Real-Time Data Helps Philadelphia Improve Green Design

Sourced from Government Technology

Ben Levine: Could you describe what green infrastructure is and what the Green Infrastructure Living Laboratory project is? Who is involved in this effort?

Matthew Fritch: Green infrastructure describes a range of approaches used to capture stormwater runoff and prevent it from overloading the city’s combined sewer system. A rain garden, swale, green roof, pervious pavement, cistern and tree trench are all examples of green infrastructure. Philadelphia’s Green City, Clean Waters program is a 25-year plan that includes the wide-scale adoption of green infrastructure as a way to reduce combined sewer overflows into our rivers and streams. In addition to the environmental benefits of healthier streams, green infrastructure can alleviate flooding issues, reduce the urban heat island effect, and create a green workforce to build and maintain these systems.

Karly Soldner: The Green Infrastructure Living Laboratory (GILL) is composed of graduate students and researchers from Drexel University’s Sustainable Water Resource Engineering Laboratory and engineers from the Philadelphia Water Department. Our goal is to collect real-time data on green infrastructure systems using low-cost sensors that will eventually inform improvements to green infrastructure design.

Levine: Can you describe the activity at GILL?

Fritch: Because green infrastructure is still relatively new, we want to monitor these systems to make sure they are performing well and to inform better designs. The GILL project gives us an avenue to collect data from green infrastructure that’s been constructed on private property. Philadelphia’s Green City, Clean Waters program can only be successful if investments are made in both public and private property. So the more information we can gather about private systems — in particular, green roofs and cisterns — the better we’ll be able to evaluate which projects are working and are most effective in capturing stormwater. It just so happens that Drexel’s campus has a variety of green infrastructure project types that make it a good test bed for developing new and more efficient approaches to monitoring and using new technology and networks. We have developed low-cost and low-power sensor networks to collect environmental data from green infrastructure in real time.

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