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.

This work will culminate in a collaborative online resource and print catalog 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.

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?

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. Past 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, to Nancy Agati’s Basins and Borders which shared the benefits of permeable surfaces as a mitigation strategy for residents in urban areas who experience flooding in their neighborhoods.

In the 2023-24 school year, the Ecotopian Toolkit project will collaborate with Morris Arboretum & Gardens to support “Tools for Soil” related projects.

In 2022, PPEH supported the creation of another cohort of human toolmakers who engaged with floating on/sinking in/and otherwise living with urban waters; and similarly explored what it might mean to face contemporary ecological challenges with critically attuned and creatively oriented tools. In partnership with Independence Seaport Museum (ISM), turned our focus to the Delaware River and to water justice.

With the Delaware as muse and teacher, selected artists, River Ambassadors, community members, and ISM visitors alike engaged in a year long practice as visionary toolmakers for healthy and just futures for all humans and non-humans along, and in, its waters. Each step of the process was documented and shared at ISM and The Ecotopian Toolkit Living Archive, intended to engage visitors in reflection, participation, and action.

In the 2018-19 school year, we partnered with Bartram’s Garden and the John Heinz National Wildlife Refuge at Tinicum to run a design competition inviting proposals for tools designed with the Schuylkill River. 

In the 2017-18 school year, 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. This collaboration was stewarded by landscape architect Kate Fahquar who wrote about it in “Figuring WetLand,” an excerpt in Timescales: Thinking Across Ecological Temporalities. 

Photos above from the Ecotopian Toolkit Exhibit in 2022 at the Independence Seaport Museam