Wanted: Green Acres: How Philadelphia's Greened Acre Retrofit Program is Catalyzing Low-Cost Green Infrastructure Retrofits on Private Property

In July 2014, the Philadelphia Water Department (PWD) launched an innovative competitive grant program to encourage the development of green infrastructure on private property. Green infrastructure practices—which include trees, rain gardens, green roofs, and porous pavement—restore the landscape’s ability to retain stormwater on or near where it falls, keeping polluted runoff out of municipal systems and out of waterways, rivers, and oceans. Philadelphia’s program, called the Greened Acre Retrofit Program (GARP) encourages contractors or design/ construction firms to bundle green infrastructure projects and compete for limited public grant funding by bringing forward the lowest-cost retrofit opportunities available on private land. The availability of public dollars through GARP creates a competitive green infrastructure market that is able to produce benefits for all parties involved in local green infrastructure development.

This Issue Brief details why the Philadelphia Water Department (PWD) developed the innovative performance-based GARP, as well as how this initiative is motivating the private sector to take an active role in creating cost-effective green infrastructure opportunities on private land. The aim of this paper is to highlight how creative incentive programs can encourage public-private collaborations that provide an avenue for cities to meet their water quality objectives in a cost-effective way while creating social benefit and economic growth opportunities.