February 3, 2006
In Fall 2005, students in the Community and Regional Planning (CRP) master’s degree program, using the latest planning and mapping technology, envisioned a future for the Fort Washington Office Park where flooding and stormwater issues were a thing of the past.
That flood-free future has just taken one large leap forward.
The Center for Sustainable Communities at Temple University Ambler has been awarded a $420,000 grant from the Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission to undertake a “Fort Washington Area Flooding and Transportation Improvement Study,” which will, in large part, be a direct continuation of the detailed research and planning undertaken by CRP students during the fall semester.
“The Fort Washington Office Park is a major employment center; however the success of this facility as an economic growth and development center is hindered by flooding and a poorly organized transportation system. While correcting severe flooding problems is paramount to the future success of the office park, this problem cannot be corrected by evaluating the office park alone,” said Dr. Jeffrey Featherstone, Director of the Center for Sustainable Communities and Chair of the Department of Community and Regional Planning. “This project requires a stormwater analysis of the entire Sandy Run Creek watershed in order to identify potential upstream stormwater management opportunities to alleviate.”
Improving the office park’s current transportation system, Dr. Featherstone added, requires “an extensive evaluation of not only internal conditions and impacts on stormwater runoff volume, velocity and quality but also external conditions such as interconnectivity with local streets and highways, and accessibility by public transportation.”
The Fort Washington study will be led by the Center for Sustainable Communities with partners Orth-Rodgers & Associates, Inc., Coleshill Associates LLC, and Engineering and Design Institute.
The project will be directly undertaken by researchers from the Center and faculty and students from the CRP program and Temple’s Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering. Temple faculty involved in the project include Dr. Featherstone, Dr. Michael Boufadel, Associate Professor in the Civil and Environmental Engineering department; CRP faculty, such as Dr. Lynn Mandarano and Richard Nalbandian; Associate Professor of Landscape Architecture Dr. Mary Myers; and Geographic Information Systems design specialists A.S.M. Abdul Bari and Md Mahbubur Meenar.
“This extensive study will provide an excellent opportunity for our students to gain valuable real world experience and continue research that they have already contributed to substantially,” said Susan Spinella, Assistant Director for the Center for Sustainable Communities. “Because the office park is prone to severe flooding, it is important to take an integrated approach for this study. This integrated analysis will support the team’s development of design recommendations consistent with Low Impact Development, ‘Green Street’ and Sustainable Design principles.”
According to Spinella, an extensive outreach program — including a sustainable design charette — is planned to “engage a broad group of stakeholders and create a dialogue about the project goals, objectives, and progress.”
The Fort Washington Office Park employs about 14,000 people. Originally developed in the mid-1950s, the 563-acre office park in Upper Dublin Township was one of the first of its type in suburban Philadelphia. Built within a natural basin, many of the buildings were erected long before there were laws in place to prevent building within floodplains.
The resulting flooding and stormwater management issues within the office park have hampered growth within the region, according to the Fall 2005 study developed by students for the Community and Regional Planning 414: Advanced Topics and Techniques in Geographic Information Systems (GIS) class. Today a full 30 percent of the building space stands vacant — 65 percent of the buildings are within the floodplain or floodway.
The team developed a GIS-based site assessment based on a series of “windshield surveys” and site visits; created a suitability study for future development, prioritizing the natural and built features that should be preserved; and recommended future development scenarios using three dimensional GIS visualization.
According to the students’ study, the older buildings within the office park do not manage stormwater effectively — some inlets are deteriorated and clog with debris and stormwater is routed to streams causing erosion. The office park consists of 50 percent impervious surface, significantly more ground level parking than is necessary, and poor usage of parking garages.
“If these buildings were built today, they would not be allowed, but they are here and (the office park) needs to be improved,” Jon Kugel, who is in his second year of the CRP graduate program. “This project was a great opportunity to study various different aspects of planning — stormwater management, floodplain mitigation, transportation, land use, open space. We’ve been able to use the latest technology to achieve something tangible.”