The river as it was. The river as it is. The river as it could be. These are the three lenses through which John Frederick Lewis examines the Schuylkill River in his book The Redemption of the Lower Schuylkill, published in 1924. These same lenses serve as the backdrop for the Slought Foundation exhibit “The Redemption of the Schuylkill”, which opened this past May and came to a close on Tuesday, August 18th with a panel discussion about the river and its future, co-hosted by PPEH.
The exhibit’s photos of the river, both current and historic, are organized according to the three perspectives: the river historically, currently, and potentially. The photos offer a gentle reminder to the concerned environmentalist that the Schuylkill River, and for that matter the majority of great American rivers, are today in a much better environmental state than just a couple of decades ago. But they also nudge us to think forward, to take a look at where we have come from and get inspired to push still further. Serving as the backdrop for a rich discussion on the Schuylkill’s redemption, the photos served simultaneously as context and inspiration.
Moderated by Deenah Loeb (City Parks Association) and Aaron Levy (Slought), the discussion centered around the Schuylkill’s potential. Panelists included Nick Pevzner (Landscape Architecture, PennDesign), Mary Mattingly (artist of WetLand), Andrew Johnson (Watershed Protection Program, William Penn Foundation), and Etienne Benson (History and Sociology of Science, Penn). Beginning with a brief look at what the river was, the discussion quickly turned to what it is, including an exchange over the term nature and its implications in discourse about rivers. As Nick words it, “to bring back nature, we must reimagine it”. For Andrew, this requires us to consider the culture of nature, the river, and the myriad ways in which individuals interact with it.
The majority of the discussion focused on the river as it could be. And here one conclusion stood out among the rest: the redemption of the Schuylkill depends on transforming it from a river to OUR river. For as Mary Mattingly notes, “the river is a place of interdependency”. As educators, artists, politicians, conservationists, and citizens we must work to build common experiences and to forge connections between our river and our society.
To continue the discussion about rivers, nature, interdependency, and sustainability join PPEH, Mary Mattingly, and our many collaborators on WetLand, which will be coming shortly to the Schuylkill River banks. For more information, visit ppehlab.org/wetland/.