Grounds for Change: Activating Vacant Land

Herron Playground


Tags: infiltration, pavement, Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, playground, porous, raingarden, recreation, stormwater, surface, water, waterpark, youth

Water plays a major role in a South Philadelphia playground, from recreation to green infrastructure.

South Philadelphia's Herron Playground, also known as Herron Park, is the city's first integration of stormwater management components with progressive designs for children at play.  A project of the Philadelphia Water Department and the Philadelphia Department of Recreation, this park restoration was further supported by Philadelphia's Capital Program Office.  Langan Engineering contracted with the city for services including landscape architecture, civil engineering, surveys, and permits.  The final design for the park was selected for the Water Department's Green Prjects Review process, which prioritizes and expedites green infrastructure projects in the city.  In 2009, Herron Park was further recognized through a Stormwater Best Practices Management Award, an accolade jointly presented by PWD with Villanova and Temple Universities.

Before renovation, a basketball court was Herron Park's primary attraction for local youth.  Recognizing the court's importance to the community, project designers elected to maintain it in its existing location.  A subsurface infiltration system built beneath the court was paved over with porous asphalt, transforming a major runoff culprit into part of a stormwater management facility.

Resurfacing was implemented elsewhere in the park as well.  Play areas layered with rubbery mulch-like material lie alongside planted areas like a large vegetative swale and a small-scale rain garden, further improving the park's permeability.  Each of these new surfaces helps to collect and slow down the flow of rainwater that would otherwise rush directly into Philadelphia's combined sewer, potentially overloading the system during storm events and seasons with heavy rainfall.  Overall, water management elements save nearly 13,000 square feet from impermeability and excess runoff.

So much for the park's environmentally friendly features; what draws local families and youth to the park in larger numbers than ever since its restoration?  The playful addition of a water park-some call it a "sprayground"-has improved the park's accessibility to a wider age range and improved its popularity among parents.  The sprayground replaced an underused and poorly maintained swimming pool.  Slides, sprinkler-like water sprays, spinning seats, and teeter-totters are among play equipment appropriate for a diverse population of school-age children.  Shaded tables and interactive gaming consoles round out the roster of playground furniture.  Water waste is minimized though dawn-to-dusk hours and push-button activation for the sprays, ensuring that water will not run unless the park is in use.


Philadelphia Water Department Office of Watersheds

Philadelphia Playground Project

Spector, Jayne and Spokas, Thomas.  "Herron Park demonstrates Philadelphia 's innovative, low-tech approach to handling stormwater."  CE News, Sustainable Stormwater Management Web Exclusive (April 2010).  Accessed online March 19, 2011.

Freeman, Amy.  "Parking" column, Phillyist (May 26, 2010).  Accessed online March 19, 2011.

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