This post was written by Nagiarry Porcena-Meneus, the Department of Commerce’s Program Manager, Office of Neighborhood Economic Development.

In the fall of 2020, the City of Philadelphia kicked off the Philadelphia Taking Care of Business (PHL TCB) Clean Corridors Program, which expanded the Department of Commerce’s existing commercial corridor cleaning efforts from 40 commercial corridors to 83 throughout the city. 

In tandem with this expansion, the William Penn Foundation provided funding support to the Overbrook Environmental Education Center (OEEC) to expand their Philly Green Ambassador (PGA) pilot program. The program enhances the careers of PHL TCB Cleaning Ambassadors by teaching tangible skills related to environmental stewardship. Another benefit of the program is the development of a group of neighborhood-based workers to be environmental champions within their neighborhoods. The PGA Program instructors are from the Academy of Natural Sciences alongside the OEEC’s instructors: Dr. Adrianne Flack, Gennifer Rollins, Mary E. May, Delrico Fletcher and Alice Wright.

“We are proud to support the Philly Green Ambassador pilot program, which through specialized training promises to set workers on positive, sustainable career paths,” said Nathan Boon, Senior Program Officer at the William Penn Foundation. “Ultimately, the goal is to foster a stronger, more inclusive, and more racially diverse climate and conservation workforce. This program is a great step in that direction.”

Nine TCB Cleaning Ambassadors from Nueva Esperanza and Impact Services participated in trainings to develop  skills such as computer literacy, strategic thinking, public speaking, and time management. The group also receives green infrastructure trainings on topics such as  tree pruning, rain garden care, climate control, community-based stewardship, lawn care, and science communication.

TCB Cleaning Ambassadors, PGA Instructors and Drew Brown from the Philadelphia Water Department pointing at a storm drain in Cliveden Park
TCB Cleaning Ambassadors, PGA Instructors and Drew Brown from the Philadelphia Water Department pointing at a storm drain in Cliveden Park

Philly Green Ambassador (PGA) Program Field Trip

For Earth Day, the TCB Cleaning Ambassadors visited several areas to experience first-hand how Philadelphia manages stormwater and how litter affects our waterways, including:

  • Sprague Street and Mt Pleasant Avenue
  • Cliveden Park, Belfield Avenue and Walnut Lane
  • 20th and West Courtland Streets
  • I Street and Ramona Avenue 

Drew Brown, Manager of Public Education Programs for the Philadelphia Water Department led the participants on a tour highlighting Green Stormwater Infrastructure (GSI), Combined Sewer Overflows (CSO) and additional water-related issues in the Frankford/Tacony watershed.

“This trip was designed to enable our PGA participants to witness the interconnected nature of our stormwater systems in the city. Our goal was to emphasize the importance of keeping litter off our streets, so that it doesn’t end up in our waterways” says Jerome Shabazz, Director of the Overbrook Environmental Education Center. 

Drew Brown of the Philadelphia Water Department showing how excess untreated water flows down sewer outfalls.
Drew Brown of the Philadelphia Water Department showing how excess untreated water flows down sewer outfalls.

During the field trip, Drew Brown spoke about Philadelphia’s combined sewer systems which is a combination of tunnels, sewers and pipes designed to collect domestic sewage and rainwater runoff. From this collection, the wastewater would be transported to a sewage treatment plant for treatment under normal dry weather conditions, and may be diverted to local waterways under heavy rain events to discharge the excess wastewater. 

“I learned that it is important to keep the streets clean including on commercial corridors so that debris does not flow into the storm drains and into the nearest creek. This can reduce pollution in our neighborhoods and natural ecosystems all while improving air quality,” shared Michael DonPailin of Impact Services.

While learning about storm drains, the participants observed how green stormwater infrastructures (GSI) such as rain gardens, bioswales, tree canopies play a vital role in supporting the health of surrounding environments by slowing down runoff, aiding infiltration, and reducing overflow on the combined sewer systems.

Jerome Shabazz and TCB Cleaning Ambassadors entering Cliveden Park.
Jerome Shabazz and TCB Cleaning Ambassadors entering Cliveden Park.

Gualdemar Santana of Nueva Esperanza shared, “It’s great that there are rain gardens in Philadelphia. I hope to keep advocating because we need more greenery in my neighborhood, and on the corridors we clean.” Edwin Garcia of Esperanza added: “Trees also beautify our streets and are a great source of enjoyment when exploring the outdoors.

Philadelphia has a total of 164 combined sewer outfalls. The PHL TCB Cleaning Ambassadors removing litter along neighborhood commercial corridors typically collect 660 bags on a typical day on average. 

“This field trip demonstrated how important it is to keep sweeping the sidewalks on neighborhood commercial corridors and that’s one of the great things about the PHL TCB program,” said Roberto Rodriguez, Commercial Corridor Manager at Nueva Esperanza. “Sidewalk cleaning helps prevent  litter from entering sewer outfalls including the largest one in Philadelphia named T14 that flows into Frankford Creek.”

The PGA field trip also included TCB Cleaning Ambassadors James Leggett, and John Charlton from Wynnebrook Corridor maintenance.  This trip equipped the PGA cohort members with tangible experiences that increase their employability and enable them to serve as ambassadors of stormwater management education within their neighborhoods.

“Knowing that there are environmental resources available to reduce stormwater runoff empowered me,” said Jordan Bingham of Impact Services.  ”I can be part of the change by being a steward of environmental wellness, encouraging clean streets and tree plantings. It takes public education and this program provided me with access to that.”