Rivers of Energy

Rivers of Energy explores how interdisciplinary and participatory practices of witnessing and knowing can reveal the Lower Schuylkill River (LSR) in Philadelphia as a dynamic infrastructure for past and future energy transformations. The Schuylkill is the Delaware River’s largest tributary; together, they house the eastern United States’ largest refinery complex and oil port.

Credit: Pete DeCarlo

Credit: Pete DeCarlo

A critical source of energy since the earliest human settlements, the Schuylkill was key to the plans for a new city for European settler colonists laid out in the 1680s. By the early nineteenth century, it had become the largest commercial entrepot in the western Atlantic. The river moved people, free and enslaved, as well as wood and then Pennsylvania’s anthracite coal crucial to industrial development. These rivers of energy were augmented by rail and pipe lines, further increasing capacity for still other energy resources: oil and natural gas. Oil refineries have been in continuous operation on the Schuylkill since 1866. The combined Schuylkill and Delaware River systems are home today to the largest oil port on the American east coast.

A Map of Some of the South and Eastbounds of Pennsylvaniain America being Partly Inhabited. Source: The Lower Merion Historical Society. 

A Map of Some of the South and Eastbounds of Pennsylvaniain America being Partly Inhabited. Source: The Lower Merion Historical Society. 

By drawing attention to the historical and projected transitions of this river-energy-landscape, Rivers of Energy seeks to un-stick the LSR from it’s constrained role as energy infrastructure, and to restore its potential for complexity. With this in mind, we ask the following questions:

 

How might we imagine a different transformation of this river of energy?

 

Can we find a more just and sustainable relationship between the city, its citizens and the urban environment?

 

Credit: Pete DeCarlo

Credit: Pete DeCarlo

Participants:

Nikhil Anand (Assistant Professor of Anthropology, Penn)

Peter DeCarlo (Assistant Professor of Environmental Engineering, Drexel)

Kate Farquhar (Landscape Designer, Roofmeadow)

Bethany Wiggin (Director of PPEh and Associate Professor of German, Penn)

 

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