Monthly Archives: November 2009

Water Infrastructure Concerns in the Lehigh Valley

Last Friday, the Morning Call ran a story on the repairs and upgrades to wastewater infrastructure awaiting the Lehigh Valley’s communities. The story touched upon some of the concerns covered on Tempo’s PublicSquare Water Consolidation program, during which Mike Drabenstott, RenewLV Board member, discussed RenewLV’s Regional Water Initiative.

The Morning Call reports that sewer service prices are expected to rise in 2010, partly due to the extensive repairs that the system will have to undergo to meet standards set by the US Environmental Protection Agency.

The staggering dollar estimates for improvements to the sewer system in western Lehigh County, which includes about 262 miles of piping and 18,000 customer connections, tell the story of what’s to come.

The Lehigh County Authority, which along with municipalities oversees the network of piping, is embarking on a pair of projects that will cost at least $16 million.

The EPA has ordered the authority, Allentown and a dozen municipalities to eliminate sewage overflows by 2014.

As the documentary Liquid Assets shows, such upgrades are needed in order to ensure the safety of our drinking water, which is at risk for contamination when outdated infrastructure remains in place.

Learn more by visiting RenewLV’s Regional Water Initiative page, and keep up to date on more infrastructure news by becoming a supporter on our Join Us page.

‘Greener’ Travel During the Holidays

Jacob Leibenluft at Slate posted an article last week analyzing which mode of transportation is the ‘greenest’ – that is, most environmentally friendly – during Thanksgiving travel. As many of you are traveling home or to the homes of loved ones today or tomorrow morning, it is interesting to consider whether one form of transit is more environmentally-friendly than another. The standard analysis for this would most likely take the form of comparing emissions from automobiles to that of trains and airplanes, but Leibenluft approaches this quandary with much more attention to detail, and while he does not make a suggestion over which mode is greener than another, he comes to two conclusions:

First, no matter what data you use, two very simple variables make a big difference: how far you travel and how many passengers are in your vehicle…[d]esigning bus routes and train schedules that fit rider demand—along with encouraging urban development that gives transit more appeal—makes a big difference, owing to the environmental downsides of traveling alone.

Secondly, you can’t discuss the environmental impact of getting around without considering the infrastructure that makes travel possible…Making concrete and asphalt in a more environmentally friendly way can be just as important as getting vehicles to run more efficiently. In other words, it’s not just the road you take, but what it’s made out of, too.

Are you traveling this Thanksgiving holiday? If so, what mode of transportation are you using?

Series on Water Infrastructure Highlights Public Health Concerns

The New York Times is running a series on the worsening conditions of America’s water and wastewater infrastructure, and increased risk of pollution and contamination of our nation’s drinking water. As the documentary Liquid Assets has shown, water infrastructure plays a pivotal role in protecting public health. And even though many upgrades were installed in the 1970s and 80s, thanks to the Clean Water Act of ’72, sewer capacity has still been overwhelmed, resulting in overflowing polluted water entering waterways.

The following is an excerpt from the latest story in the series:

It was drizzling lightly in late October when the midnight shift started at the Owls Head Water Pollution Control Plant, where much of Brooklyn’s sewage is treated.

A few miles away, people were walking home without umbrellas from late dinners. But at Owls Head, a swimming pool’s worth of sewage and wastewater was soon rushing in every second. Warning horns began to blare. A little after 1 a.m., with a harder rain falling, Owls Head reached its capacity and workers started shutting the intake gates.

That caused a rising tide throughout Brooklyn’s sewers, and untreated feces and industrial waste started spilling from emergency relief valves into the Upper New York Bay and Gowanus Canal.

Because water infrastructure, buried deep underground,  is not visible to the general public, it is often not made a priority in upgrades (compare that to upgrades in roads and bridges). But, as we have often seen, this can lead to contamination of our drinking water, resulting in preventably illnesses. It’s yet another way that infrastructure has a profound effect on our daily lives.

Related to this matter, make sure to check out RenewLV’s Regional Water Initiative page, to read about the effort to mobilize community support for regional collaboration on water/wastewater infrastructure. Become a supporter by visiting our Join Us page.

Community Forums in Coplay and Bangor on Lehigh Valley Health Department

RenewLV and the League of Women Voters (Lehigh County and Northampton County) are planning the first two community forums on the topic of establishing a Lehigh Valley Health Department, in early December. These community events, titled Establishing a Lehigh Valley Health Department: Improving Health and Safety in Your Community, will feature members of the Board of Health discussing the progress made thus far in drafting the staffing and services plan for the benefit of the entire Lehigh Valley. Additionally, community members and public health leaders will speak to the importance of expanding public health services to currently underserved areas within the region.

The events are free and open to the public, and light refreshments will be served, thanks to the generous support of the League of Women Voters.

The details for these events, scheduled for December 2 in Coplay and December 8 in Bangor, are below. We hope you can join us.

Lehigh County Community Forum

Wednesday, December 2, 2009
7:00 p.m. – 8:30 p.m.

American Legion Post 426
134 S. 2nd St.
Coplay

Panelists will include:
Dr. Carol Mest, PhD, MSN – DeSales University
Ilene Prokup, MS, APRN-BC – Kutztown University, Vice-Chair of the Lehigh Valley Board of Health
Dr. David Lyon, MD, MPH – Easton Hospital, Chair of the Lehigh Valley Board of Health
Gerald Barron, MPH – Center for Public Health Practice at University of Pittsburgh, Public Health Consultant to the Lehigh Valley Board of Health

Northampton County Community Forum

Tuesday, December 8, 2009
7:00 p.m. – 8:30 p.m.

Washington Elementary School
381 Washington Blvd (Rt. 191)
Bangor

Panelists will include:
Alberto Cardelle, PhD, MPH – East Stroudsburg University
John Reinhart, M.Ed. – Bangor Area School District Superintendent, Member of the Lehigh Valley Board of Health
Dr. David Lyon, MD, MPH – Easton Hospital, Chair of the Lehigh Valley Board of Health
Gerald Barron, MPH – Center for Public Health Practice at University of Pittsburgh, Public Health Consultant to the Lehigh Valley Board of Health

If you would like additional information, or have any questions about the forums, feel free to contact bbujalska@renewlv.org or 484-893-1062.

Imagine.

For class at Lehigh, I am reading the book Invisible Cities, by Italo Calvino. Most of the book is made up of descriptions of 55 cities, told by a Venetian explorer, Marco Polo, to the emperor, Khan. Each city is explained in a gripping and incredible way that mixes imagery and personification and raises a variety of feelings and questions. My professor told the class to “find our city” as we read. The exercise is intended to make us aware of the cities in the story that jump out at us, connect to us, or make us really understand what the city is all about. The book allows the reader to think in a way that eliminates the conventional boundaries so you are able to think openly about the functionality and potentiality of cities. 

In one insightful chapter, Polo tells the emperor of a group of individuals who fail in their efforts to find a city they dreamed of. After they eventually stop searching for it, they decide to create it as they dreamed it. In time, as more and more men arrive (having had similar dreams), they continued to change the city. As time passed, all of the men lost track of the dream that led to its creation in the first place and viewed the city as an ugly trap.  Their failure, it would seem, was the attempt to work in all different directions, focused only on individual interests. An interesting concept that relates well to an op-ed found in the New York Times this week.

 An op-ed by Bob Herbert in Tuesday’s New York Times, also gets at this idea of using imagination as a tool towards greater understanding and action. Herbert challenges us to imagine a world in which future generations have a thriving, sustainable, and healthy America. Herbert contends that such a future depends heavily on how we (I use ‘we’ and ‘our’ as Herbert uses ‘we’ and ‘our’) deal with the infrastructure crisis facing us today. This argument centers around the importance of infrastructure—specifically smart decisions around infrastructure and planning—and how fundamental it has been to the successes of the U.S. economy to date.  Further, Herbert’s contention describes us in a way that is parallel to the men in Calvino’s book–  having lost sight of the past successes and the motivations that led to those successes, concerned with immediate interests, and living day to day without realizing the seriousness of our forgetfulness. Herbert refers to a recent Brookings Institution publication,

 It’s almost as if we no longer understand the crucial links between infrastructure and the health of the American economy, the state of the environment and the viability of the nation as a whole. We’ve become stupid about this.

 Consider transportation. As Brookings tells us, “Other nations around the globe have continued to act on the calculus that state-of-the art transportation infrastructure — the connective tissue of a nation — is critical to moving goods, ideas and workers quickly and efficiently. In the United States, however, we seem to have forgotten.”

Herbert addresses the need for a real infrastructure policy, one focusing on “the real needs of the American public,” rather than the politicians’ “pork.” Herbert concludes with an appeal to our hopeful nature saying,

 Imagine, instead, an America with rebuilt, healthy, dynamic metropolitan areas, and gleaming new port facilities, and networks of high-speed rail, an America with electric vehicles and a smart grid and energy generated by the power of the sun and wind and water and the ocean’s waves. Imagine if the children of today’s toddlers had access to world-class public schools all across the nation and a higher education system that is both first-rate and affordable.

 Imagine if we set out seriously to do all this. Imagine.

 Herbert’s main concern is with how we leave the world for future generations. He implores us to share in his concern and to act on it. Herbert seems to believe that if we imagine such a world, we will inevitably see its value and, in turn, be willing to work towards it. It is important that we keep this focus/perspective in mind as continue to work on initiatives like transportation, water resource management, and the creation of a regional public health department. These are all issues that are fundamental to the sustainability and health of future generations in our region.

Any thoughts?

Redevelopment, Land Use, and Crime

A compelling new entry on the Smart Growth Around America blog suggests that smarter land development (i.e. livable, walkable communities) may help curb violence within a neighborhood. Charles Branas of the University of Pennsylvania is currently researching if there is a significant link between vacant properties and crime levels. His latest findings indicate that high vacancy rates are often linked with a higher rate of aggravated assaults. Mara D’Angelo, of the blog, reports: “In fact, total assaults in a given set of blocks increased by 18.5% for every additional vacancy in a given area.”

Branas plans to now examine the ways in which stabilizing vacant property can have an impact on health issues and crime. His research reminds me of a criminology theory put forth by James Q. Wilson and George L. Kelling called ‘Broken Windows':

Consider a building with a few broken windows. If the windows are not repaired, the tendency is for vandals to break a few more windows. Eventually, they may even break into the building, and if it’s unoccupied, perhaps become squatters or light fires inside.Or consider a sidewalk. Some litter accumulates. Soon, more litter accumulates. Eventually, people even start leaving bags of trash from take-out restaurants there or breaking into cars.

Wilson and Kelling argued that curbing vandalism and crime will involve, in part, fixing the initial (often overlooked) issue. It may be the case that by addressing vacant property (indeed, much of the work behind brownfield redeveelopment projects), crime rates can decrease in some neighborhoods. What are your thoughts on this?

Transportation for America Meets with Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood

After releasing their latest report, Dangerous by Design, last week, Transportation for America (of which RenewLV is a coalition partner) has been gearing up to meet with the US Secretary of Transportation, Ray LaHood. Representatives from T4A had their meeting yesterday. The following is a report back, posted on the coaltion’s blog:

During the meeting yesterday, we delivered a petition with thousands of signatures urging him to make pedestrian safety and complete streets a USDOT priority.He responded with resounding support, telling T4 America, “the right of way doesn’t just belong to cars — it belongs to pedestrians and bicyclists as well.”

He added, “the DOT Safety Council is going to look at this report and work with advocacy groups to ensure our streets are as safe as possible.”

He stressed that safety is the top consideration for everything they do at USDOT and urged T4 America to take the report directly to Congress as they continue discussions on the full six-year transportation bill.

What are your thoughts on this report? What is the best way to have Congressional leaders take notice of this report? Post your comments below.

Medium-sized Cities Are Top for Post-grads

MAPThe AP reported today that new data suggests that more people are looking at medium-sized cities as desirable places to live after college, which indicates a change in popular opinion over the past decade. In 2000, small cities (which includes townships and suburban communities) were ranked as the most popular places to live by those individuals who held a college diploma – but this view has changed, as medium-sized cities were voted more desirable by 31% of the polled individuals (compared to small cities, which 30% of polled considered as better places to live).

Does this news fare well for the cities of Allentown and Bethlehem? Post you thoughts below.

Upcoming Community Forums on Lehigh Valley Health Department

BoH logoRenewLV, in conjunction with the League of Women Voters (Lehigh County and Northampton County chapters), have scheduled two upcoming community forums on the effort to establish a Lehigh Valley Health Department. Set for early December, these forums will update the public on the progress made thus far in planning the bi-county health department, and will discuss the many key benefits of a regional approach to public health. Panel speakers will include members of the Lehigh Valley Board of Health and other public health leaders. Please note the following dates:

Establishing a Lehigh Valley Health Department: Improving Health and Safety in Your Community

Lehigh County Community Forum:

Wednesday, December 2, 2009
7:00 p.m. – 8:30 p.m.

American Legion Post 426
134 S. 2nd St.
Coplay, PA

Northampton County Community Forum:

Tuesday, December 8, 2009
7:00 p.m. – 8:30 p.m.

Washington Elementary School
381 Washington Blvd (Rt. 191)
Bangor, PA

Light refreshments will be provided thanks to the generous support of the League of Women Voters.

I hope you’ll join us at one of these forums. If you would like additional information, or have any questions about the events, feel free to contact me at bbujalska@renewlv.org or 484-893-1062. For more information on the effort to establish a Lehigh Valley Health Department, visit RenewLV’s Regional Health Initiative page.

The Pittsburgh Citiwiki Project

As a recipient of one of PennDOT’s PCTI grants, The Mellon Institute at Carnegie-Mellon University was awarded funding to create an online collaborative transportation planning network*.  Towards that end, they have started the Pittsburgh CitiWiki Project; a website intended to open and expand the planning process for Pittsburgh’s transportation issues, by involving the citizenry through the online ‘wiki.’

 The basic idea of a ‘wiki’ is best explained by wikipedia. Someone posts the information they have about a topic, others come along and add/edit information on the same post. The hope is that this collaboration of brainpower results in the most detailed, accurate information on a given topic, while representing a variety of viewpoints. The wiki also allows you to easily create links to other sections of the wiki which means multiple pages and easy navigation.

 While the specific goal of this wiki is to promote a collaborative approach to designing the Pittsburgh Regional Integrated Transportation Plan, it is an approach that they plan to adapt to other initiatives. Chip Walter, executive editor, writes,

CitiWiki is an experiment in collaborative creativity conceived and created here in Pittsburgh. There’s nothing else quite like it in the world. Our goal over time is to harness the intellectual firepower of the Pittsburgh region’s thoughtful citizenry to make our city and the region that surrounds us as vibrant, diverse and exciting as possible.

In the coming months we will be developing Pittsburgh CitiWikis on a variety of subjects from business, diversity and education to entertainment, recreation and the arts — whatever can improve the quality of life in Western Pennsylvania. We have an inviting city, but the goal of these wikis is to help fulfill Pittsburgh’s potential and transform it into a WORLD CLASS city, a leader in the best kind of urban living.

Take some time to navigate through the pages (FYI some of the pages are only accessible if you register as a contributor). You will notice that they have pages where you can list resources, view the wiki history (who changed what and when), and even a place to sign up for email alerts of changes as they happen. They also have a suggestion page for people who aren’t sure where their information would fit best. 

 As you look around, please consider whether this is this something that could be adapted to any of our needs here in the Lehigh Valley. Is this a productive way to engage the citizenry? If so, would the Lehigh Valley citizenry be likely to participate? What topics might be useful to have as wikis here in the valley? We’d love to hear any of your thoughts on this.

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