A handsome Knight Cities grant is helping The Big Sandbox foster a civic movement around greening Philadelphia’s Schoolyards. 

Big Sandbox Dig Philly Announcement Poster

Our green infrastructure projects are nothing without coordinated partnerships and a healthy dose of organic community input to help them take shape and grow. Now, thanks to a John S. and James L. Knight Foundation Knight Cities Challenge(Sorry, this content is no longer available) grant*, The Big SandBox, one of our green school program partners, will have the means ($149,000 of it!) to make that happen at four Philadelphia schools. The Big Sandbox, a non-profit that “encourage[s] citizens, residents and students to participate in the planning, design and construction of their communities,” does fantastic work. We wholeheartedly congratulate them on receiving this award.

In order to make sure schoolyard improvements reflect the voices of the communities served by these schools, The Big SandBox is using the funds from Knight to launch a grassroots campaign called DIG Philly to create a true civic movement. Their efforts will use digital tools like social media alongside neighborhood organizing to create a consensus around fundraising, design, and construction at the schools as projects take shape over the next several years. DIG Philly was one of 32 projects selected by Knight (along with 6 others from Philadelphia) from a pool of more than 7,000 applicants!

We have to admit, we feel a bit like winners too, since the funding will support projects at four schools that we’re involved with: Horatio B. Hackett School, William D. Kelley, William McKinley and George W. Nebinger schools. All are targeted for renovations and improvements that include innovative green stormwater management as a part of our Green City, Clean Waters program and are aligned with The Big SandBox’s work to make schoolyards dynamic urban meeting spaces. Last year our work transformed an uninviting playground blacktop at Queen Village’s Nebinger School into a water-absorbing green space. The Big SandBox is currently working with community partners and the school to fundraise for additional playground improvements at the site. You’re invited to see and celebrate this transformational project at a special Earth Day ribbon-cutting on April 22.

Working with a partner like The Big SandBox allows Philadelphia Water to be a part of a more holistic change in schoolyards, one that not only helps the environment, but benefits the larger community as well. While public schools represent just two percent of impermeable pavement in the city, targeting them for Green City, Clean Waters improvements can yield an exponential value because of the audience – students and families. Managing stormwater at schoolyards doesn’t just make schools greener, calmer places; it has also been shown to improve student performance. And one of our favorite things about working at schools? These innovative installations provide a built-in educational tool that helps us teach our youngest citizens the importance of the goals central to Green City, Clean Waters. 

For more on The Big SandBox’s DIG Philly effort, visit www.thebigsandbox.org, follow them on Twitter at @greatbigsandbox or like at Facebook.com/thebigsandbox 

Knight's community and national initiatives program invests in civic innovators who help cities attract and keep talented people, expand economic opportunity and create a culture of engagement. The foundation believes that designing places to achieve these goals is crucial to city success.