Ecotopian Toolkit

Facing contemporary ecological challenges with critically attuned and creatively oriented tools


Call for 2022 Ecotopian Toolmakers for Delaware Watershed Justice

Flooding in Philadelphia, Watershed map, dark water seen from below
Image credits: Paul Saint-Amour; U.S.Geological Survey; Marcos Paulo Prado on Unsplash 

In cooperation with the Independence Seaport Museum, the Penn Program for Environmental Humanities invites you to participate in a project to create Ecotopian Tools for water justice in the Delaware River watershed. Successful proposals for Ecotopian Tools will be explored in designer-led public workshops at the museum and will feature in the companion exhibit and catalog.

The river runs 330 miles through the traditional homelands of the Lenape people, called the Delaware by English settler colonists. Its multi-species communities have undergone many dramatic changes, many driven by humans, and its current inhabitants face increasing climate risks, including flooding and toxicity. Today, the river provides drinking water for some fifteen million humans, and the basin offers habitat to 400 types of birds; 90 fish species; macro- and microinvertebrates; iconic native species, including shad; and invasives, such as snakeheads. 

The river is tidal as far up as Trenton, and it rises and falls six feet twice daily (ten at Trenton). The Delaware River port complex--spanning Delaware, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania--is one of the largest shipping areas in the United States and the largest freshwater port in the world, moving vast quantities of petroleum and petrochemical products and more. A recently concluded project to deepen the 103-mile main shipping channel resulted in a considerable expansion to the capacity of the Port of Philadelphia (or PhilaPort). Climate impacts the river and its ten sub-watersheds in a variety of ways. As the region gets hotter and wetter, extreme weather can overwhelm infrastructure built for a bygone climate regime; more severe storms bring larger surges; and sea level rise is already being felt in the river's tidal section.

Proposals will introduce “ecotopian” tools, whether conceptual or realized, that might be used by inhabitants of the watershed to support its diverse, multi-species community as we learn to adapt and respond to our changing local environment: sinking, submerging, immersing, diving, soaking in climate-changing waters. Inspired by utopian writing and projects across cultures, traditions, and times, the word "ecotopian" is borrowed from Ernest Callenbach's 1975 novel, Ecotopia. An Ecotopian Tool for Water Justice should spark awareness to apprehend and address the multiplying effects of climate change on the basin’s diverse communities. Previous Ecotopian Tools have included guided tours, workshops, community-built floating sculptures, community science initiatives, data visualizations, and more. 

Successful proposals will be selected by a jury of eight interdisciplinary and community experts–Alexis Cabrera (Youth Programs Supervisor, Independence Seaport Museum); Kate Farquhar (Landscape Architect); Terrill Haigler (Ya Fav Trashman); Stacy Levy (Artist); Joshua Moses (Associate Professor of Anthropology and Environmental Studies; Visual Culture, Arts, and Media Faculty Fellow (2020-2022), Haverford College); Howard Neukrug (Professor of Professional Practice, Earth and Environmental Science and Director, The Water Center at Penn, University of Pennsylvania); Maya K. van Rossum (Environmentalist and Delaware Riverkeeper); and Zay (River Ambassador, Independence Seaport Museum); chaired by Bethany Wiggin (Founding Director of the Penn Program in Environmental Humanities, an Associate Professor of German and member of the Graduate Groups in Comparative Literature and English, University of Pennsylvania).

Each Toolmaker will be awarded micro-grants of $1000 to allow for the proposed Ecotopian Tool to be explored, prototyped, and possibly built, distributed, and used in the watershed and on the River. Throughout late spring and early summer 2022, Toolmakers will work with the ISM and PPEH to lead a series of participatory public workshops featuring their Tool and its applications. Research proposals and outcomes will feature in the Museum's community gallery; a fall 2022 workshop at the University of Pennsylvania will result in the creation of a print Catalog for Ecotopian Tools and a companion digital exhibit.

Your proposals are due by midnight Tuesday March 1, 2022.

To apply, please complete the following application.

Meet the 2022 Ecotopian Toolkit Jury

Alexis Cabrera

Alexis Cabrera Youth Programs Supervisor, Independence Seaport Museum

Alexis Cabrera is a Camden, New Jersey native who has lived in Philadelphia for the past 5 years. Alexis got their start in environmental science education and youth development at the Center of Aquatic Sciences at Adventure Aquarium, and has since been devoted to aiding youth in advocating for our environment. Alexis has worked with the River Ambassadors for the past 3 summers, and it has been the highlight of their time at Independence Seaport Museum.

Kate Farquhar

Kate Farquhar Landscape Architect

Kate Farquhar is a landscape architect, artist and thinker. For the first ten years of her career Kate Farquhar has worked to understand and manipulate the interface between urban fabric and emergent ecologies. In the next ten years of her career, she aims to serve the placekeeping traditions that precede her, and tend the relational fields within remediation and resiliency efforts. As an energetic person from a Settler background, she endeavors to settle herself first.

Terrill Haigler

Terrill Haigler Ya FavTrashman 

Less than three months after accepting the position as laborer for the Philadelphia Sanitation Department, Terrill Haigler became an essential worker. To bridge the gap between residents and sanitation workers he created the Instagram page @_yafavtrashman to give residents an inside look as to what sanitation workers experience during the pandemic. When Terrill noticed that his co-workers didn’t have the proper PPE to execute their jobs safely he decided to stand in the gap and start a Custom Ink t-shirt fundraiser to purchase PPE, hand sanitizer and cleaning supplies. Catapulting him to Philly’s latest viral sensation.

Stacy Levy

Stacy Levy Artist

Stacy Levy is an artist who works with rain, urban tides, and watersheds, using a blended language of science and art to tell the ecological story of a site. Her projects reveal the action of the natural world in the urban environment, showing the passage of rain from sky to sea; making visible vast watersheds; and drawing attention to the amplitude and timing of urban tides. Some of her projects create working treatment solutions for water pollution, stormwater runoff, and habitat creation. In making large-scale works on sites from parking lots to nature centers, Levy works closely with engineers, landscape architects, ecologists, hydrologists, and biologists to solve issues on site. She blends an understanding of sustainable design and ecological concepts, harnessing the ephemeral changes of tides, water flow, weather, and seasons with the lasting presence of sculpture. Her pieces are direct collaborations with the forces of water.

Levy has created temporary and permanent works in Philadelphia, New York, Seattle, Phoenix, Tampa, Miami, San Antonio, Fayetteville, AR, Scotland, and Japan. Her permanent commissioned works include those for the Independence Seaport Museum, the Philadelphia International Airport, the Pittsburgh Children’s Museum, the Ontario Science Centre, and Penn State University’s Arboretum. She holds a BA from Yale University in art and forestry, an MFA from Tyler School of Art at Temple University, and has also studied at the Architectural Association in London. Levy began her work as an urban forester in the Mid-Atlantic region; from 1985 through 1991, she was a founding partner of Sere Ltd. Native Landscape Restoration, an urban forestry firm that worked with municipal, corporate and private clients to restore the remnant woodlands and meadows in city parks, corporate campuses, and residences and to bring the architecture of the native forest back into the landscape. 

Levy has been working as an eco-revelatory artist in the public realm for 29 years. She has lectured on new ways of translating urban ecology throughout the United States and in Sweden, England, Scotland, China, and Japan. Her keynote talks include those for The Riparian Buffer Summit, the Maryland Outdoor Educators Conference, AIA Sarasota Design Conference, American Institute of Architects Philadelphia Chapter, and the New Jersey Chapter of the Society of Landscape Architects. In addition to many other talks and symposia, Levy has been awarded the Henry Meigs Environmental Leadership Award, the Penn Future Award for Women in Conservation, and a Pew Fellowship in the Arts. Her work has been included in several books, most recently Eliza Pennypacker & Stuart Echols’ Artful Rain Water Design (2015), Sophie Barbaux’s Unique Gardens (2015), and The New Earthwork: Art, Action, Agency (2012), edited by Glenn Harper and Twylene Moyer. She is currently the Stormwater Artist-in-Residence for the City of Lancaster Engineering Department. 

Joshua Moses

Joshua Moses Associate Professor of Anthropology and Environmental Studies; Visual Culture, Arts, and Media Faculty Fellow (2020-2022), Haverford College

Joshua Moses has worked on religious response to the attacks of September 11th and Hurricane Katrina, studying the formation of disaster expertise (“disaster religious and spiritual care”) in what he calls the current “New Age of Anxiety.” He has worked with Nunatsiavut Inuit communities in northern Labrador on inequality, dispossession, community wellbeing, migration and identity in the context of recent land claim settlements and large-scale resource extraction. He has also conducted research in the Northwest Territories on migration, housing and homelessness. Joshua's focus on action research, collaborative research methods, and community-engaged research has lead him to work with a number of Philadelphia-area community and environmental organizations, including a partnership with the US Forest Service Philadelphia Field Station to develop youth-driven environmental studies curricula. His work on anthropology of mental health has focused on the production of knowledge in the context of disaster, intersections of spirituality/religion and mental health, and community response to disaster, environmental ruptures, and inequality. He is committed to combining research and teaching. He piloted a field school with students from Haverford College, University of Massachusetts and Inupiaq Alaskan youth in Northwest Alaska. Through the Philadelphia Area Creative Collaboratives, a program funded by the  Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, in collaboration with the North Philly Peace Park, Friends of Mt. Moriah Cemetary, East Park Revitalization Alliance, and Philadelphia artist Li Sumpter, he developed the Urban Ecology Arts Exchange. Joshua also focuses on the response of educational institutions to climate change, and the ways we are (or are not) preparing students for futures that society itself struggles to imagine.

Howard Neukrug

Howard Neukrug Professor of Professional Practice, Earth and Environmental Science and Director, The Water Center at Penn, University of Pennsylvania

Professor Neukrug is the former Commissioner and CEO of Philadelphia Water, where he was responsible for all aspects of operations, financing, planning, engineering, human resources, public affairs, legal and policy decisions for an integrated drinking water / wastewater / stormwater utility serving 2.3 million people. He currently serves as Professor of Professional Practice and the Founding Director of the Water Center at Penn. He is a Principal of CASE Environmental LLC where he provides consulting services to cities and utilities in stormwater management, urban planning, systems design, sustainability, organizational development, strategic planning and trends and innovations in the global water industry.  He chairs the Delaware River Basin Commission’s new Advisory Committee on Climate Change and is Senior Advisor to the Global Water Leaders Group and chair of its CEO-Network of Leading Utility Leaders of the World.  Mr. Neukrug is a national expert, lecturer and inspirational leader in moving from innovation to implementation; integrated urban water systems; river management; utility operations; water regulations and policy; drinking water quality and treatment; and green infrastructure.  He is the creator of Philadelphia's $2.5 billion "Green City, Clean Waters" program which has revolutionized how American cities approach land and water management for sustainability and resiliency, as well as developing the City’s Stormwater Regulations and move to parcel-based billing.  At the University of Pennsylvania, Professor Neukrug currently teaches classes on the Role of Water in Urban Sustainability and Resiliency and the US Water Industry in the 21st century.

Maya van Rossum

Maya K. van Rossum Environmentalist and Delaware Riverkeeper

Maya van Rossum is the Founder of Green Amendments For the Generations, a grassroots non-profit organization inspiring a nationwide movement to secure constitutional recognition and protection of environmental rights in every state and ultimately at the federal level. van Rossum is also the Delaware Riverkeeper, leading the watershed based advocacy organization, the Delaware Riverkeeper Network, for over 28 years in its efforts to protect the health of the Delaware River and its tributaries. Maya was a lead petitioner in the 2013 landmark Robinson Township, Delaware Riverkeeper Network, et. al. v. Commonwealth of Pennsylvania case that breathed new life into Pennsylvania’s long ignored environmental rights amendment. A skilled activist, attorney, strategist and community organizer, she was named in 2020 as a River Hero by River Network, in 2019 as one of Philadelphia Business Journal’s Power 100, and One Of The “10 Most Influential People of 2015” When It Comes to Energy Issues by SNL Energy. She is author of, The Green Amendment, Securing Our Right to a Healthy Environment which was selected as the 2018 Living Now Evergreen Awards GOLD Winner in the Nature Conservation category. Since launching Green Amendments For the Generations, constitutional amendments have been proposed in 12 states, with New York formally passing a Green Amendment in 2021.

Bethany Wiggin

Bethany Wiggin Founding Director of the Penn Program in Environmental Humanities, an Associate Professor of German and member of the Graduate Groups in Comparative Literature and English, University of Pennsylvania

Bethany Wiggin’s scholarship explores histories of migration, language, and cultural translation since the Columbian exchange across the north Atlantic world; she is currently completing Utopia Found and Lost in Penn’s Woods. Her collaborative projects engage audiences beyond the academy and have been supported by the National Geographic, Whiting, and Andrew W. Mellon Foundations; they include: An Ecotopian Toolkit for the Anthropocene, Data Refuge, Futures Beyond Refining, and My Climate Story


Zay River Ambassador, Independence Seaport Museum 

Zay is a Philadelphia high school student who joined Independence Seaport Museum in 2018 for the museum’s boat building program, SAILOR. In 2019, Zay joined the River Ambassador program, a 12 week internship in which participants learn to lead community science programs for the public. Zay became interested in the program because they want to make their environment safer and cleaner, and in turn, educate their community to do the same.


2022 Ecotopian Toolkit

Tool making is a signature trait of the human species. What tools can we make, and might we require, in the age of the human, the anthropocene: a name for the present geological epoch when humans are the most potent force shaping earth’s systems? Global warming and other anthropocene challenges, including the ongoing sixth mass extinction event, often lead to apocalyptic visions, or apathy. Through the Ecotopian Toolkit initiative, we explore a longer history of the anthropocene to help represent—and respond to—our contemporary moment. Might a utopian approach to the problem of global warming help us navigate warmer, rising waters and build forms of refuge? What tools can STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Math) educators in universities, museums, and nonprofits design and develop via the history of utopia and its hope for better futures?

In 2017, PPEH hosted our first design competition and a series of workshops to build ecotopian tools for WetLand, the art boat-meets-science lab conceived by then-PPEH Artist-in-Residence Mary Mattingly, in cooperation with Bartram’s Garden. In 2018 we partnered with Bartram's Garden and ran a design competition inviting proposals for tools designed with the Schuylkill River at Bartram's in mind, and in 2019 we worked with the John Heinz National Wildlife Refuge at Tinicum to do much the same. Each year "toolmakers" were selected from the pool of applicants, provided a stipend by PPEH to realize their design proposal (or a prototype), and asked to offer a public workshop about the tool. Workshops ranged from community build sessions to construct Jacob Rivkin and Eric Blasco’s floating bio-remediating water filter and bird habitat, to more traditional lectures like Deirdre Murphy’s discussion of her process of creating prints from historic and current migratory data. Other toolmakers offered book-writing and design workshops for children, guided trash walks, multi-species movement and listening studios, and more.


Plants in a floating filter

Jacob Rivkin and Eric Blasso, Bio Pool

2 people working together to build a wooden frame

Community build of Jacob Rivkin and Eric Blasso's Bio Pool

illustrations of plants

Detail of Mandy Katz's Pocket Field Guide to Plants of the Lower Schuylkill River

Now in 2021, PPEH is supporting the creation of another cohort of human toolmakers who will retain an engagement with floating on/sinking in/and otherwise living with urban waters; and will similarly explore what it might mean to face contemporary ecological challenges with critically attuned and creatively oriented tools. In partnership with the Independence Seaport Museum (ISM), we will turn our focus to the Delaware River and to water justice. Each artist/team's project will be highlighted in a public demonstration led by the artist/team, documented on the PPEH and Schuylkill Corps websites, and archived and included in ongoing Toolkit initiatives. 

This collaboration will begin in Bethany Wiggin’s Fall 2021 “Environmental Humanities: Theory, Methods, Practice” class, which will guide the call to toolmakers. Together with the ISM curatorial and educational teams, particularly the high school students in their River Ambassadors hands-on learning programs, we will consider what kind of tools we need with and for the Delaware River and watershed. With the Delaware as muse and teacher, selected artists, River Ambassadors, community members, and ISM visitors alike will embark on a year long practice as visionary toolmakers for healthy and just futures for all humans and non-humans along, and in, its waters. Through workshops, publicly interactive spaces, research and deep inquiry, the Ecotopian Toolkit project calls on each of us to intentionally imagine what we and this landscape can be—and to then actively build the tools we need to become.

Each step of the process will be documented and shared through an evolving exhibit at ISM and via a companion digital platform, intended to engage visitors in reflection, participation, and action. In the first phase, we will ask Museum visitors and River Ambassadors to suggest what tools they need for water justice. The second phase will announce the selected toolmakers and share their proposals, followed by documentation of their tool creation process. In the final phase, we will document how the River Ambassadors play-test the new tools in and around the Delaware.

This work will culminate in a companion print catalog and collaborative online resource for future visionaries to use in their own inquiry, conversation, and craft. We are hopeful that these outcomes will become tools themselves, ensuring that our home environment is tended to, well-considered, equitable, resilient, and dynamic for generations of future Philadelphians.

2018 Ecotopian Toolkit

Ecotopian Toolkit Catalogue

                                                            Check out the 2018 Ecotopian Toolkit catalogue here. 

Mandy Katz, Pocket Guide to Plants of the Lower Schuylkill, Ecotopian Toolkit 2017

Download Field Guide

Cecily Anderson, Tidal Schuylkill, Ecotopian Toolkit 2017
Cecily Anderson, Tidal Schuylkill, Ecotopian Toolkit 2017

Download Map

2017 Ecotopian Toolkit for the Anthropocene Conference Keynote Speakers:

Click here for the 2017 Ecotopian Toolkit for the Anthropocene Conference full site.



   Writer, historian, environmental and human rights activist







James Hansen


   Director at Earth Institute; former head of NASA’s Goddard Institute for
   Space Studies










   (Dan Rothenberg, Mimi Lien, Troy Herion)
   PPEH artists-in-residence








Media Coverage

​​​​​​Kathering Unger Ballie (April 10,2017) Penn Program in Environmental Humanities Competiton Winners Presented at Bartram's Garden. Penn News

Samantha Melamed (May 25, 2017) A Giant Water Filter for the Schuylkill? Philly Artists Respond to Environmental Challenge.

Bethany Wiggin (Spring 2017) Forgotten Places and Radical Hope on Philadelphia's Tidal Schuylkill River. Open Rivers:Rethinking The Mississippi, no. 6