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Meet the 2016 Public Policy Challenge Finalists: Urban Stream

February 13, 2016

Our Idea:

The contaminated water crisis of Flint, Michigan has led many Americans to question the safety of their own drinking water, and provided momentum to the already thriving bottled water industry. However, Flint is just another step leading away from the public’s access to affordable drinking water that began many years ago. Despite well­known concerns regarding plastic water bottles such as pollution, environmental issues from their production, and the exponential cost increase compared to tap equivalents, many Americans have consciously decided that bottled water is the safer and more efficient way to consume the recommended eight glasses per day, despite the well­documented fact that most bottled water is equal in quality to tap water in many places.

In Philadelphia, despite being voted one of the nation's most walkable cities, a resident or visitor could wander the city streets for hours and never see a public drinking fountain. The opportunity to purchase a bottle of purported “pure” drinking water from either street vendors or local convenience stores are plentiful. The same situation is especially evident along the Schuylkill River Trail where its users must either carry reusable bottles with them (with no opportunity to refill), or purchase single­use bottles from retailers. Here the water bottle pollution is palpable: cleanups of even small portions of the River yield thousands of littered bottles. The dearth of access to free public water around the city has led to an over dependence on single­use water bottles.

Urban Stream plans to disrupt the dependence on bottled water by educating the public on the safety and quality of Philadelphia's drinking water, and providing free access to public water at strategically located water kiosks throughout the city. For the cost of a new car, the city could purchase and install five water kiosks ($11,000 per fountain) that will help the city in three key aspects: 1) reduce litter from the city’s infrastructure system, including the more than 40% of recyclable litter that ends up in the city sewer system, 2) provide an alternative that is 174 times cheaper than bottled water, and 3) educate on the local community on health impacts of sugary drink consumption (Philadelphians average 1⁄2 liter of sugary drinks consumed per day). By partnering with private organizations throughout the city, Urban Stream can minimize taxpayer costs while providing a public good that will continue to enhance the attractiveness of Philadelphia as an international destination of choice. By installing drinking fountains around the city, the government can prove its commitment to becoming a greener, environmentally friendly city, as well as promoting its innovative and forward­thinking initiatives.

The Team:

  • Gina Lavery: ​Master of City Planning candidate at the School of Design
  • Joe Lee: M​aster of Public Administration candidate at the Fels Institute of Government
  • Michael Urso:​ Master of Public Administration candidate at the Fels Institute of Government
  • Yunning Wang:​ Master of Education candidate at the Graduate School of Education

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Contact Information

Fels Institute of Government
University of Pennsylvania
3814 Walnut Street
Philadelphia, PA 19104

Phone: (215) 898-2600
Fax: (215) 746-2829

felsinstitute@sas.upenn.edu