Philadelphia STEW-MAP


Philadelphia is frequently referred to as a big small town: you don’t have to go far before you run into a familiar face, or discover a connection among colleagues.  STEW-MAP enhances and accelerates discovery of these connections among environmental stewardship organizations. Creating transparency within and among unofficial networks can enhance organizational efficiency, and the overall resilience and sustainability of urban communities.

The physical environment of Philadelphia includes one of the world’s largest urban park systems, the only functioning wetlands area in the state of Pennsylvania, and one of the busiest river ports along the Atlantic seaboard. It is also impacted by many of the challenges faced by other east coast urban centers: aging infrastructure, poverty, tight budgets for resources, and high rates of environmental pollutants alongside high population density.  Sometimes necessity is the mother of invention: vacant lots become thriving community gardens; neighborhoods have tree stewards alongside block captains; students learn about river ecosystems in tandem with the craft of boat building. All of these factors underlie how the nature of environmental stewardship is vital to the health of both the landscape and the people who live and work here.

Philadelphia STEW-MAP shines a spotlight on the hundreds of civic groups working throughout the city from the street corner to the watershed in an effort to improve outcomes that contribute to a healthier urban environment and stronger neighborhoods.  The USDA Forest Service’s Philadelphia Urban Field Station collaborated with the USDA Forest Service’s NYC Urban Field Station, researchers at the University of Maryland’s Program for Society and the Environment (Dana Fisher, Anya Galli, and Joseph Waggle), and staff at the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society to complete a civic environmental stewardship survey in 2014. This collection and analysis of stewardship organizations allows for a greater understanding of the nature and efficacies of these groups – where they work, what they focus on, and how their structure is connected to and informed by their communities and partners.

Results from the Philadelphia STEW-MAP survey are highlighted in a white paper, Under the Green Umbrella. Out of the initial sample of 665 organizations, 195 organizations completed the survey (29.3% response rate). Many of the responding organizations are focused on parks, recreation centers, and water and sewersheds, with 85% of the responding organizations providing services to land environments, 48% to built environments, and 28% to aquatic environments. Half of the organizations share information at the neighborhood level, while 23% share information at the city level, 11% at the regional level, and 7% at the national level. Nearly half of the responding organizations have an annual budget of $10,000 or less, and one-third of them are less than 10 years old. Finally, the vast majority of stewardship organizations are driven by membership and volunteer participation in the absence of full-time paid staff, affirming one of many reasons that Philadelphia is the City of Brotherly Love.


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Last modified: March 17, 2021