Come See How Green City, Clean Waters Helped Transform a Vacant Lot into a Community Gem

This is close-up image showing an American shad on the mural at 55th and Hunter Streets. The mural features raised and textured elements that make it pop off the wall.
This detail shows shad depicted in the new West Phila. mural created by Eurhi Jones and Mike Reali. Credit: Philadelphia Water

What happens when the nation’s boldest green infrastructure program meets the nation’s boldest mural arts program in a vacant West Philly lot?

The public is invited see for themselves at the Heston Rain Garden Mural Dedication & Ribbon Cutting event, to be held on Wednesday, October 5 at 3:30 p.m. at 55th and Hunter streets in the Hestonville neighborhood.

Join Philadelphia Water, Parks and Recreation, the Mural Arts Program, Councilman Curtis Jones, the Hestonville Civic Association and community members in celebrating the first Green City, Clean Waters vacant land transformation, a project that turned an empty lot into a green space that manages stormwater, protects local waterways, and features a vibrant water-themed mural from Philly artists Eurhi Jones and Mike Reali.

Additional partners on the project include the City’s Department of Public Property and the Pennsylvania Horticulture Society (PHS). The Environmental Protection Agency provided supplemental funds for the improvements.

As a part of the improvements, new sidewalks and a path leading to Heston’s gazebo were created. New benches are set to be installed at the gazebo in the next few weeks, making the green space even more appealing for community gatherings. Plans for improving the lot, which has been maintained by Hestonville Civic and PHS, got underway in 2012, and construction on the Green City, Clean Waters improvements began last year.

Now, a rain garden and subsurface storage trench at the site are helping to keep stormwater from surrounding streets out of the sewer system, where heavy rains can lead to overflows that hurt local waterways.

Those who come to the Oct. 5 event can also check out a beautiful new rain garden at Baker Playground, located just across the street. The playground improvements also include an underground storage trench that captures and stores water from storms, allowing it to slowly work its way back into the system rather than flooding sewers all at once.

Combined, the green tools at Heston and Baker add 1.39 “greened acres” to Philadelphia’s network of Green City, Clean Waters infrastructure.That means that for every one-inch rain storm the rain gardens and storage trenches will absorb over 37,700 gallons of stormwater.

Over the course of a normal year of rainfall, that adds up to more than 1.56 million gallons of polluted water being kept out of local waterways—not bad for a formerly vacant lot and community playground, right?

And, as impressive as the green infrastructure is, the new mural is something of a show-stealer.

The work highlights neighborhood connections to the Schuylkill River and includes a woman whose hair flows out into streams of water amid a scene featuring local aquatic wildlife such as American shad, river otters and a heron.

Fans of Philly Water Art projects might recognize Jones from her 2015 Waterways installation, which used colorful sidewalk art to draw people from Manayunk’s busier streets down to the revamped Venice Island Performing Arts and Recreation Center. Reali added texture to the Heston mural, and area residents even helped to create panels for the work at a community paint day hosted by Mural Arts.

To see the results and soak in this collaborative effort to replace a vacant lot with infrastructure that protects our waters and adds a new community asset to Hestonville, join us on Oct. 5.