Rio+20: What's love got to do with it?

Rio +20: What’s love got to do with it?

The City of Brotherly Love, of course, The City of Philadelphia!

Key folks from the City of Brotherly Love are in Rio right now, utilizing the Rio+20 platform to showcase the economic, social, and environmental benefits of large-scale natural infrastructure projects.

The primary vehicle for the Philly + Rio collaboration on natural infrastructure is the JIUS—Joint Initiative on Urban Sustainability— the product of a March 2011 agreement between the US and Brazil to collaborate to generate economic growth and decent jobs, eradicate poverty, and protect the environment by focusing on increasing investment in green infrastructure and city-scale green technology strategies. JIUS projects underway include utilization of natural infiltration processes to manage stormwater runoff on-site as an alternative to a purely “gray” approach, and capturing energy from waste and helping create policies and practices that can enable these approaches wherever possible.

Philadelphia’s green infrastructure intent is laid out in its Green City Clean Waters plan, which my colleague Larry Levine has blogged about here, as well as Philly’s accompanying new stormwater utility fee and credit system, which creates potentially catalytic opportunities for private financing of green infrastructure retrofits on private property, as we have written in a 2012 report, Financing Stormwater Retrofits in Philly and Beyond.

Whether it’s the big green block, crowd-sourcing entrepreneurs, or equipping one of the largest sanitary landfills with a biogas capture system, the JIUS is taking the best in natural infrastructure innovation that Philly and Rio have to offer and showcasing the underlying players, methodologies, and results to the cities of the world, putting together a veritable playbook of ideas, structures, and component parts that can be utilized in whole or in part by additional cities.

NRDC has been proud to play a role in JIUS process, contributing to the JIUS through its 2012 “Financing Stormwater Retrofits” report referenced above, as well as through the Natural Infrastructure Financing Laboratory, (“NatLab,” a pathbreaking collaboration between the NRDC, The Nature Conservancy, and EKO Asset Management Partners) which aims to work with cities to help catalyze private investment in green infrastructure, beginning with a pilot project in Philly to generate greened acres while minimizing use of public funds and focusing on leveraging private investments.

Water has long been the lifeblood of both Rio and Philly: Not only are Rio’s incredible beaches and natural coastal features a primary tourist draw today, but the name Rio de Janeiro literally translates to “River of January,” a reminder that in1502, when the first European explorers encountered Rio’s bay, they believed it was the mouth of a river… several centuries later, in the mid 1800’s, the forebears of today’s Philadelphia Water Department purchased large tracts of land (today's Fairmount Park) along Philly’s Schuylkill River in an early example showcasing how natural infrastructure could be utilized to protect watersheds from urban pollution.  

Water quality is as vital to futures of Rio and Philly as it has been to their past. As both cities think creatively about how to maintain water quality and improve livelihoods in a time of explosive urban population growth and public financing constraints, there exists transformative potential for JIUS and NatLab to scale up private investment in green and natural infrastructure in these two Cidades Maravilhosas, and help inspire hundreds (thousands?!) of additional cities worldwide to get on a path toward cleaner, greener growth.  

...Stay tuned!