab, “Mission,” The Healthy Headwaters Lab, 2022.

72 Febria, “Water Is Life: Reframing Indigenous Partnerships in Water Stewardship and Research in the Great Lakes.”

73 Deloitte, Class Action.

74 Marshall et al., Barriers

75 Latchmore et al., “Critical Elements for Local Indigenous Water Security in Canada: A Narrative Review.”

76 Marshall et al., Barriers

77 The Healthy Headwaters Lab, “Mission.”

78 Tom Daniels, Environmental Planning Handbook (American Planning Association, 2014).

79 Marshall et al., Barriers

80 United Nations, “United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.”

About the Author: Mariya Lupandina

Mariya is a dual-degree City Planning/Landscape Architecture student who is interested in how culture shapes our notions of ecology and nature.

ESSAY Access to Clean Water and Indigenous Rights in Canada

Contamination in the Floodplains

The 68th Street Dump Site Case Study

Managing land contaminated by hazardous wastes from industrial activities is a major challenge for improving environmental quality in the United States. The Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA) is one tool the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) uses to remediate contamination at sites of high concern. However, CERCLA does not consider the future hazards of climate change, and many CERCLA sites are located in areas at risk of flooding due to extreme weather events or sea level rise. The 68th Street Dump in Baltimore shows how historic siting choices have resulted in Superfund sites in floodplains or at risk of sea level rise from climate change. This report discusses what current practices exist for remediation of these sites, and the interim protection of surrounding environmental quality. Finally, this report discusses complications of, and environmental justice considerations for, cleanups at high-risk sites, and discusses appropriate future land use planning around Superfund sites in floodplains.

68th Street Dump Case Study

In the Chesapeake Bay Watershed, at the

headwaters of the Back River, there are 239 acres of land that have suffered from decades of hazardous material disposal and dumping. This site, the 68th Street Dump, spans land across the municipalities of the city of Baltimore and nearby Rosedale, Maryland. The area is bounded by highways: I-95 to the west and 695 to the east. The land surrounding the dump is primarily industrial in use, with the exception of some residential zoning to the northeast. Multiple types of landfills operated on the site between late 1940s and the late 1970s, including municipal, industrial, and hazardous waste landfills. The headwaters of the Back River are a wetland ecosystem, much of which was filled in during the use of the site for landfill operations.

In 1999, EPA proposed adding the 68th St Dump to the National Priorities List, thereby designating it as a CERCLA (Superfund) site. Hazardous materials from industrial activities dumped at the site include solvents, paints, fly ash, automobile tires, and 55-gallon drums containing heavy metal sludges. The site has experienced uncontrolled fires, nuisance odors, and migration of oil and refuse into local waterways. There are six waterways that pass through the area which flow east,


south, and north. Thus, hazardous waste and contamination at the 68th Street Dump have spread offsite via these waterways into the Chesapeake Bay (eastward), and to areas north and south of the site. Testing by EPA of these waterways revealed elevated concentrations of antimony, arsenic, barium, iron, and manganese.

Access to the area was unrestricted prior to remediation activities, and trespassing frequent. With hazardous substance releases and contamination of the sediment, surface water, groundwater, and biological resources (e.g., soil and benthic invertebrates, plants, birds, mammals, and fish), trespassers were likely exposed to and may have transported contaminated materials. Addressing contamination on-site required categorizing the 239 acres of land into seven Management Area(s) (MAs). For all MAs, EPA has proposed venting landfill gas, constructing barriers to prevent trespasser access to the site, implementing institutional controls, and establishing monitoring and maintenance programs. Institutional controls include environmental covenants and zoning restrictions to limit future site uses, such as precluding residential zoning, prohibiting subsurface disturbance, and prohibiting

use of groundwater. Three drums potentially containing hazardous materials were removed in the 1980s, but as of 2018 long-term cleanup activities have yet to begin. The remediation methods under consideration include excavation of sediment, soil cover over sediment with other remediation treatments, engineered caps of sediment, and wetland systems. Across the MAs, engineered caps were not selected because of high costs and the necessary conversion of the area landscape from wooded forest to grasslands, which would increase stormwater runoff into the Chesapeake Bay1. Instead, remediation plans include soil cover for three of the MAs, one with an enhanced wetland system, excavation at three of the MAs, and limited action at the seventh MA. Potential future uses for the management areas suggested by EPA include light industrial, solar energy generation, habitat enhancement, and passive or active recreation2.

The 68th Street Dump Site varies in elevation from near mean sea level to greater than 80 feet above mean sea level3 and is a wetland area connected to the Chesapeake Bay. Some areas of the site will become inundated with even one foot of sea-level rise, and with five feet of sea level rise, more

ESSAY Contamination in
the Floodplains
The 68th Street Dump in Baltimore shows how historic siting choices have resulted in Superfund sites in floodplains or at risk of sea level rise from climate change.

than 25 percent (63 acres) of the site will be inundated. EPA’s Final Action Record of Decision (ROD) for the site does not discuss potential impacts of climate change hazards, including sea level rise, on contamination pathways. Inundation at the site has the potential to impact both contamination pathways and appropriate future uses of the site after remediation. The site is also under pressures associated with population growth: while the city of Baltimore saw a slight decline in population between 2010 and 2020, the suburbs surrounding it, including Rosedale, continue to see growth in population.

Wetlands and Zoning

Wetlands in the United States are a disappearing ecosystem: more than half of the original wetlands in the lower 48 states have been filled in.4 Historically, the US has viewed wetlands as unproductive land and damaged or changed the land by draining these landscapes for agricultural uses, using wetland areas as sites for landfills, or draining and filling the land for development.5 When cities across the United States began to implement zoning ordinances starting in the 1920s, areas in floodplains were usually zoned for industrial uses, as wetlands were seen as unsanitary and undesirable land for residential uses.6 Many of these urban floodplains were residential areas however, with poor and minority groups frequently building housing in these areas because wetlands were often the only areas in the city that had open land with unrestricted access. Industrial zoning of areas disadvantaged communities lived in has resulted in a legacy of environmental injustices; in urban

areas poor and minority individuals are far more likely to live near industrial areas and are thus disproportionately exposed to environmental hazards including poor air and drinking water quality.7

As climate change drives sea level rise and increased frequency and intensity of extreme weather events, sites with industrial legacies in or near floodplains are at an increased risk of flooding and even inundation. Flooding of contaminated sites puts surrounding areas at increased risk of exposure to hazards, as floods can transport contaminated water, soil, and sediment across the landscape and deposit these soil media in new locations. Although distributions of population demographics have certainly changed between the 1920s and today, poor and minority populations continue to be more likely to live near Locally Unwanted Land Uses (LULUs) such as industrial sites, including landfills. With many contaminated sites located within floodplains, and disadvantaged communities disproportionately more likely to live near these sites, prioritization of remediating Superfund or other contaminated sites within the floodplain is an environmental justice issue.

The populations living closest to the 68th Street Dump Site are in census tract 4501 in Rosedale, which includes Rosedale Terrace, located immediately east of the site.8 Overall, the population in Rosedale has not changed significantly in size over the past decade (from 19,257 in 2010 to 19,961 in 2020), but the population has diversified significantly. In 2000, 75 percent of the population identified as white, while


in 2020 the white share of the population decreased to 53 percent.9 Additionally, the 68th Street Dump Site is not the only source of potential contamination in the area; the Back River Sewage Treatment Plant is some 2,600 feet downstream of the site at the confluence of Herring Run and Back River, several interstate highways cross over waterways near the site which contribute to roadway stormwater runoff discharge onto the site, and within a one-mile radius of the 68th Street Dump Site there are six sites identified by the Maryland Department of Environment as potential hazardous waste sites. One of the six sites identified by the Maryland Department of Environment is the Kane and Lombard federal Superfund site, approximately 3,000 feet southwest of the 68th Street Dump Site.10 The siting of multiple potential sources of contamination in such close proximity to each other and in the floodplain of Herring Run poses significant risks to both local populations and the wetland ecosystem in the area, including nearby sections of the Chesapeake Bay.


Congress passed the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act of 1980, also known as the Superfund law, in response to the discovery and necessary emergency cleanup of a toxic dumpsite underneath a residential development. 11 While the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act of 1976 addresses the management and disposal of hazardous wastes, it does not provide a mechanism for remediating

contamination of the environment resulting from improper management or disposal of hazardous materials.12 Crucially, the Superfund law provides a funding mechanism for financing cleanup and remediation activities. EPA has the authority to recover cleanup costs from parties responsible for contamination, can bill individual states for 10 percent of cleanup costs on private land and 50 percent of costs on public land, 13 and Congress established a tax on chemical and petroleum industries that funds a

trust fund for cleanup activities. 14 Not all contaminated sites in the United States are part of the Superfund program; today there are 1,333 sites on the National Priorities List. Contaminated sites on the National Priorities List are sites with significant contamination that require long-term cleanup efforts. 15

Nineteen Potentially Responsible Parties (PRPs) signed an agreement with EPA in 2006 to investigate contamination and develop cleanup alternatives at the 68th Street Dump site.16 The group of PRPs includes former property owners and businesses that either generated or transported waste to landfills at the site.17 EPA added the site to the National Priorities List due to surface water contamination alone, although contamination is also present in the groundwater and soil on-site18.

17 ESSAY Contamination
in the Floodplains
More than half of the original wetlands in the lower 48 states have been filled in

Remediation Practices and Considerations

Addressing contamination can be decadeslong process, particularly at larger or more contaminated sites. EPA initially proposed adding the 68th Street Dump Site to the NPL in 1999, and more than two decades later it is unclear if remediation activities have begun. The site was officially listed as a Superfund site in 2003, and the site’s Record of Decisions for Final Action (ROD) was published in September of 2013. Since adding sites to the NPL is an arduous process, many contaminated sites are addressed at the state level or, as in the case of the 68th Street Dump prior to listing, are only addressed on an as needed or emergency basis. EPA estimates that there are more than 450,000 brownfield sites in the US – sites that require some remediation for re-use, but are not immediate threats to human or ecological health.19

For sites that are added to the NPL, EPA assesses contamination types, media, and levels to determine what treatment and cleanup options may be appropriate for a site to develop a proposed plan for site cleanup. Cleanup activities generally contain contamination on-site, via engineered caps or soil cover systems, or remove contamination by excavating or draining contaminated soil and sediment or surface water. Contaminated groundwater is very difficult to clean; remedies usually require continued monitoring of water quality with natural attenuation. 20 Regardless of clean up methods used, long-term monitoring is required to ensure that remediation was effective. The cleanup at a landfill in New Jersey that EPA placed on the NPL in 1983 was completed in 2013 and continues to be monitored, with required reporting every five years. 21

Neither excavation nor on-site management of contamination erase hazardous material from contaminated soil. In the case of excavation, contaminated soil is disposed of in a landfill, with tarps to prevent wind or rain from transporting contaminants. Excavated areas are filled with “clean fill” – soil that is not contaminated. Treating soil may physically remove contaminants via washing, but contaminants washed out of the soil are still hazardous waste that must be disposed of. 22 The remediation plan for the 68th Street Dump calls for excavation of soil, sediment, and surface water. The plan does not detail how excavated media will be handled. 23 Across the seven MAs, there is reliance on the natural wetland ecosystem of the area to aid in long-term remediation. EPA anticipates that excavation of contaminated materials in some sections will improve wetland health, allowing for more effective treatment of leachate and groundwater.

The ROD for the 68th Street Dump does not address how sea level rise may impact the remediation methods for the site. While enhancing wetlands in the area can provide long-term remediation services, sea level rise can cause wetlands to migrate upland, and the ecosystem will be lost. Additionally, sea level rise may result in hydrologic connections between contaminated groundwater on-site and groundwater further inland that is not currently connected. 24 The 68th Street Dump Site is located in the Coastal Plain region of Maryland, where 1.4 million people rely on groundwater in the Coastal Plain. 25 While the natural flow of groundwater near the 68th Street Dump Site is towards the Chesapeake Bay and away from residential areas, significant groundwater pumping has the potential to alter groundwater flows. In a report


from USGS in 1996, authors reported large regional cones of groundwater depression due to heavy groundwater extraction in the area. 26 As local hydrologic conditions change with sea level rise, current remediation processes may no longer be the best available option for protecting human health and local ecosystems.

Interim Protection Measures

Existing interim protection measures

may also be insufficient to protect human health and local ecosystems in the face of sea level rise and extreme weather events. Protection measures prior to remediation may include emergency removal actions and institutional controls. 27

Community involvement in decision-making for remediation activities functions both as an information institutional control and ensures that community members

19 ESSAY Contamination in the Floodplains
Phrag, Zoe Kerrich

are able to provide input into and potentially shape decisions around remediation. For the 68th Street Dump Site, the Community Involvement Plan from 2013 notes that community involvement up to that point had primarily consisted of public meetings and fact sheets distributed to community members. By consistently providing information and updates on work at the site, EPA can discourage trespassing on the contaminated land. While institutional controls such as community involvement and fencing may reduce interim exposure to hazardous wastes by discouraging trespassing, these interim control measures do not address risk of exposure associated with transport of contaminated media during extreme weather events.

In August of 2021, Hurricane Ida brought flooding to the Baltimore area, including Rosedale. 28 As part of the direct Chesapeake Bay Watershed, Herring Run undoubtedly flooded during this time as well, possibly spreading contaminated media outside of the boundaries of the Superfund site. Local news reports from 2021 note that upstream of the 68th Street Dump, Baltimore County bought out two properties along Herring Run in Towson’s Overbrook neighborhood due to chronic flooding. 29

Emergency Removal Actions for High-Risk Contaminants

Emergency removal actions, institutional controls, and remediation activities are the suite of tools EPA relies on to address contaminated sites. Emergency removal actions are important to address immediate risk presented by hazardous waste, such as the removal of forty 55-gallon drums from the 68th Street Dump site following a fire on site in 1985.30 Yet similar to remediation activities, contaminated materials

must be addressed even once removed from the site. The Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) stipulates five ways to dispose of toxic waste: burial, deep-well injection, incineration, fly-age storage, and treatment and storage in liquid form.31 No disposal method eliminates risk of future exposure to hazardous waste: landfills can leak, deep-well injection can contaminate aquifers, incineration can release toxins into the air, fly ash can contaminate groundwater if it interacts with stormwater runoff, and containers of liquids can corrode and leak over time.32 Just as the initial siting of land uses that rely on hazardous materials is an environmental justice issue, so too is the disposal of hazardous wastes from contaminated sites.

There are 11 RCRA sites in Maryland that accept off-site hazardous waste.33 The two closest to the 68th Street Dump are both in the city of Baltimore; a city with a poverty rate nearly twice the national average (Baltimore: 20%; US overall: 11.4%), and a majority Black population (62%, compared to 13.4% for the US overall). EPA anticipates that remediation activity at the 68 Street Dump site will begin in 2023; from available documentation there is no information on where excavated contaminated soil, or other hazardous wastes present on-site will be transported to for disposal. But it is likely that one of these two landfills will be the selected location; proximity is usually a driving factor in deciding where to transport contaminated materials, as the further the transportation distance, the more opportunity there is for accidental dispersal of contaminated material. Contaminated soil is usually transported in a truck, with a tarp over the soil to reduce dust and associated dispersal of contaminated media.34 Poor and minority communities


are disproportionately likely to live in places with exposure to environmental contamination; even as state and federal agencies work to clean up historically contaminated sites, this does not necessarily reduce the disproportionate impact. For sites like the 68th Street Dump Site, the process for deciding how to clean up the site is complex; leaving contamination on-site increases risk of local dispersal of contamination during flooding events and long-term contamination of groundwater resources due to sea level rise, while off-site management of hazardous media may simply place the burden of risk on other communities instead.

Future Remediation and Land Use Planning

There are no clear-cut solutions for addressing legacy contamination at the 68th Street Dump Site, particularly in areas at risk of flooding and other climate changedriven disruptions. The current remediation plan for the 68th Street Dump relies on natural remediation from the wetland ecosystem of the area; as the sea rises this ecosystem will no longer be able to provide this ecosystem service. Managing contamination on-site in the future may require installing flood protection measures such as sea walls or earthen berms, such as those

installed at the American Cyanamid Superfund site in New Jersey. This site flooded during Hurricane Irene in 2011 prior to installation of flood protection measures, but did not flood during Hurricane Ida in 2021.35 Similar to the 68th Street Dump Site, the American Cyanamid Superfund site is located only 700 feet from the Raritan River.36 Other aspects of the cleanup plan are significantly different, however. The American Cyanamid Superfund site cleanup relies on binding contaminated soil and sediment by introducing additives to solidify the material, and several areas of the site will be capped engineered materials.37 These approaches were not considered at the 68th Street Dump Site due to the negative ecological impacts.38

Future uses of the 68th Street Dump Site suggested by EPA, once remediation activities are complete, include light industrial, solar energy generation, open space, habitat enhancement, and recreation.39 In the context of the most recent sea level rise projections, some of these uses are likely to no longer appropriate. Additionally, the site has unique ecological value as one of the few un-urbanized parcels of land in the Baltimore area. The site reduces stormwater runoff into Back River and the

21 ESSAY Contamination in the
There are no clear-cut solutions for addressing legacy contamination at the 68th Street Dump Site, particularly in areas at risk of flooding and other climate change-driven

Chesapeake Bay, so any use that reduces vegetation and topographic complexity would damage the larger ecosystem. However, remediation activity and future land use planning for the site that does not factor in future flooding risk puts nearby communities and vital ecosystems at risk of contamination. An increased focus on wetland enhancement on-site, and reductions in impervious surface coverage in the surrounding wetland could potentially reduce the flood extents and thus exposure and spread of contaminants.

For sites like the American Cyanamid Superfund Site, engineered caps and soil solidification and stabilization may be appropriate if ecosystem services have already been lost. However, for sites like the 68th Street Dump, enhancing ecosystem services with a plan to support inland migration of wetlands can assist in environmental remediation of contaminants and manage stormwater runoff. On-site management or removal of contaminated materials should also consider risk to human and ecological health associated with sea level rise, flooding, or other extreme weather events.


1 ROD, 46.

2 ROD, 19.

3 Community involvement plan.

4 Daniels, 2014, p. 343.

5 Ibid.

6 Moga, 2020.

7 Center for Science and Democracy, 2020.

8 Environmental Resources Management, Inc. 2013.

9 United States Census Bureau, 2000 and 2020 decennial census, respectively.

10 Environmental Resources Management, Inc. 2013.

11 Daniels, 2014, p. 252.

12 Ibid. p. 251.

13 Ibid. p. 253.

14 USEPA, CERCLA overview.

15 There are three ways a site may become eligible for the National Priorities List: (1) a site may receive a Hazard Ranking System score of greater than 28.5; (2) a state or territory may designate one site annually for listing; (3) the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry may issue a public health advisory along with other requirements. USPEA, NPL site listing process.

16 The Superfund law has a strict liability provision, which makes all current or previous owners, or site users potentially liable for cleanup costs, regardless of whether they contributed to the contamination activity.

17 ROD, 2013, p. 5.

18 USEPA, HRS Documentation Record: 68th Street Dump.

19 USEPA, Brownfields Program Overview:

20 USEPA, Guidance for Groundwater Cleanups.

21 USAEPA, Brick Township Landfill.

22 Chemtech International, Dealing with Contaminated Soils.

23 ROD, 2013, p. 52.

24 USGS, 2020.

25 Maryland Geological Survey, “Groundwater.”

26 Fleck and Vroblesky, 1996.

27 USEPA, Citizen’s Guide to Understanding Institutional Controls, 2005.

28 Cardin, 2021.

29 Hayes, 2021.

30 ROD, 2013, p. 7.

31 Daniels, 2014, p. 245.

32 Ibid.

33 RCRAInfo Database.

34 USEPA, A Citizen’s Guide to Excavation of Contaminated Soil, 2012.

35 USEPA, American Cyanamid Superfund Site, 2021.

36 Ibid.

37 USEPA, American Cyanamid Co Bridgewater, NJ.

38 ROD, 2013. Alternatives.

39 ROD, 2013, p. 19.


About the Author: Zoe Kerrich

Zoe Kerrich is a second-year student in the City Planning Department of the Stuart Weitzman School of Design at the University of Pennsylvania, focusing on various intersections of water and health. In her free time, Zoe loves to weave, and is looking forward to having even more free time post-graduation to focus on lost wax metal casting.

23 ESSAY Contamination in the Floodplains
Middlesex Fells, Micah Epstein

Delaware River Seasonal Cycles

Local fishing practices and how they’ve changed over time

The Lenni Lenape, who were traditionally inhabitants of present-day Delaware, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania, practiced fishing methods tied to the natural cycles of both the Delaware River and the surrounding land. The fishing season for the Lenni Lenape followed the seasonal patterns of native fish such as Atlantic Sturgeon, Shewanamekw Shad, and Brook Trout as well as that of plants like trout lily and dogbane. Other aspects of life, such as the celebration of the Shad Festival and the yearly gathering and dispersal of different bands of the Lenni Lenape, were also practiced in tandem to the seasonal fishing cycle.

The Lenni Lenape used several different methods to fish, often combined for effectiveness. This included the use of nets, spears, harpoons, and fish weirs. To create fish weirs, the Lenape constructed stone walls in a V formation within the river. As fish swam downstream, Lenape men would use a large net to direct fish toward the weir. These nets were constructed of

dogbane fibers, with squash attached at the top for flotation and rocks attached at the bottom to act as “sinkers”. As the fish swam into the enclosed weir, men would be ready with spears, harpoons, and sometimes bare hands to collect the fish. It is also suspected, but not confirmed, that the Lenape used plants such as horse chestnuts and dogbane to stupefy and confuse fish for easier capture.

Today, the fishing practices in the Delaware River are largely recreational, and the traditional methods of the Lenni Lenape people have faded over time. The fish species associated with those traditional methods, particularly shad, have also declined largely due to environmental factors like climate change and pollution. The presence of invasive species, such as snakehead, crayfish, and catfish, have also added to the issue. These species clear out the Delaware riverbed by feeding on eggs and juveniles of native species and altering ecosystems necessary for the shad’s survival.


Although not native to the Lenni Lenape Lands the Horse Chestnut has proven to be a helpful asset for the Lenape. The tree’s nuts are harvested in September through November Later, they are ground up and put in the water. It’s nerotoxic properties stupify fish. To humans, the nuts are a tasty snack.

In September through October Brook Trout travel to warmer water to spawn.

Up to the late the 19 th c., when the Lenape caught more fish than they could eat, they dried them in the sun, or smoked them over a wood fire. This preserved the fish so that they could be stored and eaten at a later time.

In 1981, the Lambertville Shad Festival was organized to celebrate cleaner water, the return of the shad & the area’s arts. March is the “Month of the Shad.”

The Yellow Trout Lily blooms from late March to May, it signals to the Lenni Lenape that the trout will return in the coming spring.

The Brook Trout travel back up to the Delaware in late spring, this is the best time to catch them.

Atlantic Sturgeon head back to the Atlantic in late-August through September.

This coincides with the Sturgeon Moon, which signals the best time to catch sturgeon.

Dogbane grows throughout the summer months. Its fibers were used by the Lenape to weave nets and fish weirs. This plant also has properties that are poisonous to fish, making them easier to catch.

Individual bands would aggregate into larger social and economic units for the warm months along the summer fishing stations.

Up to the late 19th c., fresh fish were cooked over a fire. The women also wrapped fish in clay and baked them in hot ashes. The clay would act like an oven. When the fish was ready to eat, the clay was broken away and all the skin and scales came off with it.

In late spring, the Atlantic Sturgeon travels up the Delaware from the Atlantic Ocean to spawn.

Fish eggs or roe were a special treat for the Lenni Lenape.

Shëwanamèkw Shad swim up the major rivers by the millions in March and April to spawn in freshwater streams.

Dogbane (Apocynaceae)

Horse Chestnut (Aesculus hippocastanum)


Becker, M. J. “Anadromous Fish and the Lenape.” Pennsylvania Archaeologist 76, no. 2 (2006): 28-40.

Belardo, Carolyn. “River of the People, Part 2.” The Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University, December 10, 2020.

Brodhead Watershed Association. “Nature at Risk: This Dinosaur-Era Fish of the Delaware River Is on the Brink.” Pocono Record, July 8, 2022.

Camp, Annabelle Fichtner. “Tying it Together: Examining Native Mid-Atlantic Fishing Nets in Collaboration with the Lenape Tribe of Delaware.” Material Culture Review / Revue de la culture matérielle (2018) 88-89, 79–90.

Atlanic Sturgeon (Acipenser oxyrhynchus)

Yellow Trout Lily (Erythronium americanum) Shad (Shëwanamèkw) (Alosa sapidissima)

Shadbush (Amelanchier) Lenni Lenape

Brook Trout (Salvelinus fontinalis)

Csebestyen. “Delaware River Basin Commission: Living Resources: American Shad.” Delaware River Basin Commission | Living Resources: American Shad. Accessed 2022.

“Lenape Fishing.” Official Site of the Delaware Tribe of Indians, June 27, 2013.

LenapeLifewaysVideos. The Lenape CultureCatching Fish. YouTube, 2009.

Rementer, Jim. Lenape Names of Fish & Water Creatures. Lenape Language Project.

Schmidt, Sophia. “Lenape Group and UD Student Travel to Study Traditional Fishing Nets.” Delaware Public Media, October 20, 2021.

25 DATA VISUALIZATION Delaware River Seasonal Cycles
Pennsylvania Maryland Maryland Delaware
Delaware Bay DelawareRiver Delaware River Watershed Lenni Lenape Ancestral Lands
Chesa Wang, Devon Bruzzone, Junyi Yang, Mariya Lupandina

Scaling-up Finance for Green Infrastructure

Photo: The Ball Mountain Dam, Jamaica, VT, by Micah Epstein

Nature-based Solutions (NbS) are defined as “‘actions to protect, conserve, restore, sustainably use, and manage natural or modified terrestrial, freshwater, coastal and marine ecosystems, which address social, economic, and environmental challenges effectively and adaptively, while simultaneously providing human well-being, ecosystem services and resilience and biodiversity benefits.” 1 They include strategies that forefront nature in order to address and adapt to the challenges presented by climate change, such as preserving wetlands and mangroves for flood protection, protecting forests for carbon sequestration, or constructing green stormwater infrastructure in cities to manage flooding2.

In the global efforts to meet the 2016 Paris Agreement – to keep global warming below a benchmark of 1.5-2 degrees Celsius –nature-based solutions hold opportunities to capture billions of tons of carbon-dioxide from the atmosphere3, preserve natural ecosystems, increase the resiliency of urban infrastructure assets, protect human settlements from disasters, and increase economic activity in other sectors that rely on nature. However, only 3 percent of finance required to meet these goals has currently

been tapped, an amount which will need to at least triple by 2030 and quadruple by 2050 to remain on track with the targets set in the Paris Agreement. This is particularly pertinent for developing countries where 60 percent of low-carbon infrastructure requirements are still to be met.

This piece, originally written as a policy brief, outlines the current state of finance for NbS, identifies the key challenges to scaling-up finance, and recommends four policies for demand-side and supply-side actors – namely, national and subnational governments, International Organizations, Multilateral Development Banks, Multilateral Climate Funds, and private investors - that could help close this gap.

The Benefits of Green Infrastructure

By 2030, the world will need to build approximately $85 trillion in low-carbon climate-resilient (LCR) infrastructure in order to meet the Paris Agreement4, around 60 percent of which is needed in developing countries5. Nature-based solutions can provide up to 37 percent of the emission reductions needed by 2030 to keep global warming under 2 degrees Celsius6.

Scaling-up Finance for Green Infrastructure ESSAY
Only 3 percent of finance required for Naturebased Solutions has currently been tapped, which needs to triple by 2030 to remain on track with global temperature targets set in the Paris Agreement.

The advantages of NbS also extend to global and local economies, through investments which are estimated to generate about $1.1 trillion in annual business opportunities7, where green infrastructure could return over 3 times the initial investment.8 As these alternative ways of imagining urban infrastructure are scaled up, they can also generate employment – currently, about 40 full-time jobs are created with every $1 million invested in NbS.9

Key sectors

In a 2021 report the IFC identified ten key sectors that can be prioritized for scaling-up green infrastructure investments10, broadly categorized under Energy infrastructure, including decarbonization of existing grids and scaling up generation and storage for renewable energy; City systems, within which buildings stand to be retrofitted for energy efficiency, and waste and water, transportation, and urban infrastructure are critical to include in mitigation and adaptation strategies; and Industry, including decarbonization of heavy industry, climate-smart agriculture, and sectoral changes for textile and apparel, and airlines and shipping. In this categorization, cities present both a challenge and an opportunity. They contribute over 70 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions, mostly from motorized transportation and carbon-intensive infrastructure11, for which nature-based solutions can provide longterm, sustainable alternatives.

Finance gaps

There is presently an estimated gap of $4.1 trillion in NbS financing that is required by 2050 for the world to remain on track to meet the Paris Agreement12. While approximately $133 billion flow into NbS per year, 86 percent of this comes from public funds

and 14 percent from private finance13. This skew exists in spite of over $100 trillion worth of assets managed by institutional investors, including commercial banks and investment companies, private equity, and pension and insurance funds.

Green bonds, issued against the debt capital market to finance projects with environmental benefits, have seen a market increase of 220 percent from 2013 to 201414. They are primarily issued by development banks, private investors, and regional or municipal governments, certified by the Climate Bonds Standard, and aligned with the Green Bond Principles. However, the market for green bonds is only about 2 percent of the entire bond market15. Out of the $14.6 trillion in fiscal spending announced by the world’s 50 largest economies postCOVID-19, under 3 percent were directed towards green initiatives, despite an opportunity to rethink the way infrastructure and services are deployed.

Current Policy Failures and Barriers to Finance

Limitations of green bonds

A number of factors presently deter the growth of the green bond capital market. Without commonly accepted guidelines to evaluate green bond credentials, issuers can run the risk of “greenwashing” - selecting projects that do not have significant environmental value. The Green Bond Principles and Climate Bonds Standard and Certification Scheme are voluntary evaluation standards, and independent reviews by governments and private investors can incur high transaction costs for governments or companies. The lack of aggregation mechanisms to underwrite green bonds also makes it difficult for small-scale projects


(roughly under $100 million) to tap into the green-bond market. A strong asset pipeline is typically required to back green-bond lending, a challenge exacerbated in emerging economies where legal frameworks to enable asset-backed securities are scant16.

Further, green bonds are very similar to regular bonds in terms of structure, risk, and rates of return, making them equally competitive financial products for governments or companies looking to finance green infrastructure projects, but more restrictive in their verification requirements. Combined with a non-standardized approach to project eligibility, this can restrict borrower flexibility and also make it difficult for emerging economies with low credit ratings to obtain or issue green bonds17.

Valuating naturebased assets

When compared with grey infrastructure projects, such as oil and gas18, which can generate revenue over their lifecycle to pay-off debt, the risk-reward profiles of green infrastructure are not as financially attractive. In fact, the revenue streams of nature-based solutions are difficult to determine. An adaptation project, such as building a seawall, cannot be justified using traditional cost-benefit analyses that purely employ economic metrics to monetize returns on investment19.

natural resources affects the economy and human wellbeing – metrics that are key to arguing the case for investing in naturebased solutions. The degree to which ecological stewardship is practiced in infrastructure planning processes is currently left to the discretion of national and subnational legislation. This leaves a large amount of room for ambiguity in maintaining high standards of environmental management within urban spatial planning and infrastructure design.

There are very few financial systems that capture the value of natural assets and ecosystem services such as air, water, soil, and wildlife20. Traditional accounting also does not measure how the depreciation of

The investment environment for green infrastructure is further impeded by gaps in technical information and the absence of financial records for newer, climate-friendly technology and practices21. Private investors rely on governments to support future returns with tariffs or subsidies, policies that are subject to political fluctuation. These challenges are higher in developing countries with political instability, underdeveloped capital markets, and fluctuating local currencies22.

Investment enabling environments

Sustainable urban development is contingent on consistent revenue flows, creditworthiness, and strong management23 - conditions that are especially lacking in

Scaling-up Finance for Green Infrastructure ESSAY
Traditional accounting also does not measure how the depreciation of natural resources affects the economy and human wellbeing – metrics key to arguing the case for investing in NbS.

developing countries. Municipal governments need support to obtain the long-term finance required for the large costs and long amortization periods of infrastructure projects. Most municipal governments do not possess the resources, capacity, and engagement to plan for infrastructure scaleups, migration, and disaster-risk24. Regional and municipal entities rely on national sovereign guarantees to obtain funding from MDBs – a system that does not enable local autonomy. Few subnational governments have requested or acquired their own credit ratings, and in developing countries, ratings are unaffordable without the presence of credit rating agencies and made even more challenging by weak financial markets25.

Policy recommendations

The four policy recommendations put forth in this brief have been organized by supply-side and demand-side measures, both of which are equally important to improve for the scaling-up of green infrastructure finance.

Supply-side recommendations

Supply-side policy recommendations are towards MDBs, MCFs, governments, donors, private financers, and other issuers of green climate finance, which revolve around creating blended finance instruments and natural capital accounting systems to metrically evaluate the benefits of nature-based solutions.

Photo: Micah Epstein

1) Create blended finance instruments by strengthening the green bond market and providing alternative sources to incentivize green infrastructure over grey.

• Establish internationally accepted definitions of “green” projects with stringent evaluation systems of environmental impact, fund allocation, and preferential risk.

• Assert key Green Bond Principles as mandatory procedures to secure financing for NbS. Increase the scope of certification boards, such as the Climate Bonds Standard, to help national and subnational governments adapt Green Bond Principles to local conditions.

• MDBs and MCFs, must work directly with national and subnational governments to create stacked finance packages for green infrastructure projects.

• MDBs need to increase their risk appetite. Currently, only the International Development Association, a branch of the World Bank Group, offers grants to very low-income countries. With commitments for climate-finance constituting 35 percent of the WBG’s total portfolio26, the amount of concessional finance given to low-and-middle-income countries

must increase. Small amounts of concessional grants in early stages of an infrastructure project can reduce risk and crowd-in private capital for future portions of the project27. In addition to backing NbS, significant quantities of concessional finance must simultaneously be directed towards countries transitioning towards low-carbon, such as abating coal-power, which currently contributes 40 percent of total GHG emissions28.

2) Create regional inventories for ecosystem services and mainstream the quantification of environmental assets.

• Leverage global climate-change agreements to hold countries accountable for the introduction of overarching national policies that will increase the baseline for including, scrutinizing, and evaluating environmental management systems in infrastructure project proposals.

• Establish a neutral wing of the United Nations Environment Program to build regional ecosystem inventories with national and subnational governments. The consideration of infrastructure growth and land use at regional scales can help classify ecosystems based on patterns of geology, landform, soil, vegetation, climate, land use, wildlife, and hydrology, and

Scaling-up Finance for Green Infrastructure ESSAY
Significant quantities of concessional finance must simultaneously be directed towards countries transitioning towards low-carbon, such as abating coal-power.

provide a spatial framework for organizations to structure and implement ecosystem management strategies29.

• Promote and train municipal leaders and project professionals in the Natural Capital Accounting and Valuation of Ecosystem Services (NCAVES), a tool to value natural assets that do not contain revenue streams in traditional accounting methods. NCAVES calculates the initial stock of a natural resource and subtracts depleted stock adjusted by a rate of regeneration. It is built on five core ecosystem accounts –extents, conditions, services, and monetary assets – which links natural resources to human and economic activity30.

Demand-side recommendations

Recommendations for demand-side actors, primarily municipalities and entities bearing project cost burden revolve around increasing the ability to attract and retain finance, whether from private investors or development banks.

3) Foster strong legal and regulatory environments and de-risk investments to create stable revenue sources for green infrastructure assets.

• Create spaces for national governments and international finance institutions to co-draft country-specific policies and instruments that can catalyze investments, such as low-carbon mandates, clean energy standards, or trade tariffs31.

• Strengthen capital markets in developing countries by introducing regulatory and judicial frameworks to protect the rights of creditors and debtors at the subnational level32.

• Provide an entry for internationally accepted rating agencies that can improve investor knowledge and confidence. This can be further lowered if MDBs and international development agencies bear the cost of the first few municipal credit ratings.

• Mobilize the private sector to arrive at blended finance solutions that can surpass the constraints of green bonds. As part of natural capital accounting, a simplified, practical monitoring, reporting, and verification (MRV) system must be created for green infrastructure projects. This should include key performance metrics adapted to measure environmental benefits.

• Quantify, assess, and allocate risks associated with green infrastructure investments using improved Natural Capital Accounting systems. The Sustainable Asset Valuation Methodology (SAVi) developed by the International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD), for instance, helps agencies capture environmental, social, economic, and governance costs externalized by an infrastructure project. SAVi integrates past, present, and future climate data to arrive at more comprehensive costs of climate-related risks33.

• MDBs and MCFs must increase their mandates for de-risking investments through guarantees and escalate commitments of concessional finance towards nature-based solutions. As demonstrated by recommendation 1b., concessional funding in the early stages of infrastructure projects can work to crowd-in private capital.

Scaling-up Finance for Green Infrastructure ESSAY
Photos: Cheonggyecheon, Seoul, South Korea, by Micah Epstein (top); Middle Branch at the Patapsco River, Baltimroe, MD, by RIddhi Batra (bottom)

4) Support municipal governments to better manage budgets and assets, and to mainstream climate adaptation within urban development plans.

Achieving creditworthiness requires a demonstrated ability to maintain a reliable surplus of revenues over expenditures. Support for municipal governments must target sources of revenue and better resource management.

• Prioritize urban action plans for specific cities in countries’ Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs), with commitments from municipal governments to create periodic Voluntary Local Reviews (VLRs). This can also boost legitimacy for green infrastructure priorities to mobilize private sector finance.

• Align intergovernmental transfers with NDC goals and incentivize VLR reporting through inducements such as technology-and-performance-based grants, and subsidized lending.

• Increase the scope of international organizations, MDBs, and MCFs, to directly assist municipal governments in order to improve financial management, including budgeting, accounting, reporting, and auditing34; increase local revenue generation through property tax, land value capture, license fees, and tax increment financing; manage, evaluate, and maintain infrastructure assets over a long-term period; and standardize infrastructure as an assetclass to back bond securitization.

The recommendations in this policy document were drafted in the weeks following COP-27, the annual Conference of Parties held for member states of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) to track their progress towards meeting mutually agreed climate mitigation targets. It highlights the urgent need to progress beyond anthropocentric, econometric tools, to evaluate the true externalities of building large-scale infrastructure, and elevate the earth’s biodiversity to an asset that is crucial to save.

About the Author: Riddhi Batra

Riddhi is a second-year Master of City Planning student with a background in architecture and urban action, research, and advocacy. A firm believer in the potential of design and communication to transform our lives, she is currently exploring the intersection of mobility, infrastructure, and environmental planning to develop solutions for social and ecological equity. When not glued to her laptop, you can find her playing with a dog (or a cat), flipping through a book, sniffing coffee beans, running (for fun), or clicking photographs of almost everything.



1 UNEP. July 2022. ‘One small step for finance, one gianT leap for nature.’ UNEP Nature News.

2 IFC. January 2021. A Green Reboot for Emerging Markets: Key Sectors for Post-Covid Sustainable Growth. International Finance Corporation, World Bank Group. Washington DC. USA.

3 UNEP. July 2022.

4 Meltzer, JP. June 2018. Blending climate funds to finance low-carbon, climate-resilient infrastructure. Global Economy and Development at The Brookings Institute. Washington DC. USA.

5 IFC. January 2021.

6 UNEP, WEF, ELD, Vivid Economics. May 2021. State of Finance for Nature: Tripling investments in nature-based solutions by 2030.

7 UNEP et. al. May 2021.

8 IFC. January 2021.

9 Edwards, P.E.T. et al. 2013. Investing in nature: Restoring coastal habitat blue infrastructure and green job creation.

10 ibid.

11 Dasgupta, S., Lall, S., Wheeler, D. 2022. Cutting global carbon emissions: where do cities stand? Sustainable Cities. The World Bank Group, January 05, 2022.

12 UNEP et. al. May 2021.

13 ibid.

14 ibid.

15 IFC. January 2021.

16 UN-Habitat. 2016.

17 OECD and Bloomberg Philanthropies. December 2015. Green Bonds: Mobilizing the debt capital markets for a low-carbon transition.

18 Meltzer, JP. June 2018.

19 Bilmes, L. November 2022. Public Climate Finance Guest Lecture. CPLN 5770: International Development. Weitzman School of Design, University of Pennsylvania.

20 ibid.

21 ibid.

22 ibid.

23 UN-Habitat. 2016.

24 ibid.

25 ibid.

26 The World Bank. September 2022. ‘World Bank Group Delivers Record $31.7 Billion in Climate Finance in Fiscal Year 2022’. Press Release. World Bank Group.

27 Meltzer, JP. June 2018.

28 Center for Climate and Energy Solutions. November 2008. ‘Addressing Emissions from Coal Use in Power Generation”.

29 US EPA. Ecoregions.

30 United Nations. Ecosystem Accounting. System of Environmental Economic Accounting.

31 OECD et al. December 2015.

32 UN-Habitat. 2016.

33 SAVi. The International Institute for Sustainable Development.

34 UN-Habitat. 2016.

Scaling-up Finance for Green Infrastructure ESSAY

Embracing the Guts

Stewardship, design, and equity for St. Croix’s stormwater system

Guts are an essential part of St. Croix’s stormwater management system, but they face many challenges, from dumping to residential flooding. This project aims to tackle these issues through a stewardship approach, redesigning the areas adjacent to the guts in a way that allows Crucians to interact with them on a daily basis. These sustained, meaningful interactions will help break down the barriers between humans and nature, creating a more symbiotic relationship between the two and promoting a more resilient future for the island.

Guts Issues

This project focuses on five sites of intervention along the Golden Rock gut. Each site has multiple site-specific approaches that are tailored to the changing conditions along the gut and imagine different futures depending on the funding and capacity available to develop the surrounding parcels. The chapter concludes with a series of takeaways from this design process that could be applied to future gut interventions across St. Croix.

The St. Croix Resiliency Studio also included:

Wynter Adams

Makayla Davis

Emily Goldstein

Jaylene Gutierrez

Amelia Marcantonio-Fields, Olivia Marcus

Eliza Nobles

Gabe Orduña

Charley Townsley

Julian Turley


Scott Page

Jamie Granger

Hardening (Image: UPenn Studio) Sea Level Rise (Image: UPenn Studio) Dumping (Image: VI Free Press) Sargassum (Image: UPenn Studio) Flooding (Image: St. Croix Source) Coral Bleaching (Image: National Park Service)


STUDIO PROJECT Embracing the
Guts are essential to the ecosystem and stormwater Guts Flood Zones
infrastructure of St. Croix.
Data: UVI


To tackle the many issues that guts face, this project proposes a plan grounded in stewardship. Stewardship promotes resilience for both human and natural systems and can help sustain the well being of the guts in the long term. Creating sustainable norms and promoting behaviors such as not dumping or staying clear of floodwater will also improve the health of the gut.6 Ultimately, stewardship is essential because it tackles issues at the source and reduces negative interactions with the guts.



To make this investigation of the guts more tangible, we chose to identify a gut to use as a pilot. By studying a specific gut, we can conduct analysis of specific conditions occurring in the guts today, and provide recommendations that can be applied to the island at large in the future.

Intervention Need Index

Need Assessment

Social Vulnerability Index

Promote stewardship of the guts

1 Create a symbiotic relationship between human and natural systems

2 Mitigate flooding along the guts

3 Increase public access to the guts for community space


Top 10% of Estates

Population Density

Top 10% of Estates

Flood Zones

100 yr Storm

Suitability Assessment

Risk score of 3

Government owned land

Close proximity to residential areas

St. Croix Site

Christiansted Intervention Need Index 0 (no risk factors) 1 2 3 (all risk factors) N Bethlehem Williams
Guts are essential to the ecosystem and stormwater STUDIO PROJECT Embracing the Guts
infrastructure of St. Croix.
Data: 2010 Decennial Census of Island Areas, UVI

Golden Rock Gut

Within Christiansted, we chose to base our pilot on the Golden Rock Gut. The Golden Rock estate stretches from mountainous terrain to the south to white sand beaches to the north. The estate is also located directly next to the Water and Power Authority (WAPA) Desalination Plant and Power Plant, which can be detrimental to the nearby homes, condos and apartments. Northside Road runs through the center of this gut as well, and houses a number of commercial uses.

40 NORTHSIDEROAD NORTHSIDE ROAD 1 3 7 7 2 8 5 6 4 0 250 500 Feet N
1 5 3 7 2 6 4 8
Overlooking Golden Rock Gut and downtown Christiansted (Image: UPenn Studio) St. Dunstan’s School Golden Rock Shopping Mall Caribbean Community Theatre District Court of the Virgin Islands WAPA Desalination Plant & Power Facility Sugar Beach Gas Stations Supermarket

Gut Life Cycle

Each gut goes through a life cycle from “ridge to reef” and must perform different functions as it passes through different areas of the island. This project identifies three phases that correspond with these functions:

1. The conveyance phase focuses on getting stormwater downstream and takes place in more developed areas that have higher risks of infrastructure and residential flooding.

2. The retention phase provides opportunities to hold water, slow it down, and encourage infiltration. This phase requires areas of open space that have the capacity to retain water without affecting nearby development.

3. The release phase is the final section of the gut where it meets the sea and focuses on how to eliminate pollutants and remove trash and debris before stormwater is discharged into the sea and can affect marine ecosystems, including mangroves and coral reefs.

Design Approach

Because funding and capacity to develop a site will change over time, it is important to consider what different futures of the guts will look like, giving more flexibility in choosing which design interventions to implement. This project has selected five different sites of intervention, providing multiple approaches for each.

The first approach is a set of Baseline Recommendations, which represent the starting point and the minimum considerations that should be taken into account when intervening in the design of a gut.

The Retrofit Approach imagines what more could be done within the constraints of the existing building footprints. The Rebuild Approach then imagines what could be done if the site were to be completely redeveloped.

41 STUDIO PROJECT Embracing the Guts
1 2 3 0 250 500 Feet N 4 5 Conveyance Retention Release

Baseline Recommendation

Assess water runoff that is not captured by the piped gut drainage.

Golden Rock Shopping Mall

The Golden Rock Shopping Mall is home to a supermarket, a gas station, a few small businesses, and multiple vacant storefronts. The gut is piped underneath the site and bends around the existing buildings, finally emerging above ground in a channel that leads it to Northside Road.

Retrofit Recommendation

Art installation that reveals “invisi-

Golden Rock Shopping Mall

Rebuild Recommendation

The Golden Rock Shopping Mall is home to a supermarket, a gas station, a few small businesses, and multiple vacant storefronts. The gut is piped underneath the site and bends around the existing buildings, finally emerging above ground in a channel that leads it to Northside Road.

Create new residential complex and retail center around rerouted gut.

Assess water runoff that is not captured by the piped gut drainage.

Almost the entire site is currently in the flood zone, and the piped drainage may be limiting the flow



Rebuild Approach

Create new residential complex and retail center around rerouted gut.

Redeveloping the site entirely would give the opportunity to daylight and reroute the gut to follow a more natural path of water conveyance. New buildings and public space amenities could be placed on either side of the gut, allowing it to become the new focal point of the site.

infrastructure” of the piped gut.

This would be accompanied by “No Dumping” signage that would provide more information about the gut ecosystem and the

The C

design brings D B A


The existing parking lot is largely impervious, so increasing permeability with new landscape features may help reduce surface flooding during future storm events.

of Walking Trails

Expand the capacity of the existing channeled gut section.

A channel redesign could include gabions

ramps, accessible pathways, and other features. Terraced Garden Floodable Area

with the



Provide public space amenities, such as benches, tennis courts, an education center, and walking paths. Tennis Courts Education Building 0 200 400 Feet N


21 RESILIENCE PROJECTS Site Context Baseline Recommendations
Flood Zone Channeled Piped 0 100 200 Feet N Existing Conditions of the area and the floodplain
Expanded Channel Improve Permeability
Rebuild Approach Section A-A Apartment Building Amphitheater Terraced Area with Gut Access Public Patio New Retail Center 0 100 200 Feet N A A Proposed site redevelopment for Rebuild Approach
and other landscape features that channel water while also encouraging infiltration. Retrofit Approach (cont.) Example of gabion channel (Image: Kente Mesh) Existing Channel Expanded Channel Create rerouted Redeveloping reroute buildings gut, allowing Rebuild Apartment Existing Conditions of the area and the floodplain Proposed site interventions for Retrofit Approach Proposed site redevelopment for Rebuild Approach Expanded Channel Art Installation Improve Permeability
Continuing from the baseline recommendations, accessibility
new park
Foster accessibility with the use Proposed redesign of the park and gut areas
Proposed redesign of the park and gut areas Walking Trails Terraced Garden Floodable Area Tennis Courts Education Building 0 200 400 Feet N C D B A C D B A
Proposed redesign of the park and gut areas Walking Trails Terraced Garden Floodable Area Tennis Courts Education Building 0 200 400 Feet N C D B A C D B A
Foster accessibility with the use
ramps, accessible pathways, and
other features.
Provide public space amenities, such as benches, tennis courts, an education center, and walking paths.
Rebuild Approach Foster accessibility
ramps, Provide public space amenities, such as

Retention Park

This section of the gut is entirely natural, and the large parcels of undeveloped land make it ideal for developing the Retention Park. This site is intended to slow the flow of water and retain stormwater in order to lessen the burden on downstream sections of the gut.

Baseline Recommendation

Enhance the existing park for surrounding residents and the community.

Rebuild Recommendation

Provide public space amenities, like benches, tennis courts, an education center, and walking paths.

Rebuild Recommendation

Use retaining walls and expand the capacity of the guts for flood control.

Section A-A

Rebuild Approach

Provide public space

allows for responsible interactions

Foster accessibility with the use of ramps, accessible pathways, and other features.

Section C-C

Continuing from the baseline recommendations, accessibility is still paramount in the new park. Building ramps and making sure pathways are kept clear and safe ensure that this park can be a resource for all people of St.

Create new residential complex and retail center around rerouted gut.

Redeveloping the site entirely would give the opportunity to daylight and reroute the gut to follow a more natural path of water conveyance. New buildings and public space amenities could be placed on either side of the allowing it to become the new focal point of the site.

Use retaining walls and expand the capacity of the guts for flood control.

Rebuild Approach Apartment Building Amphitheater A areas
Proposed redesign of the park and gut Walking Trails Terraced Garden Floodable Area Tennis Courts Education Building 0 200 400 Feet C D B A C D B A
areas Terrace Garden Flooding Area Flooding Area Nature Trail Nature Trail Section A-A Section C-C Section D-D Section B-B areas Waterfront Path Waterfront Path Nature Trail Terrace Garden Flooding Area Flooding Area Nature Trail Nature Trail Section A-A Section C-C Section D-D Section B-B
Proposed redesign of the park and



Baseline Recommendation

Organize a gut stewardship team.

Install barriers and filtration devices.

Retrofit Recommendation

Release Point

The final intervention site focuses on filtering the water that flows through the gut before it reaches the sea. With the WAPA facility to the east and residential on all sides, this site is a prime location to consider how environmental sustainability can become part of daily life for St. Croix.

Install barriers and filtration devices.

Build gut terracing to prevent erosion.

Rebuild Recommendation

Build gut terracing prevent erosion.

Expand buffer zones.

Install barriers and filtration devices.

A catch basin for trash and a sargassum barrier off shore can prevent the guts from becoming clogged, which can cause flooding.

A catch basin for trash and a sargassum barrier off shore can prevent the guts from becoming clogged, which can cause flooding.

Build gut terracing to prevent erosion.

Build gut terracing to prevent erosion.

Fast moving water can gradually

Fast moving water can gradually erode the guts, causing sedimentation offshore. Terracing can fortify the banks of the gut and create additional spaces for rest and recreation.

Fast moving erode the guts, sedimentation can fortify the and create additional rest and recreation.

Proposed buffers and protections

Boulders to reduce runoff velocity

Establish sea level rise (SLR) protection zone.

Connecting the Retention Park to the shoreline enhances the public realm and completes the open space system, fostering stewardship and use.

Retrofit Recommendation

Based on USVI’s 2 foot SLR scenario, the mouth of the gut could be protected to prevent development in at-risk areas.

Construct new walking paths to the shoreline. research center.

Expand buffer zones. Construct runoff barriers.

USVI code currently mandates a 15 foot setback from the gut.10 Expanding this to at least 25 feet would allow for more room for gut enhancement interventions. It would also create a greater distance between the road and

Install barriers and filtration devices.

Small berms and gravel infiltration strips can be installed along the road edges to further prevent pollution from the road.

station near the shoreline can house well as educational programs for

Boulders to Enhanced Sargassum Barrier
Catch Basin Filter Options 10’ Runoff Barrier 10’ Walking Path 25’ Gut Setback 25’ Gut Setback Section A-A
Section B-B
Proposed buffers and protections 0 150 300 Feet N SLR Protection Zone Expanded Buffer Road runoff barriers Rocks and pilings at the gut’s outflow (Image: Sea Glass Properties) Mangroves help
the shoreline and
ecosystems (Image: UPenn Studio)
the island’s
Proposed redesign of the release point 0 150 300 Feet N Sargassum Barrier Research Center
Catch Basin Filter Options 25’ Gut Setback Section A-A 35 RESILIENCE PROJECTS Boulders to reduce runoff velocity Enhanced mangrove edge Sargassum Barrier
Catch Basin Filter Options 10’ Runoff Barrier 10’ Walking Path 25’ Gut Setback 25’ Gut Setback Section A-A Section C-C Section B-B

terracing to erosion.


Although the strategies on the previous pages are meant to be viewed as a potential pilot project applied only to this specific gut, this process could inform future gut interventions across the island. The following page lists some key takeaways from the design process, based on the different site-specific approaches.

water can gradually guts, causing sedimentation offshore. Terracing the banks of the gut additional spaces for recreation.

The guts are a critical piece of St. Croix’s infrastructure and should be treated as

such. They’re incredibly complex systems, performing different functions and facing different issues throughout their life cycle. Although designing physical interventions to address current issues may be difficult, it’s crucial to find ways to highlight their importance in the daily lives of Crucian residents. Creating sustained and meaningful interaction with the guts will help achieve the goal of stewardship and lead to a more resilient St. Croix.

10’ Walking Path


Section C-C

“2019 US Virgin Islands Code Title 29 - Public Planning and Development Chapter 3 - Virgin Islands Zoning and Subdivision Law Subchapter I - Zoning Law § 225. Definitions,” n.d. Watershed Consulting Associates, LLC. “Bethlehem, St. Croix Watershed Management Plan,” 2022.

“Diamond, St. Croix Watershed Management Plan,” 2022.

Lloyd Gardner. “A Strategy for Management of Ghuts in the U.S. Virgin Islands.” Water Resources Research Institute, University of the Virgin Islands., 2008.

“Riverine Flooding in the U.S. Virgin Islands.” USVI Hazard Mitigation & Resilience Plan, n.d.

Embracing the Guts

McKenzie-Mohr, Doug. “Fostering Sustainable Behavior through Community-Based Social Marketing.” American Psychologist 55, no. 5 (2000): 531–37.

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. “Environmental Stewardship,” n.d. American Society of Landscape Architects. “The Copenhagen Cloudburst Formula: A Strategic Process for Planning and Designing Blue-Green Interventions” n.d.

“Watersquare Benthemplein.” De Urbanisten, n.d. “U.S. Virgin Islands Development Code.” Center for Planning Practice, Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey, 2014.

45 35 RESILIENCE PROJECTS Enhanced mangrove edge

Rage Against the Machine

Image: micah epstein using Midjourney

Gay Rage was up for sale. We were sitting in the Blooddega, our local watering hole, when Bryce told us that their bigshot developer daddy was now listing our sacred arena on the algorithmic market. Our turf, tirelessly done up in spray paint and climbing tomato vines, was about to be computationally assessed, marketed, and torn up for mirror-glass mixed-use. I was a little impressed that Bryce would choose to give us a tip and possibly undermine their generational wealth, the same that let them buy all the season’s latest skates and SuckCreme hoodies. I guess Bryce really had the rage - but their daddy was (un)cool, calm, tryna collect.

The Gay Rage Garage was up for sale, and we would be losing the best Derby course this side of the Ooze. We had to do something. Time to throw a monkey wrench in the face of the man. Or in our case, into the face of a god-like algorithmic super-system.

But I had a plan. A perfect plan for us derby punks, who really only know how to do one thing: skate. Before first we needed competition; we pinged our rival gangs, talked all kinds of smack, about how sickly their compost heaps were and how barren their community fridge was, knowing that would have ‘em chomping at the bit to prove their punk credentials. Next, we shut down the whole street in front of Gay Rage. It’s stupid easy to block streets in the age of the autonomous car - a technique known as the Bridle Ritual. First, label a can of white spray paint “salt.” Second, find a buddy who trusts you and use them as bait. Push ‘em in front of the car. It will be ethically required to stop. Third, while the car is stopped, draw two concentric circles of white paint around it. Its sensors will return a DO NOT CROSS MARKING and it will be stranded.

The salt label isn’t strictly necessary, but I love the black magic aesthetic of drawing a circle of salt around something so haunted as a driverless car. We did that to a whole mess of them at each end of the street, and suddenly we had all the space we needed to make a scene. We were almost ready. From its place of honor above the mantle of our garden tool shed we took down Gus.

Gus was a real vintage gunpowder and lead double barreled shotgun, beautiful choking ivy carved into the real-wood stock (very solar). In this age of “non-lethal” rubber bullets and cyberwarfare, a gunshot signaled to the whole neighborhood that shit was about to hit the fan. And fans. Doomsday had arrived.

When the market switched our automobile system to autonomous, cars stopped needing to park. Instead, they circled the block and spewed emissions into the air until their owner finished their errand or job or date or whatever yuppie biz they were up to. Empty lots and poor people’s homes were fed into one end of the market, highrises were spat out the other. But parking garages, in all their brutalist invincibility, were hard to tear down or retrofit. That’s when Derby gangs like us rolled in. We squatted and tagged and built planter beds and from the broken glass and cigarette butts we birthed a totally novel institution: Doomsday Derby. An ungodly blend of roller derby, parkour, and crit riding, plus the music, fashion, lingo, and recipes that went with it. Incredibly dangerous and even more fun, it was niche, not for everybody. Until today.

Gus thundered, daytime fireworks of dyed dandelion spores raked the sky, and we were off. The best of us knew to cut across the

Rage Against the Machine

abandoned solar array (left unmaintained since glacial retreat had opened the North for deep drilling). We jumped from panel to panel, dodging piles of silica shards. The last jump was over the community garden - the most dangerous cause no one would dare risk crashing our orderly rows. We plunged into the cool concrete darkness of the Gay Rage Garage. Our course was the best of the best, a huge banked ovoid, spiraling down into darkness. Squat pillars interjected just often enough to keep things interesting. Originally attached to a mall - now long demolished - the hologram ghosts of corporate mascots flickered and appeared, triggered by the screech of our skates. Some noobs ahead of me tried to dodge ‘em and ate compost. I knew better and blew right through the ghosts, feeling their electric flesh tingle on mine in a way that was definitely carcinogenic - but I had bigger Ooze-fish to fry. Some goon from the Thrasher Gang was drafting off my left elbow. I gave them a shove, and took the next bend on the edge of my skates, throwing sparks. We came onto the final bend of the Garage, and I could see the rectangle of blue sky that marked our big, Derby-defying finale. I bent my knees and took the plywood ramp out of the second-story window at full speed.

I had expected a loose crowd, stranded by Bridle Riturals or drawn in by our party vibes. I didn’t expect a sea of upturned faces, the click-buzz of surveillance drones

the only sound amidst collective hush and awe. My city, my whole world, looked on as I burst through a curtain of ivy, arced from 40 feet up with recycled-aluminum blades strapped to my feet, landed with practiced ease, and broke the caution tape finish line. A horde of punks in their most flamboyant shroom-leathers tumbling and landing behind me, vying for second place. Something ~clicked~ in that moment. Doomsday Derby was here, and it was cool.

I could never have imagined how successful my plan would be. The market, ever tapped into the zeitgeist of its city, ever listening to the chatter and scroll and hashtags of its citizens, immediately recognized Doomsday Derby as a cultural institution of the first order, and added the Gay Rage Garage to its historic building ledger. With the protection and registration, safety rails were added, and the broken glass was swept up. The mascot ghosts were disabled (can’t have sacred trademarks on a live broadcast), and Gus was traded in for a less acoustically-offensive airhorn. Soon, digital marketing brands and Derby-inspired streetwear boutiques began to move into the neighborhood. The Blooddega changed

...we pinged our rival gangs, talked all kinds of smack, about how sickly their compost heaps were and how barren their community fridge was, knowing that would have ‘em chomping at the bit to prove their punk credentials.

hands once, twice, and became a place that served 10 types of cauliflower toast. The Garage still stood, in all of its indestructibility, but our humble rooftop veggie gardens were swapped out for a curated crown of blossoming vines and carbon-sink palms.

The Garage still stood, a birthplace of a global phenomenon - but Gay Rage had been sold. We had made Gay Rage cool and hip and good, in its own tiny way. And the market had made it media, brought it to scale and made it fit for consumption.

About the Author: Micah Epstein

micah (they/them) is a second year Master’s in City Planning student concentrating in Housing, Community, and Economic Development. They are a storyteller and systems meddler raised on vast swathes of fantasy and science fiction, which taught them the power stories have to change hearts, minds, and systems. As a designer, they’ve designed web experiences and print artifacts for the ACLU of Washington, the MIT Media Lab, the coveillance collective, and many others. When not pushing pixels, you can find them headbanging in grimy basements or racing (and beating) c*rs on their rusty fixed gear.

FICTION Rage Against the Machine

Planning an Equitable EV Transition

In Philadelphia, the majority of existing EV infrastructure, like charging stations, are located in the wealthiest, whitest neighborhoods with strong public transit connectivity and low air pollution.4

0 2 4 1 Miles
Subway Trolley
EVSE For All Index Lowest Impact Highest Impact Industrial or Missing Data EV Charging Station

Thereis no time for trickle-down electric vehicle infrastructure strategies. The time for EV for all is now.

In general, transportation accounts for more emissions than any other economic sector, such as industry or agriculture. Cars and trucks are responsible for one-third of all carbon dioxide emissions in the US, and passenger cars and trucks account for 82% of all transportation emissions.1 It would be remiss not to mention that electricity production is a close second to transportation in emissions production. However, unlike the fossil fuel industry, electricity can be produced with renewable energy. Today, over 20% of electricity is generated through renewables like solar, wind, or hydropower. This percentage continues to grow. In 2022, solar power generated over 50% of the country’s new electricity generating capacity.2

Electrifying transportation via renewable resources is critical to reducing and eliminating harmful greenhouse gas emissions.

While emissions are shared globally, zero-carbon transit is vital to our communities on the ground. Too many urban residents live along congested streets and major highways and suffer from disproportionate rates of life-threatening health conditions, like asthma.3 We cannot wait for the benefits of electric vehicles to trickle down to these overburdened and underserved communities. The benefits of electric vehicles need to be equitably accessible to all.

Prioritizing electric vehicle charging close to public transit is redundant. Cities need to take a more systematic approach to funding and facilitating EV expansion in areas without alternative green modes of transportation. The EVSE (electric vehicle supply equipment) for All Index is designed to be a starting point for a systematic approach.

In planning for an equitable EV transition, it is imperative to evaluate three key metrics:

51 MAPPING Planning an Equitable EV Transition
Cities need to take a more systematic approach to funding and facilitating EV expansion in areas wihout alternative green modes of transportation.

Equity Barriers

Source: 2021 US Census ACS data by census tract for a percentage of residents living below the poverty line and percentage of non-white vs white residents.

Pollution Burden Index Car Demand

Source: U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Office of Environmental Justice 2018 data on annual average fine particulate matter levels (2.5 g/ m3) and 2019 data on annual average diesel particulate matter levels ( g/m3) (2019) by census tract combined with U.S. Department of Transportation 2019 data on traffic proximity and volume data.

Source: 2021 US Census ACS data by census tract for a percentage of residents who rely on a car to commute to work.

52 150% Below Poverty Rate % Non-White Population High Low High Low 0 2 4 1 Miles Industrial or Missing Data Equity Barriers
0 2 4 1 Miles Industrial or Missing Data Low Pollution High Pollution Pollution Burden Index 0 2 4 1 Miles Industrial or Missing Data Low Demand High Demand Car Demand

Each census tract is scored for each metric. The EVSE for All Index is based on a total score of these three metrics. The Index maps out areas where new electric vehicle charging infrastructure may have a significant impact in Philadelphia. Future location selection may also consider

accessibility design, for example. The Index intentionally only uses data available for all census tracts around the country so that it’s replicable beyond Philadelphia. Its scoring methodology is flexible, so cities and counties can integrate location-specific data to enhance their analysis.

Lowest Impact

Highest Impact Industrial or Missing Data

53 MAPPING Planning an Equitable EV Transition
0 2 4 1 Miles
EVSE For All Index

The federal government is heavily investing in electric vehicles. States can access billions in federal infrastructure funding, and individuals can access thousands in tax credits.5 Emissions-free cars and trucks will likely account for 13% of all new auto sales globally in 2022 - up from 4% just two years earlier - signaling an upward trend in the share of these vehicles on the road. Local government can do its part, too. Identifying and streamlining sites for electric vehicle charging based on potential impact is feasible, urgent, and equity-focused.

The data, funding, renewable energy sources, and growing demand to invest equitably in our future are all there.

Now is the time to harness that energy.

Acknowledgments: A prior edition of this analysis was conducted for Dr. Allison Lassiter’s Intro to Smart Cities course in collaboration with Kathleen Scopis, Ivy Steinberg-McElroy, and Marissa O’Neill.


1 “Asthma Facts.” Asthma & Allergy Foundation of America, November 1, 2022.

2 “Frequently Asked Questions (Faqs) - U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA).” Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) - U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA).

3 In Philadelphia, only 4.5% of EV charging stations are within a 10 min walk of public housing residences.

4 “Solar Power Will Account for Nearly Half of New U.S. Electric Generating Capacity in 2022.” Homepage - U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA).

5 Temple, James. “The Inevitable EV: 10 Breakthrough Technologies 2023.” MIT Technology Review. MIT Technology Review, January 13, 2023.

About the Author: Laura Frances

Laura (she/her) is a first-year Master of City Planning student concentrating in Smart Cities. Before her time at Penn, Laura started an innovation consultancy called Built Interest based on the premise that too many real estate developers are bad creative problem solvers. She was hired to help owners manage the concept, the architect, and all things “people-centric” to create better places and spaces, from food halls in Toronto to zero-carbon offices in Berlin.

Delayed How Commercial Drones Can Offer Sustainable Goods Delivery & Why Regulatory Blunt Instruments Keep Your Environmental Footprint High
Your Order is
Photo Collage by Jonathan Zisk, Images from unsplash

Recent sustainability literature maintains that to achieve environmentally sustainable global practices, affluent individuals in the wealthiest, most developed countries of the world would have to reduce their consumption by somewhere between 40% and 90%.1 By virtue of the fact that goods delivery contributes significantly to an individual’s personal environmental emissions impacts, and compounded by the fact that companies like Amazon continue to invest in freight to buttress their capacities at 2-day and next-day delivery, 2 some literature puts the onus on wealthy individuals to reduce their demand for immediate goods delivery.

Lobbing a consumption reduction imperative of this scale upon the world’s wealthiest households will be about as successful as drawing blood from a stone. A culture of instant gratification and the omnipresent imperative of GDP growth render well-meaning consumption reduction initiatives unlikely to meet our climate goals and to keep our planet habitable.

Robust and immediate intervention to stem the environmental devastation wrought by modern goods consumption practices is needed. Given that carbon dioxide emissions from goods delivery—more precisely, freight transport—are expected to surpass the emissions levels of passenger cars by 2050, it’s time to get serious about immediately actionable ways to reduce the environmental impact of the goods freight industry. 3 Technology can play a more active role in moving freight transportation towards net zero global emissions. Flighted drones, known as unmanned

aerial vehicles (“UAVs”), can minimize the damage of consumption patterns and the commercial shipping/logistics sector in the United States. Mammoth companies already cite their potential environmental and fiscal benefits: Amazon shook the world in late 2013 when it announced its Amazon PrimeAir initiative, “a delivery service that uses unmanned aerial vehicles (drones) to deliver lightweight packages to customers in thirty minutes or less.”4 Likewise, DHL has developed a drone fleet and assessed the feasibility of replacing its entire capacity with drones, including international flight transportation of parcels and autonomous shipping and storage.5

These fleets could have enormous effects at reducing the environmental impact of goods delivery worldwide. But, in the United States, we are waiting for the blind tortoise of regulation to catch up.

My research on drone freight delivery is guided by a few initial questions: Is drone freight or distribution an environmentally responsible substitution for the modern truck-dependent freight delivery model? Is there a posited future anticipated use for drone-based freight? Are there scalar components related to the built environment that influence drones’ best environmental applications? And, can drones displace truck-based goods distribution in urban environments?

Scholarship shows that the potential environmental harm reduction from replacing fossil fuel and electric road vehicle delivery could be enormous. However,

ESSAY Commercial Drone Delivery

this transition is blocked by incongruent federal regulations. Likewise, the current patchwork of regulation presents significant safety and security risks that could be alleviated by leveraging geospatial mapping techniques that planners and spatial analytics professionals already have in their digital toolkits. The policy community needs to provide a pathway for the environmentally beneficial applications of commercial drones, which includes preparing for the eventual realities of airspace congestion by drones and their labor implications, which could jeopardize job stability for any the 3.5 million truckers employed in the United States.6

Differing Best Environmental Use Cases for Commercial Drones

Studies demonstrate that a business’ model and the context of the built environment can yield differing spatial best-applications for drones as an environmental alternative to conventional delivery methods. Planners note that differences in business use cases, built environment factors, and competing modes lead to different optimal environmental applications of drones. In the high-volume package delivery use case, which compares delivery drones to trucks (assumed as emissions standards-compliant FedEx Express Step Van), drones are particularly environmentally advantageous over trucks in high density delivery scenarios over short distances from the depot. Trucks, in this study, are favored in service zones that are farthest away from the depot with the most recipients.7 While with lower-volume pizza delivery, drones win out compared to fossil-fuel-based motorcycles and electric motorcycles in both environments, they demonstrate significantly less emissions and particulate

matter in the lower density, more geographically disparate scenario, than in a dense capital city.8

Although these studies do not point to an optimal blanket use case for delivery drones, they show that drones have the potential for environmentally sound function in either depot-based distribution models or in tackling the last-mile problem. Pivotally, the assumptions shared by the studies speak to drones’ freight sustainability potential. These studies assume uncongested traffic conditions for delivery trucks and motorcycles, that all deliveries of goods would be made on first attempt, with vehicle drivers routing correctly and over the most efficient routes by distance traveled with no detours.9 Even when motor vehicles stack up against drones in ideal, vacuum scenarios, they still cannot win out on environmental metrics.

What these studies make clear is that there are environmentally net-beneficial applications of commercial delivery drones compared to the status quo. Businesses would need only to be enabled to crunch the numbers to determine their most optimal drone-based use case.

Federal Regulatory Hurdles to Commercial Drone Applications (and Missteps) in the United States, 2022

Federal regulations to enable commercial drones have emerged at a detrimentally sluggish pace. The FAA, which aims to be the primary body regulating the use of UAVs, has done very little to regulate the use of drones, especially for commercial use, and the body’s hesitation is disruptive to existing scholarship on the benefits of drone tech. The FAA may be reticent to permit commercial drone usage primarily


for privacy and security concerns. As of December 2019, 22.7% of all scholarly pieces published about drones were concerned with protecting the privacy of people in the properties over which drones may fly. Another 22% were concerned with safety issues of drones, a plurality of the same were concerned with cooptation of drones by terrorists. However, at the same time, 23.9% of articles were concerned with adjusting current regulations,10 which are few, conflicting, and counterproductive.

Unsurprisingly, the FAA has applied the most stoppage power to commercial drone usage. Beginning in March 2012, a Silicon Valley startup named TacoCopter announced intentions to deliver tacos within San Francisco using UAVs. In response, the FAA signed a national moratorium on commercial drone activity.11 The potential applications for commercial drones broke into the larger public consciousness beyond the radius of Silicon Valley on December 1, 2013, when Amazon announced its development of Amazon PrimeAir.12 In 2015, in response to private sector pressures eager to explore the applications of drone technology, the FAA caved and provided some legal authorization for commercial drone experimentation.13

Existing Regulations – Prerequisites

FAA regulation on drones is scant. Most regulations focus on the operator’s credentials (have they sat through the required TSA-written and FAA-proctored exam to gain licensing to operate a drone?), the shape of

the drone, and how the operator can fly the drone. Current FAA regulations on commercial drones are limited to drones weighing less than 55lbs. 55lbs represents the upward cumulative weight limit of the drone plus its parcel load. In order for companies to operate drones commercially, they must apply for a permit—i.e., use of drones by companies is not as-of-right in the United States.14

Existing Regulations – Use of Drones

Once approved, drone operators “must observe the safety regulations restricting the flight area of drones to be away from private property, and at least six miles away from the airport.” 15 Commercial drone operators must adhere to “line of sight” regulations, outlined in the regulations referenced unaffectionately throughout the lexicon by its section name, Part 107. Part 107 maintains that a drone operator cannot allow a UAV to fly beyond the operator’s line-of-sight boundary, which is “usually not more than a few hundred yards.” 16 This regulation applies even if an operator is using First-Person View (“FPV”). Even if the operator is using FPV, the drone may not go beyond

59 ESSAY Commercial Drone Delivery
These fleets could have enormous effects at reducing the environmental impact of goods delivery worldwide. But, in the United States, we are waiting for the blind tortoise of regulation to catch up.

the line-of-sight boundary “at all times with unaided sight (e.g., no binoculars).”17 Other regulations prohibit commercial drones’ flying “at night,” “above 400 feet,” “faster than 100 miles per hour” and “over crowds of people.” 18 Likewise, as with recreational usages, all drones must be registered with the FAA, but the registration thereof only collects the operator’s personal information. All drones, likewise, must be compliant with the FAA’s restrictions on no-fly zones. But, as authors note, no-fly-zones change frequently (one sites the example of having the President in town for a parade).

Spatial mapping—or “geofencing”—of no-fly zones is an exciting issue where planners and spatial analytics practitioners can engage with drone policy. Unfortunately, debates on the authority of geofencing within public or private spheres have largely shrouded the fun and nerdy brainstorming on to how to design and regulate drone lanes in airspace.

Conclusions and Labor Concerns

In an absence of federal leadership and increasing proliferation of drones consumer and commercial use, states have taken to regulating drone usage themselves, dispelling any hopes for uniformity in drone aerospace regulation.19 These disparities and lack of any intestate oversight conduit has caused over 700 near misses

between drones and manned aircraft—and that frightening statistic comes just from the first eight months of 2015. 20 In 2022, despite the fact that drones and aircraft each contain sensors that send identical signals between vehicles and ground controllers, there are no regulations requiring that they communicate in the air. 21

The current state of US regulations regarding commercial drones undermines the environmental harm reduction potential incumbent in commercial drones’ numerous use cases. Regulations requiring avoidance of public property complicate and disrupt the environmental benefits of drone delivery, which operates efficiently and nimbly in linear flight paths.

Likewise, the line-of-sight regulations currently crush the practical commercial drone application of package delivery. Consider this in contexts when obstacles like trees or buildings would hinder flying drones very far, or when landing in urban or vegetative areas, drones have significant potential missed applications. Environments with these features constitute a huge portion of the United States’ land area use case for commercial drone delivery, and are where the majority of our population lives and consumes goods.

Currently, spatial regulations prevent drones from going places on a heuristic

...despite the fact that drones and aircraft each contain sensors that send identical signals between vehicles and ground controllers, there are no regulations requiring that they communicate in the air.

basis to protect against privacy violations and physical safety concerns. However, privacy and safety concerns can be mitigated by leveraging the geospatial data which planners and spatial analytics professionals have at their disposal.

Lastly, I would be remiss to mention that I hoped to complement my exploration of drones from an environmental and regulatory perspective with a third eye on labor economics. Anyone can infer that the proliferation of commercial drones will have some effect in forcing the obsolescence of trucking and other professionals in the logistics and supply chain sectors. Regrettably there is nothing discussing skills transferability between trucking to drone operation in the academic literature. What is clear is that a commercial transition to dronebased goods delivery renders human-labor undesirable, and will be a cost which goods shipping companies can look forward to cutting if and when commercial drone use becomes permissible.

Cutting human labor costs in favor of automation is often a managerial no brainer. However, an August 2022 article by Bookertrans, a consortium of independent owner operator trucking companies, found that only about half of the nation’s 1.8 million truckers, are employees of trucking companies. The other 1.7 million are owner operators of their own trucking businesses, a number that has grown over the last decade as online retail put a premium on reliable shipping. These owner operators often work as contractors for shipping companies. Their rates are more expensive than traditional employees—typically more than double that of an employee truck driver, at $180,000 a year—but are generally more willing to work through hours that enable fast goods delivery.22 It is not clear from the scholarship—or really, the lack there of—whether employee truckers or independent operator-contractors are most

threatened by commercial drone proliferation. Most scholarship takes for granted that drones can operate without human intervention, while regulation currently assumes one human operator for one drone at a given time. The existing scholarship makes no exploration of the skills transferability or potential jobs creation paralleling commercial drone rollout. Whether commercial drones roll out as fully autonomous or not, considerate and equitable attention needs to be expended to find a place for truckers, the primary employment group that the sustainable technological innovation of commercial drone delivery threatens to make obsolete.


1 Weidmann, Thomas, Manfred Lenzen, Lorenz T. Keyßer, and Julia K. Steinberger. “Scientists’ Warning on Affluence.” Nature Communications 11 (June 19, 2020).

2 Clark, Dave. “Introducing Our First Airplane: Amazon One.” About Amazon (blog), August 4, 2016.

3 Guerra, Erick. “Urban & Global Freight.” Class Lecture at the University of Pennsylvania, November 15, 2022.

4 Chen, Gina Y., “Reforming the Current Regulatory Framework for Commercial Drones: Retaining American Businesses’ Competitive Advantage in the Global Economy,” Northwestern Journal of International Law & Business 37, no. 3 (Summer 2017): 513-538.

5 Park, Jiyoon, Solhee Kim, and Kyo Suh. “A Comparative Analysis of the Environmental Benefits of Drone-Based Delivery Services in Urban and Rural Areas.” Sustainability 10, no. 888 (2018): 1–15.

6 Bookertrans. “What Percentage of Truckers

61 ESSAY Commercial Drone Delivery

Are Owner Operators.” Bookertrans (blog), August 6, 2022.

7 Goodchild, Anne, and Jordan Toy. “Delivery by Drone: An Evaluation of Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Technology in Reducing CO2 Emissions in the Delivery Service Industry.” Transportation Research Part D: Transport and Environment 61, no. A (June 2018): 58–67.

8 Park, Jiyoon, Solhee Kim, and Kyo Suh. “A Comparative Analysis of the Environmental Benefits of Drone-Based Delivery Services in Urban and Rural Areas.” Sustainability 10, no. 888 (2018): 1–15.

9 Goodchild, Anne, and Jordan Toy. “Delivery by Drone: An Evaluation of Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Technology in Reducing CO2 Emissions in the Delivery Service Industry.” Transportation Research Part D: Transport and Environment 61, no. A (June 2018): 58–67.

10 Kellermann, Robin, Tobias Biehle, and Liliann Fischer. “Drones for Parcel and Passenger Transportation: A Literature Review.” Transportation Research Interdisciplinary Perspectives 4 (December 9, 2019).

11 Koiwanit, Jarotwan. “Analysis of Environmental Impacts of Drone Delivery on an Online Shopping System.” Advances in Climate Change Research 9, no. 3 (September 2018): 201–207.

12 Chen, Gina Y., “Reforming the Current Regulatory Framework for Commercial Drones: Retaining American Businesses’ Competitive Advantage in the Global Economy,” Northwestern Journal of International Law & Business 37, no. 3 (Summer 2017): 513-538.

13 Koiwanit, Jarotwan. “Analysis of Environmental Impacts of Drone Delivery on an Online Shopping System.” Advances in Climate Change Research 9, no. 3 (September 2018): 201–207.

14 Chen, Gina Y., “Reforming the Current Regulatory Framework for Commercial Drones: Retaining American Businesses’ Competitive Advantage in the Global Economy,” Northwestern Journal of International Law & Business 37, no. 3 (Summer 2017): 513-538.

15 Park, Jiyoon, Solhee Kim, and Kyo Suh. “A Comparative Analysis of the Environmental Benefits of Drone-Based Delivery Services in Urban and Rural Areas.” Sustainability 10, no. 888 (2018): 1–15.

16 Calandrillo, Steve; Jason Oh; Ari Webb, “Deadly Drones: Why FAA Regulations Miss the Mark on Drone Safety,” Stanford Technology Law Review 23, no. 1 (Winter 2020): 182-251.

17 Ibid.

18 Ibid.

19 Chen, Gina Y., “Reforming the Current Regulatory Framework for Commercial Drones: Retaining American Businesses’ Competitive Advantage in the Global Economy,” Northwestern Journal of International Law & Business 37, no. 3 (Summer 2017): 513-538.

20 Tran and Nguyen

21 Ibid.

22 Bookertrans. “What Percentage of Truckers Are Owner Operators.” Bookertrans (blog), August 6, 2022.

About the Author: Lindsey Hover

Lindsey M. Hover is a graduating Master of City and Regional Planning candidate at the Weitzman School of Design at the University of Pennsylvania and a candidate for the Kleinman Center for Energy Policy’s Professional Certificate in Energy Management and Policy. Lindsey specializes in economic development projects and research that advances macro-level sustainability policy and equity.

63 ESSAY Commercial Drone Delivery
Photo by Jonathan Zisk

Anacostia River Corridor

Creating an equitable and resilient alternative to highway DC-295


Nando Micale

Danielle Lake


Anastasia Osorio


Riddhi Batra

Kelly Cary

Alex Charnov

Mia Cherayil

Lynn Chong

Madeline Csere

Henry Feinstein

Robby Hoffman

Nata Kovalova

Anastasia Osorio

Yuchen Wang

Marquise Williams

Shawn Li

Nell Pearson


InFall 2022, a Studio group of a dozen students in the UPenn Masters of City & Regional Planning program focused their study on the eight-mile stretch of Anacostia River in Washington, DC from US Joint Base Andrews property at the Southeast to the District’s boundary with Maryland to the north. For the purposes of this project, the area is referred to as the Anacostia River Corridor or the River Corridor.

Running directly though the River Corridor is a 6-mile stretch of DC-295, which is D.C.’s only state highway. The highway serves as an important regional and local connector, but is also a significant barrier for nearby residents.

The premise of this studio is to look critically at the future of transit and development in the Anacostia River Corridor, with a focus on creating an equitable and resilient alternative to the highway. The materials produced for this Studio provide the D.C. Office of Planning (DCOP) and the D.C. Office of Energy and Environment (DOEE) with the preliminary materials needed to start an advocacy planning process in the Anacostia River Corridor.

The UPenn students worked closely with instructors—Nando Micale, Principal with the Philadelphia studio of LRK, and Danielle Lake, LRK architect and urban planner/designer and UPenn alumni—on developing this plan. The Studio also benefited from input from select members of the District’s Office of Planning (DCOP), Office of Energy and Environment (DOEE), and the larger Anacostia Waterfront Corridor Working Group (Working Group).

Study area

The geographic focus of this project is a portion of Washington D.C. that spans from U.S. Joint Base Anacostia-Bolling in the south to the D.C.-Maryland border in the north. For the purposes of this project, the area is referred to as the Anacostia River Corridor or the River Corridor.

The Anacostia River Corridor contains multitudes. It includes the neighborhoods of Barry Farms, Anacostia, Fairlawn, Dupont Park, Greenway, Mayfair, Eastland Gardens, and Kenilworth. It also constitutes most but not all of Wards 7 and 8. The area interfaces with metro transit, freight rail, and numerous bus routes, and contains low-, medium-, and high-density residential areas as well as industrial and brownfield sites.

Running directly though the River Corridor is a 6-mile stretch of DC-295, which is D.C.’s only state highway. The highway serves as an important regional and local connector, but is also a significant barrier for residents.


As of 2020, there are 136,653 residents living in the River Corridor, which accounts for about one-fifth of the entire District of Columbia population (701,974). Despite being a large portion of the overall population, demographics across the Anacostia River look notably different across income and race.

The median income of households in Anacostia ($37,803) is significantly lower than DC ($82,604), as is the number of people living in poverty, with 28 percent in the

Anacostia River Corridor

study area versus the District’s 15 percent. The study area is predominantly Black and African-American, accounting for about 90 percent of the total population, compared to the District’s even share of White and Black residents (roughly 45% each).

The Corridor’s history of segregation and disinvestment highlights the importance of addressing the harm I-295 has caused this long-standing D.C. community.

DC-295 Highway

DC 295 is the only state route within the District of Columbia. It measures 4.9 miles total and is mainly composed two segments - 2.3 miles of Kenilworth Avenue Freeway that runs from the Maryland state line to north of East Capitol Street, which sees an annual average daily traffic count of about 100,905 vehicles, and 2.7 miles of Anacostia Freeway that connects I-295 south to Richmond up to East Capitol Street, which sees an annual average daily

Map of the study area and the location of DC-295 in the context of Washington, DC

traffic count of about 127,762 vehicles. 295 serves as a regional connector north to the Baltimore-Washington Parkway via Kenilworth Avenue, south on I-295 towards Richmond, and provides access to downtown Washington DC for Ward 7, Ward 8, and Prince Georges’ County MD.

Currently, improving pedestrian safety and mobility throughout the I-295/DC 295 corridor and across the Anacostia River has been the focus of DC’s Department of Transportation. The new Fredrick Douglass Bridge allows for improved bike space into Anacostia Park and for a safer crossing into the Navy Yard & Buzzard Point. MoveDC, the District’s Long-Range Multimodal Transportation Plan, identifies a number of communities with the greatest transportation needs, based on proximity to frequent transit, access to jobs and amenities, and safety risks. Many of these areas are also home to historically underserved communities of color, low-income

residents, and people with disabilities. The Anacostia River Corridor calls for a greater focus in transit equity to improve options for multimodal connectivity.

River culture

Southeast residents have important cultural ties to the Anacostia River, it is high time they had ease of access as well. We’re so inspired by personal stories like that of Rodney Stotts, whose recently published memoir, Bird Brother, chronicles how when he got involved with the Anacostia River cleanup efforts at the Earth Conservation Corps, his encounters with wildlife and nature on the river completely transformed his life, moving him to reflect that “the Anacostia River still weaves its way into my dreams”1. We think this opportunity to enjoy interacting with nature and communicating with wildlife is a fundamental human need that some communities have been cut off from. This project can serve as a vehicle to address that issue.

Photo: Rodney Stotts with Agnes, a Harris’ Hawk, by Greg Kahn,
Southeast residents have important cultural ties to the Anacostia River, it is high time they had ease of access as well.
River Corridor

20%: Rate


asthma among Ward 8 residents

After reviewing the story of highways, we have seen their historic and present harms, as well as how highwaysto-boulevards projects can serve as powerful tools for revitalization However, the other question to address is “why should we redevelop the DC-295 now?”

1. Health impacts are happening now. Despite significant environmental restoration gains and advocacy efforts made in the past 40 years, today, Anacostia River Corridor residents are still disproportionately impacted by environmental hazards including air pollution, as well as the impacts of climate change, especially flood risk and extreme heat. Although air pollution levels in DC are considered within safety standards, around 20% of residents in Ward 8 (which is partially included in

the Anacostia River Corridor), suffer from asthma compared to 12% in DC as a whole2 This difference can be tied closely to the presence of the highway.

2. Environmental risks are increasing. This plan focuses on creating sustainable and flood-resistant infrastructure, which will be critical as DC prepares for worsening flooding over the next 15 to 30 years. Due to global warming, sea levels are projected to rise subtantially over the coming decades. Since the Anacostia is part of the greater Chesapeake water system, as sea level rises and storms worsen, existing issues of stormwater overflow into the Anacostia River stand to be exacerbated, and have detrimental impacts on aging and overburdened infrastructure.

Photos, left to right: The DC-295 and neighborhood buildings in Wards 7 & 8, by students of the ARC Studio

3. Development pressures threaten housing security. A project at this scale presents a remarkable opportunity to address DC’s housing crisis. As covered later in this plan, a lot of land can be opened up for new development with the removal of DC-295. The implications of this could increase affordable housing supply within the corridor if managed appropriately, and reduce the cost-burden of rent and homeownership for residents of Wards 7 and 8.

4. The future of transportation is multimodal. The removal of DC-295 offers an opportunity to push both the Anacostia River Corridor and DC towards a multimodal future. While ARUP forecasts the total urban vehicle count to increase by 3% annually, the proportion of cities’ population growth is moving at a much

more rapid pace, bringing a shift in design paradigm from designing cities for cars to fitting vehicles into cities3.

5. There’s $$$ on the table. From a transportation perspective, federal funding will support Highway to Boulevard efforts through the Reconnecting Communities pilot program, which provides $1B over five years to reinvest in transportation infrastructure that better connects communities to economic opportunities4. For example, California recently announced $150M in state funding for a parallel program, with other states potentially following suit5. These funds can be distributed via planning grants to explore area-specific options that work for respective communities, making this the perfect time to begin exploring concrete alternatives to DC-295.

400: Predicted number of flooding events per year by 2045 in DC
Anacostia River Corridor STUDIO PROJECT
$1,024: Avg. gross rent increase from 2010-2022


Bringing down the highway offers opportunities to largely reshape the river corridor in several ways. In the course of our research, we identified three frameworks which capture the range of opportunities presented by a project of this size.

They are Connectivity, Ecology, and Development. In this section, we will discuss how these frameworks served as a guide to ensure our proposal meets the corridor’s most pressing challenges.


Despite its regional and local significance, there are connectivity challenges that the highway presents. The highway encourages a heavy reliance on driving, however, transit and other modes of travel are important for residents of the Anacostia River Corridor. Only 40% of households have access to a vehicle6. As a result, 2 out of every 5 corridor residents rely on transit to get to work7.

• To create safe and welcoming ways to access the riverfront park - for residents of all ages and abilities

• To improve connections between neighborhoods East of the River, and ensure more equitable access to goods and services

• To enhance access to and from jobs, opportunities, and attractions in the Greater DC area.


The River Corridor has enormous potential. The area boasts over 1,800 acres of parkland along the Anacostia River. By comparison, New York’s Central Park offers only 843 acres8. Boston’s Emerald Necklace sweeps in six linear miles around the city, compared to the Anacostia River Park’s nine-and-a-half mile circuit around both sides of the river. This waterfront includes more than 700 acres of water

The Pedestrian Friendliness Index accounts for the physical state of sidewalk infrastructure (Source: MoveDC, mapping by the ARC Studio)

and wetlands, including the stunning Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens.

• Use new roadway infrastructure as a vehicle for capturing water.

• Bake-in resilience strategies to any development that is triggered by the highway- to-boulevard intervention.

• Connect more people to nature through better park and recreation access.


In terms of development, the River Corridor has already seen a lot of construction activity in recent years. In the Historical Anacostia area alone, 2,600 new units of housing are in the pipeline, which outpaces the number of new units slated for many other parts of D.C.9 Relatedly, median home values and average

rents have continued to rise over the past decade. At the same time, the study area has a low homeownership rate and an aging housing stock. A fifth of the River Corridor has lived in their homes for 20 or more years and more than half of residents are considered cost burdened, spending more than 30% of their income on rent10.

• Increase housing stock while maintaining affordability and alleviating cost burden.

• Ensure new development is climate resilient and zoned for responsible land use.

• Ensure new development expands upon neighborhood character and amplifies existing assets.

Anacostia River Corridor STUDIO PROJECT
Over 600 buildings in the ARC lie in flood-risk areas, expected to double by 2030 (mapping by the ARC Studio)

Highway removal precedents around the world reflect three main ways to remove a highway: reroute the highway into an underground tunnel, convert the highway into a boulevard, and replace the highway entirely with a new or restored street grid. The table on this page lays out benefits and challenges of each approach.

Tunnel Benefits

• Traffic going north and south through the corridor remains continuous

• Improve health equity through removing pollutants, mitigating heat, and reducing flood risk

• Restore open space that increases biodiversity gains and improves climate resilience

• Increase access to public amenities, recreation, and active transportation

Tunnel Challenges

• Highest cost and longest time to implement

• Does not shift travel behavior away from polluting, private vehicles

• Likely requires high-end/ luxury development to recoup project costs which does not fit in with goals of equitable development or the existing neighborhood fabric.

Boulevard Benefits

• Maintain a high level of travel capacity throughout the corridor

• Create smoother connections to the riverfront recreation spaces

• Shape development along the boulevard, contributing to place- making and re-knitting efforts for the community

• Increase opportunities for resilience through the use of blue-green infrastructure assets lining boulevard and a depressed median

Boulevard Challenges

• Will require some former users of DC-295, especially those who use it for through travel, to shift away from driving motorized vehicles or take new routes

• Non-motorists could still face issues safely crossing at busier stretches of the boulevard

Removal Benefits

• Eliminate infrastructure barriers to open and recreational space for the community

• Expansive multimodal transit corridor investments would create new highcapacity connections north-south between existing neighborhood transit nodes, routes, and trails

• More green space and storm water interventions to address flood risks, air quality, and urban heat effects

• Catalyze development that amplifies existing assets and preserves neighborhood character

Removal Challenges

• Will require the largest change in travel behavior away from driving alongside the largest investments in transit.

• Biggest change from what exists today

In considering the Anacostia River Corridor and the advantages and challenges of each approach, the boulevard approach appears to be best suited for the local context and for advancing connectivity, resilience, and equitable development in the communities that surround DC-295.



Proposed boulevard segments

Proposed Bus Rapid Transit

Existing bike lane

Existing bike share station

Existing Metro station

Bus rapid transit on Van Ness in San Fransisco, CA Fredrick Douglass Bridge in Washington, DC Eastern Parkway in Brooklyn, NY Suburban artery turned Main Street in Huntsville, AL
Anacostia River Corridor

How can a boulevard conversion catalyze development — specifically, equitable development?

Existing conditions at the PEPCO site

Proposed development at the PEPCO site


Boulevards can take many forms from pedestrian-oriented main streets to higher capacity downtown thoroughfares. Some, like State Street in Madison, WI function as pedestrian-oriented main streets with bicycles, transit, and vehicles sharing lanes and traveling at low speeds. Downtown boulevards like the Bonaventure Expressway in Montreal have a dedicated right-ofway for transit and wide medians that host parks and bike share stations. Regardless of their context, boulevards have a few important things in common that prioritize people over cars:

• Multimodal travel lanes

• Wide range of vehicle capacity

• Frequent crossings to maximize connections

• Traffic calming measures like crossing islands and curb extensions

• Mixed commercial and residential development on one or both sides

While this project is mainly about the highway conversion, it is useful to imagine how a lot of these ideas could play out at a smaller scale through one specific site. example, namely, the PEPCO site at the north, where Benning Road and DC-295 intersect. Within this, we wanted to achieve certain outcomes that align with the connectivity, ecology, and development frameworks, including creating new river connections, increasing accessibility to amenities, and increasing the corridor’s housing supply through a mixed-income neighborhood model.

Why this site?

Interfacing directly with the boulevard, the site allows us to explore how the boulevard could affect future development.

Hosting non-renewable energy production and a trash-processing facility without proper environmental controls, the site has a history of environmental injustice and is a brownfield, which can be transformed into a community asset.

The PEPCO site is a good location to explore how highway removal and equitable development can improve access to the river and river trail.

The site is adjacent to varying residential and commercial typologies, providing an opportunity to develop with existing neighborhood characters.

How does this address the plan’s goals?

Connectivity: Plans for a multi-modal future of mobility, increases access to existing amenities, and strengthens connectivity between existing land uses.

Ecology: Forefronts the river as a community asset, initiates environmental reparations, and creates a constellation of green networks.

Development: Knits together existing land uses through compact, mixed-use development, increases mixed-income housing supply with zoning overlays to protect affordability, and creates a hub of transit-oriented development.

Anacostia River Corridor

1. Won’t removing the highway make traffic in neighborhoods worse?

It is true that this project will substantially alter the flow of transportation generally in this area. However, congestion is by no means inevitable. Traffic is ultimately a question not only of road capacity, but the decision-making of travelers and the alternatives available to them. In Providence, Rhode Island, the relocation of I-195 out of the city center actually improved travel times in the region by 20%11. Although this project differs rom the conversion of DC-295 into a boulevard in that it retained the presence of a high-capacity road, this dramatic reduction shows how much the right design choices can impact outcomes positively.

2. What is Bus Rapid Transit (BRT)? Why chose this over other options?

Because of cost, time, and performance, a BRT system would be a significant upgrade from the existing conventional buses servicing Wards 7 and 8 that could bring connectivity, air quality, and congestion improvements to the surrounding communities. a BRT system offers the benefits of high-capacity transit for a fraction of the cost and construction time 12. Compared to a regular bus, a Bus Rapid Transit, or BRT, system is considered high-capacity transit in that it has more frequent service, fewer stops, and faster travel speeds. Other characteristics of BRT often include dedicated lanes, stations with shelter and seating, and off-board fare collection which makes quick, all-door boarding possible.

3. How will this plan be inclusive of existing community?

There are several interventions that can be undertaken to ensure that the interests of residents and small businesses are represented in the development process. There are already a wealth of resources in DC including government initiatives and nonprofit organizations addressing community development and housing equity.

Some potential partnerships and models that the River Corridor might consider in the future include a Business Incubator and Ghost Kitchen, and partnerships with CDFIs to support businesses in economically-disadvantaged communities. Residential neighborhoods could benefit from a Special Zoning Overlay to ensure affordability and preserve neighborhood characteristics through the development of the PEPCO site, establish a Community Land Trust to build inter-generational wealth, and subsidize neighborhood developments through a Housing Production Trust Fund (HPTF).

The conversion of DC-295 into a boulevard is a great opportunity to advocate for city-wide policies and transit improvements to encourage a mode shift away from cars over the lifespan of this project.

4. Won’t the whole demolition and construction process be disruptive?

Remediation efforts such as streamlining design–construction phasing, advancing envrionmental remediation best practices, managing traffic through project phasing and rerouting, and keeping neighborhood fabric remediations net-affirmative could help reduce impacts of the construction process on surrounding neighborhoods.

The materials prepared over the course of this studio can be used to begin a community-led advocacy campaign around the future of DC-295, which would:

• Engage with River Corridor residents unlikely to participate in planning processes.

• Collaborate with existing advocacy networks and NGOs.

• Center community expertise to ensure meaningful community representation in discussions surrounding the future of DC-295.

In order to build and sustain the momentum of this effort, we believe that an advisory council should be formed. Advisory council members should live, work, worship, or play within the Anacostia River Corridor and be interested in seeing improvements in the area. This group could legitimize advocacy efforts, persuade local and citywide officials, and further educate area residents on the possibilities that arise with removing DC-295.


1. Stotts, Rodney, and Kate Pipkin. Bird Brother: A Falconer’s Journey and the Healing Power of Wildlife. Washington, DC: Island Press, 2022.

2. District of Columbia Department of Health. “Community Health Needs Assessment (CHNA).” Vol. 2, March 5, 2013.

3. ARUP. “Future of Highways.” Arup Foresight + Research + Innovation, November 2014.

4. U.S. Department of Transportation. “Reconnecting Communities Pilot Program – Planning Grants and Capital Construction Grants,” October 14, 2022.

5. Wang, Claire. “Federal Highway Removal Program Raises Hopes in California.” The American Prospect, May 16, 2022.

6. U.S. Census Bureau; 2020 American Community Survey 5-Year Estimates. Retrieved from (October 2022).

7. U.S. Census Bureau; 2020 American Community Survey 5-Year Estimates. Retrieved from data. (October 2022).

8. District of Columbia, Office of Planning. “Anacostia Waterfront Framework Plan,” November 2003.

9. Perry-Brown, Nena. “The 17 Developments in the Works Between Anacostia and Buena Vista.” Urban Turf, May 12, 2022.

10. U.S. Census Bureau; 2020 American Community Survey 5-Year Estimates. Prepared by Social Explorer (October 2022).

11. Sommer, Mark, “Is tearing down an elevated highway a good idea? Just ask Providence.” The Buffalo News, September 20, 2020,

12. Cervero, Robert. “Bus Rapid Transit (BRT): An Efficient and Competitive Mode of Public Transport.” Berkeley Institute of Urban Development, August 2013.


Found poem

The City for each of the congregants.

kids zip around aimlessly on motorbikes

Trains sit motionless on their tracks. Schools are silent. Libraries and laundromats languish in decay

The City that has survived occupations, famine, and corruption - and outlasted national governments

Holiest Site for The summer evening

The freewheeling and polyglot spirit


This poem was created using found clippings. Find out more about Alex on p. 132.


Increasing SEPTA Bus Operators’ Restroom Access

A Task for Multiple Forces

One of the lesser-discussed issues surrounding public transit systems throughout the United States is the access to, and availability of, bathrooms for vehicle drivers. This is particularly relevant for bus drivers, who often drive routes that do not start or stop at established stations and are more susceptible to being behind schedule for o following trips. In a Department of Labor investigation into King County Metro Transit, which services Seattle and its surrounding areas, investigators found that operators have had alarmingly inadequate restroom access; bus drivers often have to resort to wearing diapers or even urinating in their seats1. One operator even reported developing IBS (irritable bowel syndrome) after twenty years of working in such conditions2.

Philadelphia is no exception to this widespread issue. In a 2016 SEPTA driver strike, strike captain and bus operator Hondu Brown, attests to the fact that bus drivers are often asked to skip the breaks they are required to have at the end of each run to make up for schedule delay3. This approach to delay strips operators of a basic human need and right. Although the SEPTA strike ended eight years ago, it is unclear based on publicly available information whether

drivers’ restroom needs are truly being met in the present. In the fall of 2019, three-quarters of SEPTA bus routes, including all routes with high ridership, did not meet the 80% on-time performance standard4. Further, the SEPTA bus system has been inundated with delays for the last two years following ridership losses from the COVID-19 pandemic, exacerbating existing issues for drivers5.

The first step towards fixing this issue is for SEPTA, the City of Philadelphia, and the public, to acknowledge its importance. In Washington, D.C., bus operators, activists, and the local transit union pressured the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) for similar restroom access concerns. In response, WMATA officials quoted an existing policy that guarantees operators’ right to aid in securing the bus in order to use a restroom facility along their routes by notifying the Bus Operations Control Center6.

Though important, we believe a policy can only be effective when transit agencies acknowledge drivers’ inherent rights and set clear guidelines and accommodations for persistent concerns. Some of these concerns have been listed as follows:


• Inadequate access to restrooms is a health and safety problem because drivers are at risk of urinary infections, dehydration, and fatigue.

• Because bus routes are fluid in nature and often delayed, bus drivers will not be disciplined for using the restroom when late on schedule.

• The quantity of restrooms has to be increased, and just as importantly, followed up by maintaining their quality, cleanliness, and physical accessibility.

Mapping and Evaluating Bathroom Access

A critical component of guaranteeing bathroom access is geographic availability – where are the bathrooms located? When trying to identify where SEPTA drivers and commuters can access bathrooms along bus routes, little information is available besides that routes “must have a bathroom at the end of the route for drivers to use during their short breaks between runs7.” Usually, these end-of-route stops are either transportation centers in the urban core or smaller facilities in suburban neighborhoods, such as…. the scare mapping of which has raised frustrations for both

riders and drivers. In Boston, a Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA) rider Miles Taylor made an effort to map all bathrooms on the system’s key rapid transit and bus routes based on field observations8, a crowdsourced initiative that highlighted the need for an official map. No less important than bike racks or benches, bathrooms are an amenity that need to be publicly visible.

Building Upon SEPTA’s Efforts

The 2021 SEPTA Bus Revolution aims to improve bus quality, service, and reliability through route simplification, along with making routes more relevant to post-pandemic demand patterns9. Ideally, these implementations, which will commence on=ground in the spring of 2023, will work to limit the number and severity of delays that affect the bus network. With fewer delays, drivers may have more time in-between runs to take breaks and use the restroom. However, this cannot be left as a desirable side effect of system improvements. Ensuring that SEPTA employees are guaranteed a right that has been previously denied needs to be an integral part of the Bus Revolution process. A more reliable bus system must benefit both transit riders and bus operators.

The first step towards fixing this issue is for SEPTA, the City of Philadelphia, and the public, to acknowledge its importance.
Increasing SEPTA Bus Operators’ Restroom Access
Graphic: Micah Epstein, Morgan Griffiths, and Ran Wang for ‘Boston’s Mobility Future’ Studio, Fall 2022

When we asked about whether and how Bus Revolution is going to help address this issue, officials at SEPTA responded similarly, with an emphasis on the fact that better schedules will help operators as well. In addition, restroom access will be consolidated as contractual, and there are investments being made to improve endof-line facilities for operators. For lines without dedicated end-of-line facilities including transportation centers and end loops, SEPTA has relied on partnerships with private facilities, such as shopping malls, to offer restroom access to operators. Recently changing ownerships, business shutdowns, and general lack of enforceability within agreements make these partnerships difficult to uphold. As such, contractual access and more reliable operation schedules are a good basis for restroom access but need to be further built out and prioritized for meaningful impact.

Strengthening Partnerships with Private Facilities

One way to make lasting improvements to access could be through cooperative action involving both SEPTA and the City of Philadelphia. Investing in new bathrooms at SEPTA’s end-of-line facilities can be

expensive and time-consuming, so an alternative to solidify physical access to bathrooms is by strengthening partnerships with private facilities at end-of-line stops. The city could aid with facilitating private businesses’ provision of public bathrooms by requiring them in business permits or by providing a financial incentive to maintain accessible bathrooms. Furthermore, although the proposed goal is to protect

Incorporating bathroom access into system improvements may not be easy but is an essential change attainable through physical intervention and policy adjustment.
Increasing SEPTA Bus Operators’ Restroom Access
Map: Miles Taylor, ‘Unofficial MBTA Bathroom Map’; adapted by Micah Epstein, Morgan Griffiths, Ran Wang for ‘Boston’s Mobility Future’ Studio, Fall 2022

bus operators’ access to restrooms, these measures would have a broader benefit for the city by increasing public facilities.

Incorporating bathroom access into system improvements may not be easy but is an essential change attainable through physical intervention and policy adjustment. With more stakeholders acknowledging the problem and its impact, increasing SEPTA bus operators’ access to bathrooms becomes a multi-force task.

Outside of Bus Revolution efforts, locating and evaluating the status quo of existing bathrooms should be the first step. The City can contribute to this process by activating partnerships with private facilities to maintain bathrooms at non-SEPTA-owned end-of-line stops. Currently standing with a shortage crisis of bus operators, it’s not hard to understand that mental and physical health of a transit system’s workforce is the basis for a reliable and sustainable bus system, which, in turn, empowers the


1 Lazo, “Bus Drivers Forced to ‘Go’ on the Bus Because They Don’t Have Access to Restrooms, Union Says.”

2 Stangler, “Toilet Troubles Plague Bus Drivers Across The US.”which can pose health and safety risks.”,

3 Owens, “SEPTA’s Striking Bus Drivers Are Tired of Being Tired.”

4 Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority, “SEPTA State of the Bus System.”

5 Fitzgerald, “SEPTA Bus Riders Are Frustrated by Persistent Delays. Officials Say a Shortage of Drivers Is to Blame.”

6 Lazo, “Bus Drivers Forced to ‘Go’ on the Bus Because They Don’t Have Access to Restrooms, Union Says.”

7 Saksa, “SEPTA Previews New Bus Route to Link University City with Brewerytown, Fairmount and Grays Ferry.”

8 Taylor, “The Unofficial MBTA Bathroom Map! | Miles in Transit.”

9 Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority, “SEPTA Forward.”

Sources Fitzgerald, Thomas. “SEPTA Bus Riders Are Frustrated by Persistent Delays. Officials Say a Shortage of Drivers Is to Blame.” Https://Www.Inquirer. Com, September 18, 2021, sec. Transportation, transportation, transportation.

Lazo, Luz. “Bus Drivers Forced to ‘Go’ on the Bus Because They Don’t Have Access to Restrooms, Union Says.” Washington Post, June 24, 2015.

Owens, Cassie. “SEPTA’s Striking Bus Drivers Are Tired of Being Tired.” Billy Penn (blog), November 5, 2016.

Saksa, Jim. “SEPTA Previews New Bus Route to Link University City with Brewerytown, Fairmount and Grays Ferry.” WHYY, March 29, 2017.

Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority. “SEPTA Forward: Bus Revolution,” 2021.

SEPTA. “SEPTA State of the Bus System.” Bus Revolution, January 2022.

Stangler, Cole. “Toilet Troubles Plague Bus Drivers Across The US.” International Business Times, March 1, 2015, sec. Business.

Taylor, Miles. “The Unofficial MBTA Bathroom Map! | Miles in Transit.” Miles in Transit (blog), September 1, 2019.


About the Author: Jasmine Wu

Jasmine Siyu Wu (she/her/hers) is a Master of City Planning canditate concentrating on Sustainable Transportation and Infrastructure Planning. When completing a B.S. in GeoDesign at the University of Southern California, she built new interests in urban informatics, spatial data sciences, environmental justice, and transportation planning. Since September 2021, she has been contributing to the accessibility and equity research on teen driving education, and is dedicated to building an active, safe, efficient, and just transportation system by taking advantage of scientific and technological development in other fields.

About the Author: Zoe Yoo

Zoe Yoo (she/her) is a Master of City Planning candidate focusing on Sustainable Transportation and Infrastructure Planning. Her interests in urban planning began in high school as passions for environmental justice and human-oriented urban design; and developed towards using transportation planning and geospatial analysis as methods of supporting equity while completing a B.A. in Sustainable Environmental Design at the University of California, Berkeley. She previously interned for the City of Philadelphia’s Office of Transportation, Infrastructure, and Sustainability, and currently works to support transit safety at Transportation Resource Associates.

Increasing SEPTA Bus Operators’ Restroom Access

Three Case Studies on Transit Equity

Cities change faster than we give them credit for. At the same time, recent advancements in transportation planning optically achieve change without lessening the pervasive inequities in our infrastructure. Bike lanes, shared micromobility systems, and a fully electrified Northeast Corridor have failed to shift us away from reliance on cars, yet we continue to rest our hopes for the future of urban transportation on their shoulders. An earnest pursuit of transportation equity requires us to iterate on the achievements of planners of the last decades and recalibrate our approach to building equitable cities. I isolate three topics to illustrate places where I see planners’ good intentions going awry in the form of half measures and contradictory projects that reinforce inequitable transportation systems. Work towards transit equity requires that we’ll all interrogate and recalibrate the implicit assumptions in our street designs, neighborhood plans, and policy aspirations.

These topics dance around a concept of transportation equity that I think of in terms of how many people switch to sustainable transportation modes, how safe people are on our streets, and how many jobs people can access by transit.

Our efforts toward transit equity need to actually change how people move and how safely they move through our cities. As long as access to a well working car is essential for mobility, it will be impossible to lift millions of Americans out of poverty and stem the tide of climate degradation. Our generation of planners has a remarkable opportunity to build on the work done before us and ask cities to keep changing rapidly, as they always have.

Everyone Should Feel Safe on Complete Streets

My first case study is the story of a lawsuit in Washington, DC, where disability activists accuse the District of violating the Americans with Disabilities Act by constructing parking protected bike lanes.1 The activists highlight how complete streets redesigns fail to welcome all road users into public streetscapes, but rest their case on an assumed right to curb access from private vehicles. Our streets should be amazing to bike and walk on, but should also be amazing to drive on for those who need to. Bike lanes are too often uni-dimensional solutions to our complex problems with street space. We need to think outside of the car lane / bike lane dichotomy and reimagine what it would look like to build spaces that all people can move through equitably.


The plaintiff’s case alleges that the city practices “systemic discrimination … against tens of thousands of people with mobility disabilities with respect to the design of its streets, on-street parking, and particularly in the ongoing redesign of streets to add miles of protected bike lanes.”2 Their main concern is that DC’s protected bike lanes prevent those with mobility impairments from safely accessing street curbs from vehicles. I am both sympathetic to the plaintiff’s frustrations and concerned by their claim to a personal right to curb access. Sidewalks are the essential public space for travel and socializing, yet their access is almost always limited by personal vehicle parking in our cities. Everyone has the right to step-free access to our public spaces, but no one has the right to curb access in all scenarios. Curbs are crude delineators between car space and pedestrian space but it doesn’t have to be this way. Streets can be for cars and people and cyclists all at the same time.

The lawsuit cites the 17th Street NW protected bike lane as an example of the city’s discriminatory infrastructure projects. I walked along those blocks on a rainy day in January and saw how incongruous they were with their surroundings. The bike

lanes are inserted into a busy thoroughfare lined with office buildings and four lanes of traffic. To protect cyclists from that traffic, the bike lanes feature no loading zones or blended turn lanes – necessary measures to preserve the right of way against scofflaw parkers. I understand why those with mobility impairments find curb access so difficult, but I’m dismayed that they blame the bike lanes, and not the four lanes of 30 mph traffic that make unloading so perilous.

One street away, along two blocks of 16th Street, the District recently subdivided a similarly wide boulevard into three road segments that defy classification as car lanes, bike lanes, or sidewalks. The street illustrates what a more equitable redesign of 17th Street could have looked like.3

It is within planners’ power to design a “complete” street that welcomes all travel modes into public space – pedestrians, public and private vehicles, and cyclistseven if a century of auto-centric planning has convinced us that streets and curbs are for private vehicles only. 17th Street is designed to do too many things now, including moving cars and cyclists quickly through a downtown core. If one of those

87 ESSAY Three Case Studies on Transit Equity
Recent advancements in transportation planning optically achieve change without lessening the pervasive inequities in our infrastructure.

tasks is an impediment to access for those with mobility impairments, then surely it’s the cars. The 900 block of 16th Street does all of the same things with one caveat – cars must move slowly and deliberately over it. 16th Street blurs the lines between street spaces, thus making all users safer.

Traffic Enforcement over Traffic Policing

Multimodal street designs have to be paired with equity-focused enforcement measures. However, recent bills that advance racial equity in policing fail to take the safety of vulnerable road users into account. Violations like tampered license plates and burned-out taillights should never require the involvement of the

The 17th street bike lane (left) makes no room for accessible curb access, but lots of room for through traffic. The 16th street complete streets plaza (right) breaks the dichotomy of bike lane versus car lane and opens the street for all uses at a safe speed. Photos by Jonathan Zisk

criminal justice system, but now in Philadelphia, they are enforced by no one. We need to work towards a just enforcement of traffic laws for the sake of spatial equity and safety, rather than as a mass surveillance tactic for our police force.

Philadelphia’s Driving Equity Bill is a landmark step towards distancing police from preying on minor vehicular violations, yet it sets a precedent for abolishing any official enforcement of vehicular laws instead of simply distancing police from enforcing those laws.4 As of March 2022, the bill reclassifies seven vehicle code violations so police officers can no longer use them as a pretext for pulling over a driver. The reclassified vehicle codes include those for broken brake lights, missing inspections or emissions stickers, missing or moved license plates, bumper dents, missing or obstructed headlights, or missing vehicle registration stickers.5 Before the bill was passed, Black drivers accounted for 72% of the traffic stops in Philadelphia, compared to just 15% for white drivers. However, the arrest rate for Black drivers and for white drivers was equal. This indicates how police are inclined to pull over Black drivers with less certainty for the vehicular crimes that might be committing. Keir Bradford-Grey, Philadelphia’s chief public defender, testified in favor of the bill, noting that “[w]hen [police] stopped white drivers, they were for more legitimate purposes and they actually did things that advanced … public safety measures”. 6

Councilmember Isaiah Thomas introduced the bill in response to the wave of political reform for racial equity and in

light of his own experiences as a Black driver in Philadelphia. The councilmember noted that, “as a coach, I often have a whistle hanging from my mirror. This same motor vehicle code violation initiated the traffic stop that led to Daunte Wright, Philando Castile, and so many others’ deaths.” 7 Councilmember Thomas underscores the immediate importance of distancing police from traffic enforcement in America, but he fails to imagine a future with traffic enforcement with street safety and transit equity in mind.

The political stain of policing in America makes it incredibly difficult to provide adequate protection for vulnerable road users. Philadelphia’s bill is not alone, as other progressive policing reforms are similarly constrained in scope. In July 2022, the DC City Council passed “clean hands” legislation that allows drivers with over $100 in unpaid road violations to renew their licenses.8 While such legislation is essential for financial equity in our cities, it once again cedes political control over the strategic enforcement of moving violations on our streets. Financial debt should never be a barrier to mobility, but the DC Council didn’t replace the previous restriction on license renewal with any strategy for limiting the registration of drivers who have accrued fines for consistent dangerous driving behavior.

Working towards transportation equity requires us to reimagine how we enforce laws on our roads. Enforcement should protect vulnerable road users and drivers alike. It’s hard to imagine that happening when the enforcers carry weapons and the

89 ESSAY Three Case Studies on Transit Equity

looming threat of criminal justice involvement. Cities should establish independent public authorities not dissimilar from the Philadelphia Parking Authority to police all matters of road violations. The authorities should have close relationships with existing transportation agencies and return their collections to the improvement of regional transportation systems.

We Know How to Spend Money on Infrastructure

Contrary to popular belief, the United States is very good at spending money on transportation projects. The only problem is that we seldom get anything in return for our investments – no mode shift, no reduction in congestion, no decline in carbon emissions, no safety improvements. Much of this comes in the form of the Federal Government’s relationship with transportation operations. While the Federal Transportation Administration (FTA) loves handing out billions for landmark bridges, tunnels, and highway expansions, they decreasingly concern themselves with the day-to-day logistics of transportation in America – from 1980 until 2019, FTA’s contribution to SEPTA’s operating budget dropped from 19 percent in to 5 percent.9

Interestingly, the FTA recently dipped more into funding transportation operations that they ever have before. As part of the Covid-19 emergency period, the FTA distributed CARES act funding to transit agencies across the country so that operations

would stay afloat during the crisis period. Now that funds from the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) are ready for allocation, the FTA is turning away from transit operations and instead wants to find landmark projects that will make for glowing headlines tomorrow and saccharine ribbon cuttings in 2026. This return to the trend of declining Federal funding for

transit operations will bring spectacularly wasteful projects into the headlines and let day-to-day service fall to the wayside again.

As part of their Construction Costs project, Alon Levy has written about a number of our most wasteful projects on the blog Pedestrian Observations.10 One of Levy’s pieces that I find illustrative of our wasteful transportation spending concerns the relationship between the New Jersey High Speed Rail Improvement Program and Moynihan Train Hall at New York Penn Station. To save business and wealthy riders a total of 100 seconds off their trips, the New Jersey High Speed Rail program spent $450 million to upgrade Amtrak Acela speeds to 150 mph over 16 miles of track north of Princeton Junction. At the same time, Amtrak opened the beautiful Moynihan Train Hall attached to Penn

After two decades of fighting for scraps of streetscapes, planners need to be willing to challenge existing practices so that we can honor the importance of our public spaces.

Station. The train hall cost $1.6 billion and shifts Amtrak travelers away from the overcrowded warren of Penn Station. However, the train hall is also across one block west of the old Penn Station platforms, and thus drops travelers a block short of Subway access to the 3 Subway lines on 7th Avenue and 8 Subway lines on 6th Avenue. The time tax penalties of moving Amtrak platforms far outweigh the benefits of speed increases to the south in New Jersey. While the completion of both projects in 2021 should have been a banner achievement for Amtrak, the synergy of the two adds a few minutes to the trips of any Manhattan-bound passengers – surely not what the New Jersey High Speed Rail Improvement Program was meant to achieve.

Despite an interest in spectacular station renovations, Amtrak and its partnering commuter railways have shown no interest in improving operations at their major hubs. Though Moynihan Train Hall was a landmark project for Amtrak, it is soon to be outshined by complete transformations planned for Union Station in DC, Penn Station in Baltimore, the existing Penn Station in New York City, and a further $400 million for renovations at 30th Street Station in Philadelphia. None of these projects will expand the capacity of these stations or introduce new train services.

The FTA’s focus on infrastructure over operations permeates the funding climate and thus the ambitions of our transportation agencies. Operations are the key to providing genuine regional connectivity without relying on most Americans to travel in personal vehicles. Until the FTA’s relationship

with transit operations shifts in earnest, we will be consigned to a world in which gleaming, new stations serve a dearth of expensive trains for wealthy travelers.


In the last few years I became the resident city planner in any social situation where friends, family, or the dimmest acquaintances shared their observations about the roadways and transit services we all share. My lack of planning credentials notwithstanding, I am always happy to engage, and to many of their surprise, I concede many points. Yes, new bike lanes don’t always achieve the results we have in mind. Yes, drivers take far too many liberties with public space and we do a poor job of policing it. Yes, transit construction prices are quite high for the meager service we receive in return for our investments. The beauty of public space and public money is that everyone has an opinion on how it gets used, and when they see half measures and ineffective action, they call it out.

I hope the topics I cover lead to conversations about actions that earnestly improve the spatial equity of our cities and fight climate change. What if bike lanes on arterials are not the best way of allocating road space? I, for one, am less likely to bike when I feel like I’m being used as a human traffic calming device. Likewise, though cities are making policy strides to improve the racial equity of vehicular code enforcement, we are left in a vacuum where a lack of enforcement constitutes its own equity and safety problem. Finally, we need to learn how to spend our meager infrastructure funds on work that promotes access and accessibility over aesthetics. Frequency is freedom,

91 ESSAY Three Case Studies on Transit Equity

and improvements in operations should always come before expansions in flashy infrastructure and speed upgrades – I would rather have more trains to choose from than a modest speed upgrade along my current trip.

After two decades of fighting for scraps of streetscapes, planners need to be willing to challenge existing practices so that we can honor the importance of our public spaces. This process amounts to a critical recalibration of urban design for equity that imagines our streets as comfortable, socially viable, and economically powerful spaces. Philadelphia didn’t institute a cycling plan for the city until 2000, and by 2009 built over 200 miles of cycling lanes. Now that these bike lanes are entrenched in our understanding of what belongs on city streets, we can begin to ask more of them. Every street in the city will be repaved in the next fifty years, so what do we want them to look like?


1 Kim, Sarah. “Disability Groups File Federal Lawsuit Against D.C. Over Protected Bike Lanes.” DCist (blog), November 23, 2022.

2 DC Center for Independent Living; Dupont East Civic Ac�on Associa�on, Dana Bolles, Theodosia Robinson vs. District of Columbia; and Muriel Bowser, in Her Official Capacity, 1:22-cv03451 (US District Court, District of Columbia. November 21, 2022).

3 DCist. “D.C.’s Black Lives Ma�er Mural Is Gone. The City Plans On Bringing It Back — With New Traffic Lanes.” Accessed January 30, 2023.

4 WHYY. “Philly’s Driving Equality Act Takes on Added Importance a�er Tyre Nichols’s Death, Ac�vists Say.” Accessed February 4, 2023.

5 Krzaczek, Ka�e. “8 Common Traffic Viola�ons No Longer Warrant a Police Stop in Philly.” h�ps://, March 3, 2022.

6 WHYY. “With Hard-Won Support of Philly’s Top Cop, Bill to Ban Minor Traffic Stops Moves Ahead.” Accessed January 28, 2023.

7 Jackson, George. “Councilmember Thomas Introduces Driving Equality Bill.” Defender Association of Philadelphia (blog), October 29, 2020.

8 Elwood, Karina. “D.C. Drivers Who Owe Fines Can Now Renew Licenses, New Court Order Says.” Washington Post, January 6, 2023.

9 DVRPC’s Options for Filling the Region’s Transportation Funding Gap, Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission, October 2007; Fiscal Year 2019 Operating Budget, SEPTA, August 9, 2018.

10 Pedestrian Observa�ons. “Why Moynihan Sta�on Has Nega�ve Transporta�on Value,” December 31, 2011.


About the Author: Jonathan Zisk

Jonathan is a first-year City Planning student concentrating in Sustainable Transportation and Infrastructure Planning. He is also a content editor at Panorama

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Creative street use for a “streatery” at Loco Pez, 47th and Baltimore: constructued 2020, demolished 2023. Digital Drawing by Jonathan Zisk

Affordable Housing Preservation

Identifying and Preserving At-Risk Subsidized Properties in Philadelphia

In2021, IBID Associates announced they would sell the University City Townhomes to capitalize on the rising land values associated with decades of university-driven gentrification. The UC Townhomes is a federally subsidized affordable housing property at 40th and Market and has been the home to 70 working-class and low-income predominantly black families in West Philadelphia since its construction in 1983. This sale would allow IBID Associates to realize an immense monetary profit at the expense of residents losing their homes. While the property was last valued at 10 million dollars, estimates projected the sale in the 75-100 million dollar range given the lucrative potential of the land for the growing life sciences industry in the area. The historical tragedy is that these homes were built as a small compensation for the injustice of the mass displacement and demolition of Black Bottom, a historically working-class African American neighborhood, to make room for the expansion of Penn’s campus into West Philadelphia during the era of Urban Renewal.

The sale of the UC Townhomes highlights the growing affordable housing retention crisis across Philadelphia and the country. While increasing in scope, this is not a new

problem. In the 1960s and 1970s, the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) subsidized private developers to provide affordable housing for low-income families. These subsidies had time-limited contracts that only required the private landlord to charge affordable rents for a limited period of time, ranging from 15 to 40 years.1 Through this approach, HUD assisted more than 22,000 properties and 1.5 million units nationally, all governed by time-limited affordability covenants.2 Currently, there is limited federal programmatic support for new large-scale subsidized housing projects, while at the same time, the old contracts and mortgages are expiring.

It is a critical challenge to ensure that federally assisted affordable housing is preserved when owners decide not to renew an expiring project-based Section 8 contract.3 Because the law allows owners of Section 8 project-based housing to “opt-out” of preserving their properties as affordable once the contract expires, thousands of Philadelphia families living in subsidized housing are at risk of losing their affordable housing. The likelihood of an owner opting out increases in conjunction with certain risk factors at both the property and neighborhood levels.

This report appraises the current stock of project-based affordable housing in Philadelphia


and evaluates the likelihood of owner optout according to a risk assessment metric including property level characteristics (size of the property; the size of units; target tenants; type of owner; and rents 80 below the FMR) and neighborhood level characteristics (median rent; median home value; percentage of renters, development permits; and real estate transfers). Based on this analysis, the report identifies 341 federally subsidized affordable housing properties (20,869 units) set to expire and 23 properties with an elevated risk of opting out in the next ten years, with a score of six or more on our risk assessment metric. Finally, this report highlights creative responses, including local and national strategies, to maintain permanently affordable housing by de-commodifying housing markets.

Opting out of Subsidized Housing

Congress did not plan for the evolution or expiration of subsidized housing programs. The looming crisis of affordable housing loss is partially attributable to the expiration of affordability contracts created by the Section 8 and LIHTC programs in the 1960s-80s. For example, within the LIHTC program alone, 400,000 units reached the end of their 15-year mandates by 2009, which has

significant implications for the affordable housing supply. 4

The risks to existing affordable housing depends on the likelihood of owners opting out of their contracts. Existing research suggests that the risk of optout is closely associated with the type of ownership, the physical condition of the property, and the characteristics of the local housing market. 5 Therefore, we must be prepared to understand Philadelphia’s housing market and the characteristics most likely to present risks to current affordable housing.6

This analysis focuses on possible risk factors in increasing the likelihood of subsidy exit. According to these criteria, we identify Philadelphia properties most at risk within the next ten years. I hypothesize which factors will most predict ownership opt-out: including property-level variables (such as property size, owner type, and target demographics) and neighborhood-level variables (such as housing market, housing tenure, development activity, and real estate market). Finally, I anticipated that for-profit landlords have a higher incentive to sell and are more likely to opt-out as the value of the properties increases. This is exemplified by the UC Townhomes example.

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...government intervention in housing affordability did not anticipate the expiration of contracts and changing housing market conditions, and did not develop a proactive plan to address ... lapsing affordability contracts.

Impact on Philadelphia

According to a study by the Harvard Joint Center for Housing Studies, over twothirds of both renter and homeowner households with incomes under $15,000 spend more than half of their income on housing.7 Within the Philadelphia metro area, over 47.1% of renters have severe cost burdens, and 36.4% have moderate cost burdens (122,400 households with housing cost burdens). This ranks the Philadelphia Metro as 41 of 382 within the United States for housing cost burden.8

The loss of affordable housing will disproportionally affect minority populations within Philadelphia. There is a clear racial disparity in project-based housing in Philadelphia. Ethnically and racially minoritized people account for over 80% of residents of all project-based housing in Philadelphia but only account for 65.5% of the city

population.9 Within that percentage, about 63% of the public housing is occupied by black residents, while comprising only 44% of the Philadelphian population.10 The legacy of racist housing policy and urban renewal programs have created the conditions by which the loss of affordable housing will disproportionately affect the housing security of minority populations, with black residents particularly affected. The loss of affordable housing represents a critical racial equity issue in Philadelphia.11


There are 341 active subsidized properties in Philadelphia, with 20,869 total units. Of these, 62 properties (2,103 units) will see all their subsidies expire within the next five years; 107 properties (4,310 units) will expire within ten years; and 250 properties (13,840 units) are set to expire within 20 years. All these affordable properties

Property Name Property Address Zip Total Units Owner Subsidy End Date UNIVERSITY CITY TOWNHOUSES 3990 Market St 19104 70 IBID ASSOCIATES LIMITED PARTNERSHIP 7/8/2022 DYNASTY COURT 1011 Race St 19107 56 AJ DYNASTY LLC 10/12/2022 SANDRO MEDORI 1731 S Dorrance St 19145 1 SANDRO MEDORI 1/1/2023 LANDRETH APARTMENTS 1201 S 23rd St 19146 51 PENNROSE PROPERTIES 1/1/2023 1130 LATONA STREET 1130 Latona St 19147 1 STEVEN L GIBBONE 1/1/2024 GRAYS FERRY PARCEL 087 3100 Wharton St 19146 71 THE MICHAELS ORGANIZATION 1/1/2024 POINT BREEZE PROJECT 1543 S Chadwick St 19146 22 OCTAVIA HILL ASSOC INC 1/1/2024 WESTMINSTER AFFORDABLE HOUSING 898 N 42nd St 19104 12 TJ PROPERTIES INC 1/1/2024 CENTER POST VILLAGE 55 N 40th St 19104 84 IS BEE STREET LLC 2/29/2024 GIRARD AFFORDABLE HOUSING 4209 W Girard Ave 19104 9 TJ PROPERTIES INC 1/1/2025 CLOVER AFFORDABLE HOUSING 4231 W Girard Ave 19104 11 TJ PROPERTIES INC 1/1/2025 SARTAIN SCHOOL APARTMENTS 3017 W Oxford St 19121 35 Unknown 10/26/2025 NEIGHBORHOOD RESTORATION VI 5400 Walnut St 19139 49 NEIGHBORHOOD RESTORATIONS 1/1/2026 NEIGHBORHOOD RESTORATION VI 6027 Ludlow St 19139 38 NEIGHBORHOOD RESTORATIONS 1/1/2026 PUGH AFFORDABLE HOUSING 4214 W Girard Ave 19104 9 TJ PROPERTIES INC 1/1/2026 PEOPLES EMERGENCY CTR 3902 Spring Garden St 19104 11 PENNROSE PROPERTIES 6/30/2026 345 EMILY ST PROJECT 345 Emily St 19148 1 STEVEN L GIBBONE 1/1/2027 CECIL B MOORE VILLAGE 1601 W Oxford St 19121 34 INGERMAN GROUP 1/1/2028 BELMONT AFFORDABLE HOUSING 4221 W Girard Ave 19104 17 TJ PROPERTIES INC 1/1/2028 MARLTON RESIDENCES 1731 Marlton Ave 19104 25 PENNROSE PROPERTIES 1/1/2029 BELMONT AFFORDABLE HOUSING II 5324 Spruce St 19139 22 OCTAVIA HILL ASSOC INC 1/1/2029 ST ANTHONY'S SENIOR RESIDENCE 2309 Carpenter St 19146 53 INGERMAN GROUP 1/1/2030 AMERICAN POSTAL WORKERS HOUSE 801 Locust St 19107 300 American Postal Workers House Associates 12/31/2030 982 Total Units
Table 1. High-risk properties in Philadelphia with for-profit owners and expiration dates by 2030.

and units are potentially at-risk given that owners can choose to opt-out once their subsidy contracts expire. Geospatial analysis clusters the most at-risk properties within South Philadelphia, North Philadelphia, and West Philadelphia. The greatest concentration is north of Market Street in West Philadelphia. West Powelton, Belmont, and Haverford North neighborhoods also have higher concentrations of expiring properties. South Philadelphia neighborhoods, including Grays Ferry and Point Breeze, also have higher concentrations of soon-expiring properties. These neighborhoods are all undergoing significant gentrification and development, which raises further concerns about opt-out and the impacts of the loss of affordable housing on lower-income households. These tracts also have higher populations of Black households, so the loss of these units would exacerbate racial inequities by disproportionately displacing Black families.

Conclusions and Policy Recommendations

13,840 affordable housing units in Philadelphia are set to expire within the next 20 years. This should worry anyone concerned with racial equity and housing stability for our most vulnerable residents. As seen in our case study, the UC Townhomes is a salient example of what can happen to affordable housing if left to market conditions and the status quo. A property ceded by the city of Philadelphia as compensation for a racist urban renewal policy that displaced thousands of residents was purchased for 1 dollar by IBID Associates and has functioned as affordable housing for 40 years. Now, with the property value purported to be over 100 million dollars, the for-profit owner is looking to cash out. This

is an injustice to residents of the Black Bottom and vulnerable households in precarious housing situations, and it is a net loss to the various levels of government who have subsidized this property over time.

The loss of affordable housing in Philadelphia and nationally is a crisis. We must take heed of the risks identified in the literature to best buttress against the effects of losing this housing. This report establishes a risk assessment metric to identify the housing within Philadelphia most at risk of owner-opt-out. Housing advocates should focus their attention on these properties. Together they highlight the significant risk to smaller housing properties, which serve families in neighborhoods of opportunity. Access for vulnerable families to high opportunity areas is essential to create long-term family success. Unfortunately, the lowest income earners, often black residents, are increasingly priced out of opportunity zones and therefore have lower chances for household success.

Policy Recommendations

Affordable housing is tenuous when left to market forces. Despite good intentions, government intervention in housing affordability did not anticipate the expiration of contracts and changing housing market conditions, and did not develop a proactive plan to address the problems that would inevitably come to pass with lapsing affordability contracts. While public/private development have short-term benefits, there are long-term consequences, including significant sunk costs of public funds into non-permanent affordable housing. These consequences cannot be ignored as municipalities face the imminent risk of losing thousands of affordable units as the housing

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affordability crisis enters an unprecedented stage of acuity.

In particular, the short-term advantages for some come at significant costs to the lowest-income households. Very few protections exist for low-income and very low-income households when subsidized properties expire. As a result, the federal government and municipalities must also develop ways to minimize the downside of subsidy expirations for the lowest-income households if a subsidy does expire.

The crisis of housing access is driven by the commodification of housing, which increases real estate investment value through planned scarcity, waste, and monopoly ownership.12 Sustainable solutions to this crisis require moving away from a market-based model of “affordable housing.” One way to accomplish this is to move away from public/private development of affordable housing towards alternative models of housing tenure.

The Community Land Trust Model (CLT’s)

Public/private development is not the only means to create stable, affordable housing; alternative forms should be employed. One such example is the Community Land Trust model. CLTs are a form of permanently affordable housing—ensuring that the housing stock remains outside of market forces. In this model, a community-controlled organization retains ownership of the land and sells or rents the housing on that land to lower-income households.13 In exchange for purchasing homes at below-market prices, owners agree to resale price restrictions, thereby keeping homes permanently affordable.

The CLT model mitigates the issues associated with a market-based public/private development model, namely, the sunk costs of public funding into non-permanent affordable housing. Further, CLT’s enable residents to stay in opportunity zones and retain a stake in gentrifying

New Construction in Philadelphia. Photo by Jackson Plumlee

areas because the initial subsidy remains with the building, keeping it continually affordable without requiring new influxes of public money.14 The CLT model can be designed with community control at its core (albeit there are limitations), which is important for community stability and long-term household success.

As a model, CLT’s can be an essential component of affordable housing preservation, with the capacity to purchase multi-unit buildings with expiring subsidies. Specific national and local policy changes must be considered to ensure CLT’s can act as “preservation purchasers.”15 First, it requires “right of first purchase” legislation, which ensures that communities or tenants can acquire the property to preserve its affordability if an owner decides to sell. Owners cannot be expected to sell to tenants voluntarily. There are a variety of market conditions that would incentivize for-profit owners to maintain market-based properties over de-commodified housing. Legislation is therefore required to guarantee the first right of purchase for organizations who would preserve affordability. Fortunately, a model has been in effect in Washington, D.C. for several decades, and is recently getting more attention as other cities follow suit. In 1980, the District of Columbia passed the Tenant Opportunity to Purchase Act (TOPA).16 The City of Philadelphia should study this model and pass legislation that will enable residents and non-profit CLT’s to purchase and preserve expiring affordable housing.

Financing is a further obstacle to the CLT model as a primary means of preserving affordable housing. The costs of starting a CLT are high, as is the price tag of many expiring properties in opportunity zones and gentrifying neighborhoods. Financing

these preservation activities will require creativity. One model to emulate is the Real Estate Investment Trust (REIT) launched in 2014 by the Housing Partnership Network, which includes 12 non-profit housing providers across the country.17 This network was able to fund the acquisition of Woodside Court, a 129-unit affordable housing development in Fairfield, California, providing the $4 million-dollar upfront cash necessary to assume the existing mortgage in the short 90-day turnaround required for closing.18 Fostering a national network with the capacity to raise significant capital is one possible step toward permanent affordable housing preservation using a CLT model.

Public Housing Model

Public or municipal housing is a second policy option that moves away from commodified housing. As Reina (2018) indicates, it is more expensive to build new housing, and further, the loss of existing affordable housing most impacts the lowest-income households. Current policies aimed at limiting homelessness, such as housing first initiatives, are successful at the individual level but are constrained at the macro level by an unequal housing system, which too, is failing to produce sufficient affordable rental housing for low-income households in most metro areas. Losing existing low-income affordable housing, in conjunction with limited efficacy in new federal programs, is the recipe for an increasing housing crisis.

Therefore, mitigating the looming housing crisis and ending homelessness requires addressing the structural causes: the unaffordability of housing to low-income households. One solution is to scale up our production of deeply subsidized units, a goal for PHIMBY (Public Housing in My Backyard)

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movement advocates. The PHIMBY movement represents a massive investment in the development of low-income housing supply that will make permanent housing permanently affordable and accessible.

Preserving existing affordable housing using the PHIMBY model would require significant efforts by local governments. A recent example in LA is indicative of the scale required. Hillside Villa was built in 1989 under a 30-year affordability covenant that expired in 2019.19 Since then, the owner, Tom Botz, has been trying to raise rents to the market rate; in some cases, this increase is as much as 300%. After three years of tenant organizing and advocacy, LA’s City Council voted to start the process of acquiring the property in Chinatown.20 However, the owner does not want to sell, and the city is now taking the “unprecedented” step of investigating the possible uses of eminent domain to ensure the preservation of affordable housing in LA, a city in a housing crisis.

The LA city council vote is an excellent example of how progressive cities can take on forprofit owners and out-of-control housing markets to ensure housing remains stable and affordable for residents, particularly in opportunity zones. The City of Philadelphia should follow LA’s example—where there is owner resistance to preserving affordable units, the city should investigate options for eminent domain acquisitions to create and preserve affordable municipal housing.


1 Finkel, Meryl, Charles Hanson, Richard Hilton, Ken Lam, and Melissa Vandawalker. 2006. Multi-family Properties: Opting In, Opting Out and Remaining Affordable. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, Office of Policy Development and Research.; Staff of the National Housing Trust, “Project-Based Rental Assistance”, 2016 Advocates’ Guide, National Low Income Housing Coalition, default/files/2016AG_Chapter_4-6.pdf

2 Finkel et al. 2006, “Multifamily Properties”

3 Staff of the National Housing Trust, “Project Based Rental Assistance.”

4 HUD, “What Happens to LIHTC Properties

5 HUD, 2012, “What Happens to Low-Income Housing Tax Credit Properties at Year 15 and Beyond?”

6 Finkel et al. 2006, “Multifamily Properties”, vii

7 Harvard Joint Center for Housing Studies, Low-Income Households Face Severe Housing Cost Burdens

8 Harvard Joint Center, “Low-Income Households”

9 Burns et. al. 2016. “Danger of the Opt-Out: Strategies for Preserving Section 8 Project-Based Housing in Philadelphia”

10 Burns et al. 2016.

11 West Philadelphia Collaborative History. 2022. “Urban Renewal in West Philadelphia, 1948-1975.”

12 LA Tenants Union. 2020. “AFFORDABLE HOUSING” IS A SCAM!”

13 Hawkins-Simons, Dana and Miriam Axel-Lute. 2015. “Organizing and the Community Land Trust Model” Shelterforce,

14 Hawkins-Simons and Axel-Lute. 2015. Organizing and the Community Land Trust Model

15 Hawkins-Simons and Axel-Lute. 2015.

16 Reed, Jenny. 2013. “DC’s First Right Purchase Program Helps to Preserve Affordable Housing and Is One of DC’s Key Anti-Displacement Tools” DC Fiscal Policy Institute,

17 Raben, Tamara. 2014. Small Dollars, Big Returns.

18 Raben, Tamara. 2014.

19 Tso, Pheonix. 2022. “Chinatown Residents Say Their Rents Are Being Unfairly Increased. The Owner Claims It’s Legal”

20 Wagner, David and Pheonix Tso. 2022. “LA Approves ‘Unprecedented’ Plan To Take Over Chinatown Apartment Building, Against Owner’s Wishes”


About the Author: Christopher Brzovic

Prior to entering the Master of City Planning Program at Penn, Christopher Brzovic worked for several years building a coordinated entry system in Chittenden County, Vermont to connect people experiencing homelessness with supportive housing. His passion is in working to address housing insecurity and ensure that safe and secure housing is distributed according to need rather than ability to pay.

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Kings Village in Grays Ferry. Senior and disabled housing owned by the same company selling the University City Townhomes. The Kings Village HUD contract will expire 2027. Photo by Jackson Plumlee

The Key to PHL

A guide for musicians moving to Philadelphia

The kid brother of the East Coast, Philadelphia’s arts and entertainment scene has grown at a fast pace, especially in the last 10 to 20 years. DIY and other up-and-coming musicians have realized Philly is an ideal place to call home for many reasons, some of which include its affordable cost of living and geographic proximity to other East Coast cities.

Are you a young creative looking to move?

As a musician and current Philadelphia resident, let me show you around. This piece will serve as a guide to help young musicians find the best place to live.

There are a few things you’ll want to consider before settling down here:

◊ Housing affordability

◊ Getting around the city

◊ Neighborhood feel/composition

◊ Job availability and location

◊ Proximity to venues

Let’s get into it!

Mannequin Pussy, Lucy Dacus and Japanese Breakfast all relocated to Philly within the last 10 years.1


Finding affordable housing is the first step to getting settled in your new home. Thankfully, Philadelphia’s rent prices are relatively affordable compared to other cities in the Northeast, like New York, Boston, or Washington DC.

Map 1 features units with rents under $600 per month per bedroom, a measure that considers the average service industry income and accounts for housing burden. Unfortunately, 1-bedroom apartments rarely meet this mark, so this map takes studios, 1-bedroom, 2-bedroom, 3-bedroom and 4-bedroom units into account.

The downside of a house with multiple bedrooms – you’ll need roommates to keep costs low. Join a Facebook group for housing to find like-minded roommates to lower your rent costs2. Multiple-bedroom units also typically have basements - free space to create in your own home!

Affordable rent can only come if there are available places to rent. Areas shown on this map feature rental vacancy rates above 2 percent. The areas highlighted in yellow are where the two criteria – rents under $600 and unit vacancies - overlap, showcasing affordable and rentable areas in Philadelphia.


Getting around Philadelphia easily and affordably is crucial to creating a life here. Map 2 shows which SEPTA routes – Philly’s public transit system – have stops in the city’s most “rentable” areas. The city’s bike network is highlighted in blue, as cycling is another affordable and easy way to traverse Philly’s many neighborhoods. If living in any of the “rentable” areas, a combination of walking, biking and public transit will get a traveler anywhere in the city they would want to go.

103 MAPPING The Key to PHL
0 1 5 3 0 7 5 M i e s Map 1: Rentable Areas Affordable, rentable areas Map 2: Accessibility SEPTA Bus Routes SEPTA Trolley/ Subway Routes Bike lanes Rentable areas 0 1 5 3 0 7 5 M i l e s
Source: ACS 2021 Data, 5-Year Subject Tables3 Source: ArcGIS Hub SEPTA Routes (2022)4

Source: ACS 2021 Data, 5-Year Subject Tables


As a young creative living in Philadelphia, you’ll want to build a network of likeminded friends with whom to share your passions. Because of Philly’s density and culture, you’ll likely get to know your neighbors and neighborhood as time goes on. Map 3 highlights rentable neighborhoods where at least 15% of the population is within the 21-35 year-old age range.


Service industry jobs are popular ways to make money among musicians in Philadelphia. The potential for part-time work (with tips) gives creatives flexibility in their schedule and a steady income by which to support themselves as they get their musical careers off the ground.

The first layer of Map 4 is a heatmap showing occurrences of businesses with a

Sources: Philadelphia’s Business Licenses Data, OpenDataPhilly5

“restaurant” license, which covers a broad array of service-oriented work, including restaurants, coffee shops, fast food joints, bars that serve food, etc. laying data of rentable areas over locations that have a significant population of young people elucidates the top three rentable areas that have the highest concentration of possible jobs for musicians in Philly. Why wouldn’t you want to live near work?

The second layer of Map 4 considers venue access as a crucial aspect of your ideal neighborhood. Although Philadelphia is home to a number of mid- to large-scale venues, this map displays independent small-scale venues, including bars with music and informal event spaces, like homes and warehouses that host shows. These spaces are ideal for new-in-town musicians to start booking shows. Why not live near them to make it easier to get your name out there?

Map 3: Neighborhood Feel Under 15% of population is ages 21-35 Over 15% of population is ages 21-35 Rentable areas Affordable, rentable areas where over 15% of the population is ages 21-35 0 1 5 3 0 7 5 M l e s Map 4: Live Where You Work (and Play) Dense Venues (including bars and informal spaces) Service-oriented jobs: Sparse Rentable areas with best access to service jobs Ideal neighborhood 0 1 5 3 0 7 5 M l e s


The final step in picking the ideal location to live is taking a closer look at the chosen spot!

Census tract 148 (shown in yellow on the map) proves to be the ideal place to live, based on the six criteria considered thus far: affordable rent prices per bedroom, rental availability, SEPTA and bike route

Census tract 148

Bar/small-scale venues

Informal spaces

Accessible bus routes (3, 61)

Subway routes (BSL, MFL)

1-mile walkshed

2-mile walkshed

accessibility, a relatively high percentage of young people, a high concentration of service businesses (and jobs) in the area and the best access to venues, indicated by the 1- and 2-mile walksheds shown on the map. This neighborhood is east of Brewerytown, a popular area just northwest of Center City.

105 MAPPING The Key to PHL 0 1 5 3 0 7 5 M i l e s
Map 5: The Ideal Neighborhood

Let’s look at some neighborhood stats:

$270 Average rent per bedroom

4.5% Rental vacancy rate 18% People ages 21-35

3, 61 SEPTA bus routes

457 Service businesses

Congratulations on finding your new place to live and happy apartment hunting!


1 “Japanese Breakfast - Union Transfer Show Poster.” Facebook, August 15, 2021. Bill PearisPublished: March 1, 2022. “Courtney Barnett

Announces Rescheduled North American Dates.”

BrooklynVegan.; “Mannequin Pussy: The Deli Magazine.” Mannequin Pussy | The Deli Magazine.

2“Philadelphia Affordable Housing, Rooms, Apartments, Sublets.” Facebook.

32021 ACS Data, 5-Year Subject Tables

4 “DVRPC Open Gis Data.” DVRPC Open GIS Data, OpenDataPhilly.

5 “Licenses and Inspections Business Licenses.” OpenDataPhilly, September 22, 2016.

About the Author: Katie Hanford

Katie (she/her) is a first-year Master of City Planning student concentrating in Housing, Community and Economic Development. Katie is interested in the intersection of culture, power, and community-led design, specifically how communities come together to create urban space that fits their needs.

Photo: Katie Hanford

Healing Borders

Between the Dominican Republic and Haiti


David Gouvernour

Ariel Vasquez


Azarai Hernandez

Itay Porat

Thisinterdisciplinary studio between City Planning and Landscape Architecture students, focused on addressing urban, ecological, economic, and social challenges in three towns located in the Dominican Republic along the border with Haiti. These nations share the island of La Hispaniola, the second largest in the Caribbean basin, spanning over 29,418 square miles. The DR-Haitian border stretches for 244 miles, following the Dajabón River in the North and the Pedernales River in the South. The selected sites for this interdisciplinary and intercultural studio were Pepillo Salcedo, Jimaní, and Pedernales, chosen by the Directorate for Border Area Development, Ministry of Economy, Planning, and Development, Dominican Republic.

For over a century, Haiti has been burdened by colonial debts, political struggles, economic collapse, and natural disasters. In July 2021, Haitian President Jovenel Moïse was assassinated in his home, plunging the country further into unprecedented economic and political turmoil. The outfall from this crisis continues to strain the lives and wellbeing of Haitians, leading many to seek refuge through migration to the Dominican Republic.

Long-standing political and racial conflicts between the nations, rooted in the oppressive violence of colonial and authoritarian regimes, have been re-surfacing in the Dominican government’s response to Haitian migration. The border region is located away from the main urban and economic centers of the Dominican Republic, but has become a focal point in national politics. In 2022, the Dominican Army, with the support of President Luis Abinader, began constructing a wall, which is planned to span nearly half the length of the border. By the time our Studio visited in October 2022, the Army had completed initial earthwork for the wall, cutting through mangrove wetlands in Pepillo Salcedo and informal settlements in Pedernales.

Despite broader political agendas, the daily life of residents in the Border region is deeply tied to the transnational exchange of culture, commerce, and solidarity between Haitians and Dominicans. The heart of the regional and town economies is asystem of bi-national markets, where Dominicans and Haitians exchange and buy essential goods such as staple foods, fresh produce, clothing, household supplies, and handcrafted folk art.

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The Binational Market in Dajabón
+ + +
Pepillo Salcedo Jimaní Pedernales

The border towns are now the targets of ambitious economic development projects including a proposed industrial port expansion and power station in Pepillo Salcedo, an expansion of logistics infrastructure for the bi-national market in Jimaní, and a proposed $3 billion tourism resort, cruise port, and international airport at Cabo Rojo, just outside of Pedernales. The prospect of these projects and the continued migration from Haiti are driving explosive population growth in the Dominican towns. This unplanned expansion is mostly taking the form of informal settlements at the towns’ peripheries. Many such communities lack adequate infrastructural services, but their homes have been carefully and incrementally built by families over time. Each group grappled with the balance between economics, ecology, politics, and community stability in planning for the region’s future growth.

During our visit we toured all three towns and hosted charette workshops with community leaders, government officials, local business representatives, elders, and youth. We worked closely with them, drawing together on wall-sized maps, to understand their concerns and forefront their priorities in the rest of our work for the semester. We channeled their dreams, struggles, and desires, along with the complex histories and politics of the region to produce plans for a future at the Dominican-Haitian border rooted in environmental justice and healing.

111 STUDIO PROJECT Healing Borders

Pepillo Salcedo

Pepillo Salcedo, commonly also referred to as Manzanillo, is a coastal town of 3,700 people located in the northwestern-most corner of the DR, within the Monte Cristi province. The town is surrounded by estuarine mangrove habitats of the Dajabón River and the Estero Balsa. Pepillo Salcedo is the DR’s closest port city to the United States. The US Navy occupied Pepillo Salcedo in 1916 and established the US Grenada Company, a banana plantation with an industrial port, railway infrastructure, and crowded blocks of worker housing. The town is now slated for large-scale industrial redevelopment, including an expansion to the Port of Manzanillo, an 800 megawatt power station, and a liquified natural gas pipeline.

The plan focuses on creating a green system that harmoniously integrates residential, industrial, and ecological systems. This includes protected areas, habitat restoration, water management, civic open spaces, and buffers between urban uses. It also retrofits the town’s cultural landscape by converting old banana company warehouses and rail-yards into communal services, recreation, markets, and vocational training opportunities. The plan defines areas for urban expansion to accommodate residents from overcrowded and unfit dwellings and establishes siting, design, and performative criteria for industrial development to ensure minimum environmental impact and maximum benefits for the local people.


Aidan Rhianne McLaughlin, Azarai Hernandez, Itay Porat, Kristin Engelman, Marissa Sayers, Vyusti Agrwalla, Yan Wang

New Housing & Street Typologies
Pedestrian sidewalk Main road
Green Armature Mobility System Water System
Central pedestrian walkway Main road Sidewalk
STUDIO PROJECT Healing Borders
Green divider Parking lots Water canal


Jimaní is a town of 18,466 people, located in the valley between Lake Enriquillo and Lake Azuei in the DR’s Independcia Province. The town is a major transnational connection to Haiti’s capital city of Port Au Prince, which is only 53km away.

The plan aims to guide urban growth towards reconnecting fragmented neighborhoods, mitigating sprawl, and improving pedestrian conditions by providing consolidated housing, green buffer zones, siphon protection, and a public transit network. Additionally, it focuses on strengthening natural systems through floodplain management, reforestation, and wetlands restoration to build climate resilience and reinforce the community’s relationship with their landscape. The plan also fosters economic development by adapting local markets, introducing an industrial zone, protecting agricultural land, and creating green trails to boost ecotourism. Finally, it supports civic life, health, and cohesion through the establishment of new civic spaces, expansion of existing recreation facilities, enhancement of children’s education programs, and the creation of a hospital to aid the local and migrant population.


David Kim, Elliot Bullen, Jie Li, Kemi Richards, Simran Arora, Stephanie Onuaja, Yihan Zhang, Zahara Ahmadi

STUDIO PROJECT Healing Borders 115


Pedernales is a coastal town of 16,000 people located at the DR’s furthest southwest corner. The Haitian sister town of Anse-a-Pitres is located directly across the dry riverbed of the Pedernales River, which reaches the Carribean Sea. Pedernales was established during the authoritarian regime of Rafael Trujillo, who sent military and agricultural settlers in the 1930s to fortify the town as part of his violent anti-Haitian border campaign. Between 1942 and 1989, The town also became an outpost of the American Aluminum Company (ALCOA), which operated bauxite mines, processed ore, and shipped out of Cabo Rojo, 25km east of Pedernales. The town is surrounded by subtropical dry forests, the Jaragua National Park, and has boat access to one of the country’s most pristine and remote white sand beaches, the Bahía de las Aguiles. Abundant natural assets that have attracted DR’s most ambitious public-private partnerships for tourism development to date, a $3 billion new resort development at Cabo Rojo, a cruise port, and international airport.

The plan aims to benefit the well-being and livelihoods of Dominicans and Hatians, partially by channeling tourism investment. To achieve this, the plan fosters a binational oasis by investing in existing networks of cross-border solidarity, and integrates social and recreational uses with flood control infrastructure. It also enhances the beachfront through a climate-adaptive framework for gathering, recreation, and commerce, with reimagined pedestrian circulation that strengthens current tourism cooperatives, local culture, and regional destinations. It also supports urban expansion through a flexible housing model that balances resident agency with organized urban development, while protecting agricultural land and sensitive ecological systems with public parks, bike trails, and institutional stewardship. Overall, the plan is a comprehensive and sustainable strategy that aims to foster a resilient community and promote sustainable growth for the future.

Green Armature Mobility System Water System
Section View through the Binational Oasis at the Pedernales River

Pedernales Plan

Team: Allison Lau, Aminah McNulty, Carlos Gonzalez, Emma Sonner, Jackson Plumlee, Jie Wang, Kate Poor, Kendra Hills, Myron Banez, Sanjana Purohit, Símón Gutkin

STUDIO PROJECT Healing Borders
Urban Growth Settlement

Rebuilding Peace in Colombia

Reflections on the role of planning in a post-conflict country

Violence is an issue that has particularly affected Colombia’s history in recent decades. Armed conflict between the national government, guerrillas, and paramilitary groups – the latter two being irregular armed organizations of different origins – and the war against drug trafficking has hurt the people of Colombia and undeniably impacted the development of cities and towns across the South American country.

As a Colombian student studying City Planning at the University of Pennsylvania, I have asked myself a series of questions about the challenges faced by Colombian cities as a consequence of violence. This text is a compilation of approaches I believe the country should consider when planning its territory, which revolve around three key aspects – forced displacement, people, and drugs.

Forced Displacement

For one, the armed conflict has caused massive internal migration. According to a recent report, Colombia has accumulated more than 8 million victims of forced displacement in recent decades, with more than 5 million still internally displaced1. Inequality features as a protagonist in this

story as most people forced to migrate come from conditions of poverty or are vulnerable groups, such as children, people with disabilities, and single women heads of households2.

Forced displacement has been significantly accelerating population growth not only in Colombia’s cities but also the areas surrounding them, as demonstrated by patterns in the accompanying maps. Figure 1.0 shows the number of reported forced displacement events in the year 2022. It illustrates how six main cities - Bogota, Medellin, Cali, Barranquilla, Cartagena, and Bucaramanga - contain the highest density of displacement events, measured in events over the area of the municipality/city. It is also evident that municipalities adjacent to these cities reflect a similarly high level of cases. By accelerating population growth at the outskirts of cities, forced displacement is causing sprawl that is most affecting people in conditions of high poverty and vulnerability. Immigrants are also commonly located in informal settlements at the outskirts and edges of cities, which presents different challenges for urban and regional planning. Informal housing conditions are critical to this argument because people tend to build their homes precariously,


for instance without seismic resistance in structural design or without proper access to water. Such settlements are also far from major opportunities of employment, transportation, health, and education. In this situation, it becomes necessary to create land-use planning policies that can control the growth and edges of cities, and to respect and learn from the growth patterns of informality to encourage orderly development without relocation, unless strictly necessary due to risk.

People and Memory

Cities must be planned around people, which necessarily involves conflict actors – in this context, primarily victims and former combatants. For this, it is essential to link the characteristics of Colombia’s immigrant population to its specific context. Colombia is currently experiencing a crucial moment in the search for peace. It is in the process of implementing a peace negotiation with one of the strongest armed groups in the country’s recent history: the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) guerrilla. This presents an opportunity to draw up a post-conflict plan in which urban and regional planning can, and must, take the lead.

On considering homes and other areas to be mended in a recovery planning process, it is important to note that every abandoned territory has a history and memory that must be respected. Many of these places can even be re-inhabited by those who had to emigrate. Ana Felicia Velasquez, a woman photographed by Colombian artist Jesús Abad Colorado, went back to what was once her home carrying flowers so that the house “would not feel sad.”3 This denotes the importance of recognizing the human component of displacement when rebuilding; of gathering communities, listening to the past of their cities and towns, and working with them to understand how they would imagine any reconstruction.

The actors of Colombia’s conflict do not only include its victims - ex-combatants are also fundamental in this process. According to government figures, more than 13,000 former FARC guerrillas are accredited in reincorporation4. Part of the agreement involves offering opportunities for people who lay down their arms. Some sentences in the transitional justice already include the reconstruction of infrastructure in areas affected by the conflict - an opportunity for urban planning to integrate complex processes. In addition, planners

[...] of recognizing the human component of displacement when rebuilding; of gathering communities [...] working with them to understand how they would imagine any reconstruction.
Rebuilding Peace in Colombia

Forced Displacement in Columbia, 2002

Source: Figures of Victims by Municipal Facts. Unidad para las Víctimas. Datos Abiertos Govierno de Colombia

120 Esri, HERE, Garmin, USGS 0 250 500 125 Miles ¯ Main City
Low Low Medium High
High <out of range>
Displacent: Density of registered events Very

should put forward mechanisms to offer access to opportunities for those who chose peace and are working to achieve it, an effort that can help avoid marginalizing and isolating ex-combatants.


Finally, drugs have been a crucial element in triggering and deepening the crisis of violence in Colombia. It must be repeated ad nauseam that we all lost the war on drugs – governments, cartels, populations, and exporting and consuming countries. It is the task of the planners, then, to link ourselves and advocate for responsible regulations of drugs.

In 1970, United States President Richard Nixon declared a war on drugs, one that has left thousands of victims in the countries where it has been waged. For Colombia being an exporting country,

this substantially aggravated internal violence. The Medellin and Cali cartels waged war against the Colombian government towards the end of the 20th century. Later, guerrilla and paramilitary groups joined the illegal drug business and financed themselves with the money it produced. Even consumer countries, such as the United States, have suffered severely in terms of public health, safety, and mass incarceration from the Opioid crisis. Philadelphia’s own neighborhood, Harrowgate, witnesses considerable drug use till today, with empty syringes lining the streets and increased incidents of gun violence5.

So, what does urban planning have to do with it? A lot. And an international effort is required. If the war on drugs has failed, different paths should be sought, such as advocating for responsible regulation, where drug consumption is controlled and

Planners should put forward mechanisms to offer access to opportunities for those who chose peace and are working to achieve it.
Photo: Ana Felicia Velasquez, photgraphed by Jesùs Abad Colorado
Rebuilding Peace in Colombia

reduced, and public health policies implemented around the consumer. This would make it possible to root out drug businesses away from criminals. In Colombia, for example, armed groups that take so many victims would lose their primary source of financing. Urban and town planning is an indispensable tool to strategically offer access to health centers focused on drug prevention and treatment. Cities like Philadelphia have been committing to harm-reductive, trauma-informed intervention strategies. This also includes community involvement as critical for ongoing dialogue to reduce stigma and address the crisis.


The war in Colombia is a very complex issue, but the consequences of internal displacement, reparations for victims, reincorporation of reinserted persons, and the debate on drugs are matters that we must assume as responsible for territorial planning. With this text, I only outline some of the challenges that urban planning should address in the Colombian context. Beyond that, I believe the role of planners should be more active in the countries where we choose to work.


[1] “Las cifras que presenta el Informe Global sobre Desplazamiento 2022.” Unidad de Víctimas. May, 2019. https://www.unidadvictimas. las-cifras-que-presenta-el-informe-global-sobre-desplazamiento

[2] Ceballos Bedoya, María Adelaida. “El desplazamiento forzado en Colombia y su ardua reparación Araucaria”. Revista Iberoamericana de Filosofía, Política y Humanidades, vol. 15, no. 29, 2013, pp. 169-188 Universidad de Sevilla Sevilla, Spain

[3] Jesús Abad Colorado. “Ana Felicia Velásquez.” [4] Agencia para la Reincorporación y la Normalización. “ARN en Cifras corte abril 2019.” April, 2019.

[5] Chatterjee, González, Griffiths, Gutierrez, McCrary, Peña, Pierce, Wang. “Existing Conditions: Health + Wellness”. Harrowgate Neighborhood Plan. Pp. 24. University Of Pennsylvania, 2022.


About the Author: Carlos Andrés González

Carlos González is a Colombian architect from Bogotá, currently a second-year City Planning student in the Public-Private Development concentration. Carlos believes that design is a path to achieve social, environmental, and economic sustainability through urban development, participatory processes, and urban policies. Outside this context, he enjoys watching movies, reading a new book (to add to the pile of unfinished ones on his nightstand), having a beer with good company, and walking the city.

Rebuilding Peace in Colombia
Photo: Riddhi Batra

I don’t know where to put my anger

Photo: Katie Hanford

Z brought her newspaper clippings to school

I sat on the hallway floor, homeroom waiting she plopped her backpack down and I shrieked “girl, Sophie likes Amir!!” no gossip today, she spread the pages out. October 18th, 2001, my father got shot at the park she said. Ten years ago, today.

so I remember my 6th grade mouth being all dry, stuffed with slow words. I’m sorry. so we just sat in silence.

most days went fast when Z taught me how she smacked her tongue and danced to get boys mad, definitely the reason I could flirt with Elijah and Daniel. “asking all the questions” we’d sing “ASSUME!” I always felt two steps behind her confidence

I tried to write about this for my college application essay

I don’t get it, my counselor said.

Albany’s got a couple parks I’ve never been to I don’t know which park Z’s father was killed at, but I think it’s one of those.

I heard she has a baby now.

I haven’t talked to Z since 6th grade. I stopped smacking my tongue because it feels fake, but sometimes I still dance like she did to show I’m different.

About the Author: Sofia Fasullo

Sofia (she/her) is a first year Master in Urban Spatial Analytics and City Planning with a concentration in Housing, Community, and Economic Development. She is from Albany, NY.


Saving City Cropland

Applying Agricultural Land Preservation Practices to Urban Gardens

Farms and gardens have played a role in defining urban space for as long as cities have existed in the United States. They are also under threat from the pressures of more profitable land uses. Even cities like Baltimore and Philadelphia, where vacant land previously meant a bounty of urban garden space, are losing longstanding farms and gardens to developers and investors. It is thus the ideal time for cities to make actionable, systemic commitments to preserving their urban gardens. But what should those commitments look like? And what does “preservation” even mean for urban gardens?

Methods of preserving rural agricultural land are thoroughly systematized, with thousands of acres permanently preserved across the country every year. The same cannot yet be said for urban agricultural land; methods of preservation are burgeoning at best, and most gardens are far from permanently preserved. Knowing this, a crucial step in improving the process of urban garden preservation is to consider urban and rural agricultural preservation in tandem. By considering the fundamentals and challenges that both efforts face, a vision for saving city cropland will come to the fore.

Agricultural Land Preservation

Agricultural land preservation typically involves the voluntary sale or donation of development rights by a willing landowner to a government agency or private, nonprofit land trust. A conservation easement, which memorializes the sale or donation of development rights, also spells out the restrictions placed upon the land. For agricultural conservation, easements typically limit industrial, commercial, and residential use and permit all agricultural uses.1 These restrictions help prevent the conversion of privately owned farms to nonfarm uses, maintain productive agricultural soils, and sustain local agricultural industries by maintaining the viability of individual farms. 2

Conservation easements “run with the land,” meaning the easement applies to buyers and heirs of the land. There is in turn no ambiguity related to whether rural agricultural land is or is not conserved; agricultural land is “saved” when a perpetual deed of easement is recorded in the land records and non-agricultural uses are permanently restricted.

States, localities, private non-profits, and citizen groups all participate in agricultural


land preservation. In Maryland and Pennsylvania, which lead the charge on largescale farmland preservation, state-level farmland preservation programs play an outsize role.3 In states and counties that have not allocated significant public funds for agricultural land preservation, private, nonprofit land trusts are more prominent. And in both scenarios, land trusts often play the crucial role of acquiring and hold conservation easements and managing the stewardship of the land under easement.

Finally, citizen groups may also play a primary role in the acquisition of urban land for preservation, especially when scenic views and habitats are imminently threatened by development.4 However, these groups rarely conduct long-term, strategic conservation efforts; because their focus is often on a single property, citizen groups usually disband once a given property is preserved.

Urban Garden Preservation

Thus far, the preservation of urban gardens does not rely on conservation easements to permanently eliminate the risk of development. Preserving an urban garden instead tends to mean clearing outstanding liens on parcels that are already used for gardening

and transferring ownership of the land to a government agency, a non-profit land trust, or a community group. In the first two cases, government agencies or land trusts either lease gardens out to gardeners or let them steward the land free of charge.

The primary purpose of preserving urban gardens by transferring ownership to a government agency or nonprofit is to prevent the conversion of established urban gardens to non-garden uses. Urban garden preservation is also led by efforts to sustain neighborhood food sovereignty and support a local food system. Ecological considerations like maintaining productive agricultural soils are rarely a stated purpose of urban garden preservation, although the environmental and public health benefits of urban open space often feature prominently in the stated benefits of such efforts.

Preservation of urban gardens is often facilitated by grassroots organizations or community land trusts, supported by pro bono legal services, and transacted by city governments. Like the citizen groups that sometimes lead one-off rural agricultural land preservation efforts, grassroots organizations and citizen groups involved in

127 ESSAY Saving City Cropland
Urban garden preservation is also led by efforts to sustain neighborhood food sovereignty and support a local food system.

urban garden preservation often form in response to an imminent development threat on an existing urban garden site. However, these groups are less likely to disband after the preservation of a given parcel is completed, because of their likely stake as gardeners and neighbors.

Once there is adequate support for an urban garden preservation effort, a legal service provider often steps in and assist the community group or land trust in acquiring the property. Finally, if the city owns some or all of the parcels, they will sell or otherwise transfer the land over. If the land is all privately owned by a tax delinquent owner, the city may decide to clear the liens on the property, take ownership of the land, and then transfer it. And if the parcels that constitute the garden

are split between public and private ownership, as is most likely, some parcels may be preserved while others may remain in a tenuous state of ownership until either the city clears any outstanding liens or a long-absent owner emerges and reclaims the land or sells to the city, land trust, or community group.

Challenges for Agricultural Land Preservation

The most glaring challenge facing agricultural land preservation is the costly nature of land acquisition. Even in states where agricultural land preservation is well funded, there are times when the price of high-priority agricultural land puts the land out of reach for everyone but profit-driven investors. The rise in land values has been especially prominent in

Photo: Sayre High School yard garden, Philadelphia, PA, by Jackson Plumlee

metropolitan counties, where virtually all agricultural land is worth more for real estate development than for raising crops and livestock. 5

Additionally, the legal fees needed for effective agricultural conservation constrict rural agricultural land preservation efforts, particularly for more complex (and often higher priority) acquisitions. Because there are often multiple heirs to farmland, the number of parties involved in each transaction is higher than for other types of transactions. This means lengthier and more costly deals that smaller land trusts may struggle to afford.

Agricultural land preservation is also constrained by the difficulties of securing the funding needed for long-term stewardship.

Even when land trusts have acquisition fundraising down to a science, it may still be difficult to secure the funding needed to support agricultural land in the long term. This is of greater concern for land that does not generate a profit as agricultural land does, and instead relies solely on outside funding for stewardship. However, it is still a concern for land under agricultural easement, especially as climate change makes year-to-year profits less predictable.

There are other challenges facing rural agricultural land preservation, including a reticence on the part of land trusts to participate in regional scale land use planning even though the regional scale is optimal for successful, long-range preservation efforts.6 The challenges listed above are those most relevant to

129 ESSAY Saving City Cropland
Photo: Salehin Chowdhury, Flickr Creative Commons
There are other challenges facing rural agricultural land preservation, including a reticence on the part of land trusts to participate in regional scale land use planning.

the concurrent challenges faced by urban garden preservations. In their own ways, land acquisition, legal fees, and stewardship costs are all drags on urban garden preservation as much as they are on rural agricultural preservation.

Challenges for Urban Garden Preservation

The biggest challenge for urban garden preservation is likewise the high cost of land acquisition. But unlike rural agricultural land preservation, the scarce nature of urban land makes this an even tighter squeeze on urban gardens than on rural agricultural land. Small garden plots are regularly lost to multi-million-dollar housing developments, while tax-delinquent properties within community gardens regularly go to sheriff’s sale. It has also become a more regular occurrence for developers to track down descendants of urban garden parcels and acquire their land.7 And with the added complication of tax delinquency, gardeners have no assurance for the future of the spaces into which they invest their time, effort, and money.

Much like rural agricultural land preservation efforts, the many costs beyond acquisition are also a major challenge for urban garden preservation. Settlement costs, legal fees, insurance, administration, overhead, investment in fencing, lighting, and other amenities together range from $26,000 to $42,500 per garden.8 And

compared to the transfer of a conservation easement from a private landowner to a land trust or government agency, the transfer of urban garden land from a land bank or redevelopment authority might need to await a lengthy City Council approval process and have numerous lawyers involved. A longer process means higher costs and more of a burden on land trusts, pro bono attorneys, and other partners.

Perhaps the most glaring challenge of all is that “preservation” remains undefined for urban gardens. For rural agricultural land preservation, “saved” land is land under conservation easement. In this case, it is clear whether land is preserved regardless of whether the land or easement is publicly or privately held. But without easements, “preservation” loses some of its meaning, and instead becomes a largely subjective question of whether ownership by a trustworthy party –be it a city, a non-profit, or a community group’s ownership– is enough to consider land “saved.”

For an example of just how sticky this may become, the Philadelphia Land Bank states that they support the preservation of urban agricultural land.9 Yet gardeners on most city-owned land can only secure short-term, revocable license agreements, which are conditional on the ability to afford insurance coverage. Similarly, the Baltimore Office of Sustainability’s Land Leasing Initiative provides five-year

Perhaps the most glaring challenge of all is that “preservation” remains undefined for urban gardens.

leases for city-owned land for farming at a cost $100 per year.10 However, the city can decide to change the use of their land at any time so long as they provide adequate notice to the farmers. There is nothing inherent in this structure that guarantees preservation in the long term.

Suggested Actions to Save City Cropland

It has become increasingly rare to come across dedicated agricultural land in any city in the U.S., which serves as part of the explanation why efforts to protect urban agricultural land are becoming more commonplace in East Coast cities. Urban agriculture subcommittees and offices of Urban Agriculture pepper numerous city governments, while many city-wide planning processes are now dedicated to urban farms and gardens.11 Government initiatives are a promising step –but thus far no office of urban agriculture or city planning process has released anything more than an assessment of existing conditions.

The suggestions that follow are applicable for community groups and offices of urban agriculture alike and would surely advance to goal of systematizing the preservation of urban gardens.

1) Improve the disposition process for publicly owned and tax delinquent land.

The most important step in preserving urban gardens is to establish ways for preservationists to circumvent the competitive property acquisition process altogether.

Many active cities policies contradict this goal. For example, major cities including Philadelphia, Baltimore, and New York City all have annual sheriff’s sales, during which land with significant back taxes is sold to the highest bidder. These sales should be halted and replaced with a more redistributive process that centers urban garden preservation and creation.

2) Fund city-led acquisitions and stewardship.

Cities will inevitably increase their capacities to preserve urban gardens so long as they continue to fund offices of urban agriculture and urban agriculture strategic planning processes. But so far many of these new offices strategic plans merely make recommendations for capacity building and do not allot funds for acquisition or stewardship. City council members must prioritize funding for acquisitions in addition to funding for stewardship efforts and legal support.

3) Define “saving” for urban gardens. Without conservation easements at play, the point at which an urban garden is preserved remains unclear. To clarify this unknown, land trusts should pursue strategies of urban garden preservation that “run with the land.” Nonprofits dedicated to urban

131 ESSAY Saving City Cropland
The most important step in preserving urban gardens is to establish ways for preservationists to circumvent the competitive property acquisition process altogether.

agriculture should also set clear definitions of urban garden preservation for themselves and disseminate accessible communication material that convey how different ownership structures protect, or do not protect, urban gardens in the long term.

4) Improve zoning codes. Many zoning codes speak generally to gardening or urban agriculture, but do not specify the permissible or restricted uses.

By making zoning codes more explicit with regards to urban agriculture, legal challenges could be avoided while incentives could be created. Such clarification could also incentivize urban gardeners to explore newly permitted agricultural uses such as hydroponics or indoor crop production and would ensure that urban agricultural practices follow the most sustainable ecological practices.


1 Daniels, Tom. “Assessing the Performance of Farmland Preservation in America’s Farmland Preservation Heartland: A Policy Review.” Society & Natural Resources. Vol 32, No. 7. 2019. Pp. 2.

2 Daniels, Tom and John Keene. The Law of Agricultural Land Preservation in the United States. New York: American Bar Association. 2020. Pp. 1.

3 Example programs include the Maryland Agricultural Land Preservation Foundation (MALPF) and the Pennsylvania Agricultural Conservation Easement Program (PACEP)

4 Daniels, Tom. Environmental Planning Handbook. New York: Routledge. 2014. Pp. 284.

5 Daniels and Keene, Pp. 4.

6 Amundsen III, Ole and Susan Culp. “Conservation in a Broader Context: Land Trusts and Land Use Planning.” Saving Land (Land Trust Alliance), 2013. Pp. 16.

7 Reed, Margo. “Philly’s urban gardeners are under siege from gentrification. Here’s what they’re doing about it.” Philadelphia Inquirer, April 16, 2018.

8 National Young Farmers Coalition, “Building a Future with Farmers 2022: Results and Recommendations from the National Young Farmer Survey.” 2022. Pp. 45.

9 Philadelphia Housing Development Corporation.

10 “Urban Agriculture”, Baltimore Office of Sustainability.

11 Galiber, Sonia. “Philadelphia’s first urban agriculture strategic plan will be available for public review in May”. GridPhilly, March 27, 2022.; NYC Government. “Mayor Adams Appoints Qiana Mickie As Director Of New Mayor’s Office Of Urban Agriculture” September 23, 2022


About the Author: Alex Charnov

Alex Charnov is a second-year Master of City Planning student. A graduate of Vassar College, Alex has held positions focused on eviction prevention, environmental justice litigation, and cohousing development. His research interests include the racial homeownership gap and the effectiveness of emergency rental assistance. Find him exploring the Wiss, biking through Fairmount Park, or basking in the Summer-Winter Community Garden.

133 ESSAY Saving City Cropland
Photo: Katie Hanford

Planning to Rave

How planners can support the music scene

Latefall 2022, the British-American electronic duo Mount Kimbie released their fourth full-length, a double LP entitled MK3.5: Die Cuts | City Planning, on legendary independent label Warp Records. The record sees the duo’s components, Dom Maker and Kai Campos, working separately, pulling the threads that inspired them individually. Unsurprisingly, I gravitated towards Campos’ section, City Planning. With track names like “Transit Map (Flattened),” “Zone 3 (City Limits),” and “Industry,” I wondered if anything I’d recognize from History & Theory might show up.

That’s not exactly what I found. Instead, I heard a subtle techno record, delivered with a sense of discontinuity that suggests each track is a snapshot of a larger work in progress, like a tasting flight for vibes. The beautiful, if mechanical, music resembles how I feel about urban systems; no one in my everyday life gushes about modern sewers or zoning reforms quite like I do. There’s something so beguiling yet so serious about it. At one level, that’s what is most appealing about techno. Techno is deeply mechanical, preferring that electronically produced sounds oscillate with precise rhythms. It has a tightness, but as a genre, it inspires dance. At a rave blasting

techno, partygoers share in a moment of ego death, permitting moments of collectivity or solitude to the content of the listener. Connections between partygoers are flexible and multifaceted. Embodiment itself is even flexible in the space. Techno is serious about connections and about future possibilities in large part because of its origins in Detroit, MI at a key inflection point in its history. As a city with growing resources and inter-/intraracial stratification, Black Detroiters sought alternative forms of expression, and in that pursuit, Detroit techno emerged.

Detroit, MI: Technotopia

The origins of techno music say more about cities and their music scenes than any one album can. Techno is identified as the product of Yellow Magic Orchestra enthusiasts, Chicago House fans, and devotees of Donna Summer synthesizing these distinctive sounds. But its Detroit origins speak to the fluctuating social fabric necessary for a sound as distinct and long-lasting as this one to emerge.

Techno arose at a pivotal moment in Detroit history, when social stratification between and within racial groups collided with growing availability of DIY audiovisual


technology. In the prior decades (c. 1940s), hard-fought, yet incomplete, desegregation of the auto industry produced rare levels of economic stability for the Black households. By 1970, one in five Detroit autoworkers were Black; up from 3% in 1940. At the height of Black employment in the auto industry, prominent cities like Detroit and Cleveland also became home to increasing Black involvement in labor activism, civil rights, and local politics. Black autoworkers could increasingly afford levels of economic stability heretofore reserved for whites only.

While the Detroit auto industry helped spawn an emerging Black middle class in the era of the Second Great Migration, it should be recognized that such opportunities were not extended to all Black Detroiters. Social stratification within Black Detroit became a source of tension, especially for young folks in autoworking families. Many suburban Black creators felt disconnected from, or had been taught to revile, the Black music scene in the city. Early Detroit techno fans looked to Europe for inspiration, finding comfort in the work of Kraftwerk and peer musicians. That Europhilia, mixed with Afrofuturism, coagulated into a politics centered around freedom of Black expression

in the changing metropolis, especially with the growing availability of audiovisual technology for DIY use.

Classism and other discontents in the techno movement played a role in its development, but not because of anything inherently problematic within the music. For Black communities experiencing economic flux in deindustrializing Detroit, the cultivation of a techno scene expressed early producers’ visions for a transformed society, one where white supremacy could be dismantled and Black artists could express themselves with total freedom. At techno’s germination, advances in technology collided with a social context where formerly excluded creators could access and transform the nascent electronic music landscape. That it happened to be a city with growing internal stratification, which would be contested severely in the city’s rapid deindustrialization period, might have been coincidental. However, dynamic social conditions and economic fluctuation play a major role in the development of all forms of arts (think of Dadaism in the wake of the Great War for an extreme example), and Detroit had that. Detroit also had abundant semiformal nightlife spaces, seemingly limitless housing, and accessible

135 ESSAY Planning to Rave
At techno’s germination, advances in technology collided with a social context where formerly excluded creators could access and transform the nascent electronic music landscape.

community colleges where young creators getting their feet wet could network.

The distinct political and socioeconomic history of Detroit helped make all of this possible, and in a city with accessible nightlife and a ripe DIY culture, techno was bound to thrive. The branch of techno emerging from this period in the mid-1980s is still called Detroit techno, giving the city immortality in the broader electronic music landscape. For a variety of different but interrelated electronic music scenes, Detroit remains a major focal point. But today, how do cities become home to a new genre? What, if anything, can planners do to cultivate a strong music scene?

How Your City Makes Music

For the past 3 years, I’ve been a hobby music journalist, writing mostly for small blogs and online magazines, interviewing musicians I admire and reviewing new records. What started as a hobby grew into a small source of income and led me to work at one of Cleveland’s rock clubs, Grog Shop, as a talent buyer. Live music is an obsession of mine, and now that I’m in Philadelphia, I’m surrounded by even more of it. There are house shows within blocks of me every weekend. Part of why I came to Penn in the first place is the music scene: my partner works as a record publicist and has clients here; I want to be along for the ride. Colloquially, it’s understood that Philly has a great scene for experimental indie rock. But why?

1. Affordable housing.

These days, I don’t know many artists who can subsist on just their art. But, on the flipside, I don’t know many full-time workers who have the time or energy for artistic pursuits. In a place with affordable housing, you can strike a balance: work a parttime job that just pays the bills, maintain a decent lifestyle, and have time leftover to focus on your art and participate in the local scene. In Philly, we have so many affordable rowhomes, places with basements where bands can practice comfortably. Like-minded artists often congregate to cost-share in large rowhomes. Some of those homes double as concert venues.

2. Small, independent venues. Philadelphia has plenty of these, but many are somewhere between formal and informal. Many concert venues, including the one where I used to work, relied on bar revenue to make up for any losses on the talent side of the equation. In a state like Pennsylvania, where liquor control is comparatively tight, it’s challenging to run a formal all-ages venue. But perhaps owing to Philadelphia’s affordable rowhome supply and relationships that independent promoters have with social hall operators, the semiformal and informal venue scene thrives. When a traditional club like Kung Fu Necktie, Milkboy, or Johnny Brenda’s isn’t a feasible option, spots like Upstairs at Abyssinia,

As planners, we’ve been taught to milk as much potential tax revenue out of our cities as possible, with the hope that additional dollars will mean better services

PhilaMOCA, or Foto Club might have you covered. Better yet, your friends might have a house or a warehouse studio, where everyone has more freedom to let loose.

3. Interconnectedness.

Musicians, staffers, and concertgoers need easy ways to get from place to place. In Philadelphia, not all transit runs frequently all day and night, but 24-hour subway service on the weekends is crucial for enjoying the city’s extensive nightlife options. With venue options across the whole city, Philadelphians have comparatively easy access to any show happening on the weekend. Many bus routes are night owls, too, so the options are out there. Cycling infrastructure is improving, and if absolutely necessary, it is not absurdly difficult to drive to one of Philly’s venues and find free parking nearby.

Perhaps the important question to ponder: is your city a “24-hour city?” Are you supporting the “nighttime economy?” With the constraints we face as planners, we often sacrifice infrastructure that makes the city active for 24 hours: transit lines reduce frequency overnight, street lighting is poorly maintained, policies around sound or business activity skew towards conventional residents and entrepreneurs who serve the 9-5 community. While the amount of 24-hour drug stores, late-night eats, and overnight transit service outpaces many similar cities, Philadelphia isn’t perfect in this regard. But what it has offered has made Philadelphia a hotspot for experimental rock, with artists like Japanese Breakfast, Spirit of the Beehive, TAGABOW, and more attaining new levels of indie cred.

137 ESSAY Planning to Rave
Halloween Cover Set, Katie Hanford

Maybe It’s the Friends You Made Along the Way

Above all else, people make the music scene. At first, it seems like a chicken-egg problem: do you need people that care about having a good music scene in your city and will plan the town to ensure its germination, or do you need the affordable housing, the venues, and the interconnectedness to catalyze a scene’s development? And, in 2023, how did that scene weather the height of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic? Some cities are coming around to supporting nightlife because it can mean tax revenue, new real estate ventures, tourism, anything. Arguably, the best thing that cities can do for artists is to work deliberately towards a future where creating art is feasible: encouraging safety and harm reduction in informal spaces, investing in robust transportation options, preserving and cultivating diverse housing options that accommodate nontraditional live-work arrangements. In Philadelphia, a working group of nightlife and cultural workers have been recommending amenable policies to the city and sharing best practices with each other as part of 24HrPHL.

Unsurprisingly, the urban components that make for a good music scene, one

where people flock to capture a fleeting moment in history, like Detroit for techno or Seattle for grunge, are largely the same things that make any city function well. People need places to live. People need easy ways to travel. People need gathering spaces. But, as planners, we’ve been taught to milk as much potential tax revenue out of our cities as possible, with the hope that additional dollars will mean better services, perhaps losing sight of the prize of a vibrant city. It’s a terrible balancing act.


1 McKenzie Wark. “Raving: Second Chances on the Dancefloor.” Frieze 232, January 31, 2023.

2 Thomas J. Segrue. “On the Line.” Driving While Black: The Car and Race Relations in Modern America. The Automobile in American Life Society, 2004.

3 Christoph Schaub. “Beyond the Hood? Detroit Techno, Underground Resistance, and African American Metropolitan Identity Politics.” Forum for Inter-American Research.

4 For more on Detroit techno history, I recommend Generation Ecstasy: Into the World of Techno and Rave Culture by Simon Reynolds (Routledge, 1999).

5 Burnley, Malcolm. 2016. “Why Philly Refuses to Become a 24-Hour City.” Philadelphia Magazine (blog). September 18, 2016.

6 “About Studio West 117 | Cleveland’s LGBTQ+ Neighborhood.” 2023. Studio West 117 (blog). February 25, 2023.

7 “Home.” 24HrPHL.

About the Author: Devon Chodzin

Devon Chodzin is a Master of City Planning student obsessed with overhauling our arcane zoning codes and updating our crumbling sewer systems. When he’s not studying the impacts of sea level rise on our transportation and utility infrastructure, he can be found in any given Philadelphia basement attending a show or writing music features for Bandcamp Daily, Paste, FLOOD, and more.

Photos by Katie Hanford: (top) “Everybody Hits” (middle) Halloween Cover Set II (bottom) Pleasant grove

Ferryman Monologue

Dumbo 1908

(The ferryman sits on the edge of the ferry boat as it is moored to a noisy pier, watching the young boy carry large boxes onto the boat. He speaks slowly in a lilting Irish brogue, loudly over the noise of the bustling Brooklyn harbor.)


you complain about that heavy lifting, boy, they’ll be lightening your load and your hours with it too in times to come, let me tell you. Lord knows I’ve seen it. How everything around here changes, how one thing comes up and devours the other — industry is always hungry, but careless and cruel too. (pointing) See that bridge? That beast of human ingenuity stretched out over this expanse of river. The river no longer divides — yeah, that’s what they said when it opened. But you know we had been here. Sure look, the ferry been here since that Dutch fellow took people across in a damn canoe! (laughs)

But everything gets faster here, New York, everything eats itself up eventually. They’ve been building the damn thing ever since I landed on American soil, and before that too. Took ages to build the thing. I was here that first day when it opened, with the parades and all that, really something. We decked out the ferryboats in bunting and

we filled up with passengers and all lined up in a row we watched from the boats that Mrs. Emily Roebling take the first trip across in her five-horse carriage — that woman, always out front inspecting dealing with contractors after her poor husband gone down with the bends, and on that day can you believe she took a damn rooster across with her for good luck? The whole time she’s crossing this marvel of engineering and if it fails the damn rooster gonna save her? What a laugh! (laughs)

Boy you’d never seen so many people waving flags, cheering, all manner of boats filling up the river all dressed up like ladies in finery, fireworks in the air like nothin you’ve ever seen.

But thing is Jimmy, now they are building the subway too, and it aint’ gonna land on the waters edge neither, no, those riders are gonna spill up from the ground by Borough Hall. You’ve seen it. Seems to me to be no end to digging up the ground, putting in the reinforcing to house some or other great invention.

Yeah I know I’m going on. Thing I’m saying is boy, I’ve been here long enough to know our days are numbered. Soon they won’t


need us like they needed us before. There’s the bridge now, and those Mack trucks — you seen those? There are hundreds now where there weren’t none a year or two ago. You’ve seen ‘em load up the trucks and they just drive off — taking those things to every place the roads reach.

That’s what it is to be here, from the banks of this river boy you are connected to every place that is — as near as Manhattan landing, as far as Cuba, and of course we came from far away to be here too, like most everybody else that labors. We are everywhere right now in the wowrld, in the middle of these clouds of smoke and stink and noise.

But out on this river — that’s another thing — you know the trip across ain’t long but it’s enough to feel that breeze and sun on your face, to feel that man can never squash what is beautiful in nature, the river, it’s freedom, no matter how much we try to tame its crossing with bridges and steam and tracks — Why anyone would want to go underground in a dark and filthy tunnel to get across is beyond my understanding — why crawl underground like an animal, crowded up with the others, when there is this great blue out here, and that view of the city and all it’s tumult at a distance? — what refreshment to be had in that.

That view, Jimmy, don’t blink, it will all change on you before you know it.

About the Author: Anastasia Osorio

Anastasia Lyons Osorio is a Masters of City & Regional Planning student, concentrating in Environmental Planning. In her writing she explores urban histories through short narrative nonfiction and performance poetry. The idea for this piece came while digging through the Brooklyn Historical Society’s archival collection.

“Panoramic view of Manhattan, showing Brooklyn Bridge under construction” New York Public Library Digital Collections.

Articles inside

Ferryman Monologue

pages 148-149, 153

Planning to Rave

pages 142-147

Saving City Cropland

pages 134-141

I don’t know where to put my anger

pages 132-133

Rebuilding Peace in Colombia

pages 126-131

Healing Borders

pages 116-125

The Key to PHL

pages 110-115

Affordable Housing Preservation

pages 102-109

Three Case Studies on Transit Equity

pages 94-101

Increasing SEPTA Bus Operators’ Restroom Access

pages 88-93


pages 81-85


pages 78-80


pages 76-77

Anacostia River Corridor

pages 72-76

Planning an Equitable EV Transition

pages 58-71

Rage Against the Machine

pages 54-57

Embracing the Guts

pages 44-53

Scaling-up Finance for Green Infrastructure

pages 34-43

Delaware River Seasonal Cycles

pages 32-33

Contamination in the Floodplains

pages 22-31

Access to Clean Source Water and Indigenous Rights in Canada

pages 12-21

The Magician

pages 10-11

Meet the Panorama Meet the Panorama

pages 6-9
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