Incremental Infrastructure

ProjectPattern finding to evaluate vacant site criteria for maintenance and infiltration strategies
LocationPhilalephia, PA
Date2009- present
ClientSelf-initiated research
CollaboratorsThe Pennsylvania Horticultural Society, the Redevelopment Authority of Philadelphia, the Philadelphia Water Department, and Asociacio de Peutorriquenoes en Marcha for Everyone

Philadelphia has over 40,000 vacant properties, of which 9,000 are city owned. In response to this, we initiated and built a series of research projects, with governmental and non-profit alliances, which explore the potential of low-cost engineering substrates as a means to address two key issues of vacancy: maintenance and infiltration.

Philadelphia Mayor Nutter’s administration has made sustainability a priority with the recently created Office of Sustainability. As part of this, two recent initiatives-Green 2015 and Green City, Clean Waters-aim to transform vacant, publicly and privately-owned land into recreation and infiltration areas. The first seeks to extend the successes of the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society’s Clean and Green program to provide 500-acres of new parks. The latter targets vacancy as a land-based stormwater management strategy to reduce runoff and pollutants associated with sewer overflows that are common to Philadelphia’s overburdened combined sewer system.

Both strategies target vacant lots that are 1/4-acre or larger; a parcel size that comprises seventy percent of the 4,152 acres of total vacant land. The remaining parcels, which comprise 1,251 acres, are under 1/4-acre each. These sites of ‘micro-vacancy’ are too small for typical land banking or recreational space strategies that require large-scale administrative oversight.

The drawings were used to develop site selection criteria to prioritize the best locations for specific, site-based installations. This is not a master-plan proposal. The vacancy is extensive and cannot be dealt with in totality or under a single administrative entity; however, these maps provide a series of layers (looking at the intersections among multiple factors) that can facilitate selecting target areas for “incremental” infrastructures.