Green infrastructure is the component of open space that primarily
addresses open space located within the public realm.
WHAT IS GREEN INFRASTRUCTURE
Green infrastructure is all of the other elements that constitute open
space not including parks, natural features, schools and trails. Street
trees are the most commonly identified element of green infrastructure,
but green infrastructure also includes other important components of
the public landscape such as gateways, town greens, and public landscapes.
The value of green infrastructure to a community is more than just aesthetic,
green infrastructure also promotes economic development in commercial
areas, increases property values in residential neighborhoods, saves
energy, improves air quality and mitigates the impact of stormwater.
Green infrastructure creates a synergy between open space, public health
and economic development.
In built-out communities like Lower Merion where development primarily
consists of high-end infill and higher density downtown/transit redevelopment,
the open space provided by green infrastructure is equally as important
as the roads, rails and sewers of traditional ‘gray’ infrastructure.
If properly designed, the open space/green infrastructure created through
higher density redevelopment can easily offset the increased mass, traffic
and population by providing important aesthetic, environmental and social
This Plan identifies several important ways that green infrastructure
contributes to the community:
TYPES OF GREEN INFRASTRUCTURE
Street trees and landscaping are essential to developing attractive
and safe linkages between Township amenities. Regularly spaced street
trees located between pedestrian trails and roadways improve safety for
trail users and drivers by creating a physical barrier between cars and
people. Street trees help to define the physical space for pedestrians
and help to calm traffic. Attractive, landscaped paths also have higher
rates of usage. Street trees and public landscape improvements should
be incorporated into the design of all new trails in the Township.
ENHANCE COMMERCIAL AREAS
Creation of public plazas, enhancing public landscaping and adding streetscape
improvements is essential to maintaining and revitalizing commercial
areas. The Township has made the upgrading of its existing commercial
areas a high priority and the Economic Development division utilizes
green infrastructure improvements as part of its revitalization strategy.
Ardmore has recently installed streetscape improvements, including
street trees and planter boxes and City Avenue and Bryn Mawr are in the
process of adding new plantings, banners and pedestrian-scaled amenities.
The Township has also identified eight (8) gateways and has installed
signage to demarcate the entrances. Gateway signage would be significantly
enhanced with additional landscaping.
While all commercial areas of the Township are candidates for regreening,
City Avenue, Ardmore and Bryn Mawr each would additionally benefit from
the creation of additional public spaces. The Project for Public Spaces,
a national, non-profit educational/advocacy organization, identifies
the introduction of high-quality, multi-functional public spaces into
older downtown areas as one of the most effective ways to ‘turn
a place around’. Public spaces in commercial areas have many additional
benefits beyond providing green relief. Public plazas enhance the shopping
experience and give people a place to gather or meet between shops and
restaurants. Well-designed public spaces like those at Suburban Square
enhance the shopping environment and create an upscale atmosphere. Finally,
public plazas create opportunities for programmed events like movies,
concerts or festivals.
RELIEF IN UNDERSERVED RESIDENTIAL NEIGHBORHOODS
While Lower Merion as a whole has a large and diverse inventory of
open spaces it is unevenly distributed throughout the Township. Generally
the parts of the Township in the east and south that have the highest
population densities also have the least amount of public green space.
Public green space is of extra importance to residents of these neighborhoods
because the single-family homes and the multi-family structures are generally
on smaller lots, with limited green space.
The Township has long-recognized the need for additional open spaces
in these areas of the Township. The 1995 Open Space Plan recommended
increasing the number of pocket parks in the more densely developed portions
of the Township, such as Belmont Hills, Bala Cynwyd, Merion, Wynnewood
and Bryn Mawr. This recommendation was one of the few not implemented,
largely due to the lack of available funds and the complexity of identifying,
acquiring and constructing new parks in established neighborhoods. Creating
new spaces in dense neighborhoods requires both a ‘bottom up’ and
a ‘top down’ approach and is only applicable in neighborhoods
with strong community support.
While difficult, creating new pocket parks in developed neighborhoods
is not impossible. The Township GIS system will facilitate the investigation
of potential properties through parcel mapping, aerial photography and
property data. And while these neighborhoods are developed they are not
fully developed and several vacant or hard to develop properties are
scattered throughout. Another alterative involves identifying specific
locations, assembling property and clearing for a park. This Plan recommends
taking a harder look for possible sites and working with community groups
and elected officials to create appropriately designed and scaled new
Pocket parks are similar to trails in that they are very flexible in
their design and can easily accommodate local conditions. The design
program should initiate from the community and meet specific needs such
as a tot lot, community garden or bocce court. Sometimes the process
of designing a pocket park can do as much to build community as the actual
The residents of Lower Merion have a great deal of pride in their Township
and are very active in community affairs. However, for all of the public
participation, the Township lacks significant public spaces. The lack
of central public spaces in the Township can be attributed to the historic
separation between neighborhoods and commercial and cultural amenities
areas as well as the predominance of the automobile for personal transportation.
Public spaces, like downtown parks and plazas, serve as central gathering
spaces for celebrations, protests or communal mourning. Public spaces
should be centrally located and accessible to pedestrians and via public
transportation. Public spaces are good for communities and create the
public realm necessary for the democratic exchange of ideas. Examples
of public spaces in similar suburban communities include nearby Wayne
and Morristown, New Jersey. Logical locations for new public spaces include
the area around the Township Administration Building or the large municipal
parking lot on Lancaster Avenue opposite the Bryn Mawr train station.
PARKS AND RECREATIONAL AREAS
Landscaping and the management of natural areas are essential to the
continuance of high-quality parks and recreation areas in the Township.
Many of the Township’s parks are older, with mature landscapes
and contain significant natural features like streams, wooded slopes
and wetlands. Many parks require significant attention to their natural
features to stabilize stream banks, control invasives and address deer
damage as called for in their master plans. The Township has a Parks
crew dedicated to maintaining natural features. These natural areas are
the green legacy of the Township and their continued maintenance is important.
Shade trees provide the leafy-green component that characterizes Lower
Merion’s residential neighborhoods. The Township takes shade trees
and other trees very seriously and their preservation and establishment
is incorporated into every development application by Township staff.
The Board of Commissioners as a matter of policy routinely requires new
trees to be added and existing large trees to be preserved as conditions
of approval on all new development applications.
The Shade Tree Commission, consisting of nine residents and several
members of the Township staff, has exclusive custody and control of all
trees on Township property and is authorized to plant, remove, maintain
and protect all shade trees on public streets and highways, as well as
all trees in Township parks and parking lots. The Commission routinely
enlists the participation of the civic associations in the Township.
Recent tree planting programs are excellent examples of how effective
the associations can be in providing help in their own neighborhoods.
Despite the Township’s continued diligence, many areas of the
Township are threatened with a significant loss of tree cover in coming
years as existing street trees reach maturity and begin to decline. Since
the 1930’ the Township has required that street trees be planted
as part of all residential construction, however since nearly 70% of
the Township’s housing stock was built prior to 1959 many of these
trees are reaching the end of their lifespan and need to be replenished.
The declining urban forest is not just a local problem facing Lower
Merion, but a regional one as well. In March 2003, the USDA Forest Service
and American Forests, Inc, in collaboration with Pennsylvania Department
of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR) released a study estimating
the 5-county Philadelphia region has lost 5 million trees over the past
15 years1. The study equated the loss of tree cover with increased stormwater
runoff, lower air quality and increased energy costs. The study concluded
that the percentage of tree cover corresponds to the social and economic
health of communities and that tree cover is integral to maintaining
and improving quality of life in the communities.
This section contains maps showing the percentage of tree cover by
census tract for all of Montgomery County and Lower Merion. These maps
indicate that Lower Merion has some of the highest levels and lowest
levels of tree cover in the County. Of particular concern are neighborhoods
with less than 25% tree cover, which includes West Ardmore, East Ardmore,
Bala and parts of Penn Wynne.
While these neighborhoods are currently facing critical levels of reduced
tree cover many other neighborhoods in the Township may face similar
loss of tree cover in coming years. Clearly, the Township must make a
more concerted effort to plant more trees to offset this potential crisis.
The problem of declining tree cover is the result that not enough new
trees are being planted to replace those that are lost or will soon be
lost. According to the Township Arborist, the Township is currently staffed
with the ability to plant 100 new trees a year. This limits the ability
of the Township to plant additional trees and also maintain the existing
In light of increasing issues involving stormwater and impervious surface,
street trees are more important than ever to the physical health of the
Township. Many of the trees that are being lost are street trees planted
between the sidewalk and curb or planted close to the curb where no sidewalks
exist. Large shade trees along the street help to mitigate the impact
of stormwater on the street and reduce flooding. However in recent years
many of these trees are not being replaced because of maintenance concerns
of homeowners or are being replaced with smaller ornamentals, which do
not produce the same stormwater benefits. The Shade Tree Commission should
review current policy in light of this problem.
The scope and scale of green infrastructure needs and projects in the
Township will only increase in coming years as the tree inventory ages,
the trail network is implemented and as revitalization happens throughout
GREEN INFRASTRUCTURE OPPORTUNITIES
ESTABLISH A TOWNSHIP-WIDE
COMMUNITY GREENING COORDINATOR
The Township is approaching a “tipping-point” in regard
to its green infrastructure. Lower Merion’s urban forest of street
trees has reached maturity and will begin to rapidly decline over the
next generation. Simply put, if current practices remain, many more trees
will be removed than planted and the lush green canopy that defines large
sections of the Township will be lost.
Currently Green Infrastructure is addressed ad-hoc and is the responsibility
of several departments and advisory bodies, including the Environmental
Advisory Council, Shade Tree Commission, and Public Works, Parks and
Recreation, and Building and Planning Departments. While each department
or body functions well in performing their own tasks, the Township lacks
the comprehensive vision and coordination necessary to address the scope
of the issue confronting the Township.
Realistically addressing this will require more than just increasing
staff levels and may involve creating a Community Greening Coordinator
similar to programs undertaken by the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society
(PHS) in Center City and University City Philadelphia (Philadelphia Green
and University City Green). Both of these areas have significantly benefited
from a dedicated coordinator who is able to work with municipal agencies
and community groups in reforesting and regreening vast areas of these
The University Green organization operates with technical assistance
from PHS, but receives the majority of its funds from grants and private
foundations. University City Green has planted 200 new trees and sponsored
numerous greening projects and workshops since it was established in
2004. Trees are planted with volunteer labor supervised by trained staff
or volunteers. Trees are tended with watering, mulching and selective
pruning until they become established. The benefits to the community
are enormous, not only are more trees planted, but the act of tree planting
also helps to build and educate the community. Because of the high levels
of citizen participation, private support for cultural activities and
green ethic, Lower Merion is ideally positioned to replicate this type
A Community Greening Advocate could be established as either a Township
staff position or through the creation of a non-profit. Such an agency
could work with Township staff, citizen groups, state and county agencies
and the business community in fundraising and implementation. There are
numerous small urban forestry grants and opportunities available. Recently
the Township Building and Planning Department was able to secure a grant
for approximately 115 trees for the Bala area to be administered by the
Neighborhood Club. However, many other opportunities are missed because
they slip under the scope or priorities of the current arrangement.
By focusing on small-scale neighborhood–based projects a Community
Greening Advocate would have the ability to solve the difficult issue
of street trees on private property. Township staff is reluctant to advise
and is generally prohibited from performing work on private property.
However many street trees in the Township are located just outside the
public right-of-way. Public education, outreach and assistance is required
to ensure that appropriate species of shade trees are planted in these
locations rather than smaller ornamentals.
Additionally a Community Greening Advocate would have the ability to
develop a Township-wide green infrastructure plan that addressed the
need to upgrade landscaping in commercial areas and along the public
right-of-way. These are long-term community needs to ensure the quality
of the public realm.