Rocky steps towards adaptive management and adaptive governance in implementing green infrastructure at urban scale in Philadelphia


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Many scholars have recently looked to adaptive management and adaptive governance as new approaches to implement green infrastructure. Much of the recent scholarship, however, that argues for combining the three concepts of adaptive management, adaptive governance, and green infrastructure is either theoretical, at early planning stages, or based on relatively small experiments. Since green infrastructure is now being implemented in a number of cities at large spatial scales, this paper examines how and whether combining these theories helps to solve anticipated problems compared to earlier work on environmental governance and political implementation. The city of Philadelphia has become known as a national and international leader in using green infrastructure for stormwater management. This paper therefore analyses Philadelphia’s early experiences in the period from 2009 to 2015 as a test at urban scale of the usefulness of theories of adaptive management and adaptive governance in implementing green infrastructure. The city of Philadelphia found itself rapidly changing its implementation approach multiple times in response to political pressure. The city’s changing responses illustrate challenges in implementing environmental policies among actors with differing levels of political power, economic interests, and participation. This paper describes the rapid changes in programs using mixed methods and data sources including quantitative analysis of the city’s billing and program data, qualitative interpretation of media and public documents, and subsequent interviews with city officials. Understanding how and why Philadelphia rapidly changed its approach will be interesting to policymakers and advocates in other cities who also intend to implement green infrastructure at urban scale.



Adaptive management, Adaptive governance, Green infrastructure, Urban scale