From Scrub, New Growth

Professor Art McGarity, Lang Center Scholar-in-Residence Arto Woodley, Jonathan Cohen ’17, and Alexandra Philyaw ’17

Partnering in storm-water management are (clockwise from left) Professor Art McGarity, Lang Center Scholar-in-Residence Arto Woodley, Jonathan Cohen ’17, and Alexandra Philyaw ’17. 

 

Since 2001, Swarthmore's Lang Center for Civic and Social Responsibility has built on the pioneering vision of philanthropist Eugene M. Lang '38, H'81. The singular goal of this son of Hungarian immigrants was to enhance the connections among coursework, fieldwork, and citizenship. His commitment to growing a more just and beautiful world continues to be cultivated — and then some.

 

Less than 24 hours after a freak midwinter deluge, Professor of Engineering and Environmental Studies Art McGarity sits at his desk peering closely at the city website that monitors sewer-runoff hot spots. 

“Those red triangles,” he says, tapping at a cluster of blinking signals, “show locations of combined sewer overflows in Philadelphia that will spill into the Delaware River, the Schuylkill River, Tacony Creek, and Cobbs Creek whenever it rains more than a quarter-inch or so in one day.”  

The alarms are virtual evidence of an urban center’s very real aging infrastructure that includes 3,000 miles of sewers and 79,000 storm-water inlets in the Philadelphia area. Working with students, faculty, and community members to discover ways to manage those waterways winding and coursing through the Delaware River Watershed and its seven main subwatersheds is McGarity’s passion. 

“We want to inspire engineering students to make a social impact,” says McGarity. He and colleagues, including Christina Rosan of Temple University, have created projects that present Philadelphia as a model for water management. “We’re hoping the work we’re doing will become a model nationwide.” 

When McGarity learned in 2013 that he had been awarded a $1 million four-year research grant from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to lead water projects that would control Philadelphia’s storm-water runoff, he was ecstatic. It allowed him to create simulations so city planners can choose which green infrastructure technologies to use in public spaces and which ones to incentivize on private properties, as well as to build new alliances, including with the Overbrook Environmental Education Center (OEEC) in West Philadelphia. Arto Woodley of the Lang Center shared insights and expertise that helped to actualize some of McGarity’s community partnerships. 

“Art’s StormWise program will help us monetize and put value on storm-water management in our area,” says OEEC director Jerome Shabazz, who will work with Swarthmore students this summer. “If we want to encourage green infrastructure development, we have to be able to justify the value of open space. By pulling in academia and local stakeholders, we can get the job done.”

Read about more Lang Center for Civic & Social Responsibility initiatives and programs in The Bulletin.  

Learn about Swarthmore’s impact on the local and global community at lifechanging.swarthmore.edu.