Monthly Archives: December 2009

Urban Revitalization Blogs

Hi everyone – this is Mike Schlossberg.  I’m privileged to be involved in the ongoing urban revitalization of the Lehigh Valley on a variety of fronts.  First, in November, I was elected to serve as a member of Allentown City Council; I take office on January 4.  As an employee of the Greater Lehigh Valley Chamber of Commerce, I’ve also served as a coordinator for and supervised the Borough Business Revitalization Program, a regional Main Street Program designed to revitalize smaller urban cores throughout the Lehigh Valley.  Last, I was recently appointed to serve as a member of the RenewLV Leadership Council.

I am a huge believer in technology as being a critical component to revitalizing our cities and Boroughs.  This can happen in a variety of ways, including through the exchange of information and ideas.  As I prepare to take office in Allentown City Council, I sent out a tweet (for those of you who don’t know, tweet is the latest verb to enter our lexicon as a result of emerging Social Media tools – “tweet” is used with Twitter) asking for blogs and databases that would have policy solutions, information and ideas for cities.  The response was very positive and Steve actually asked me to share my results with you.  Here are the three best.

· Planetizen:  The urban planning news website, featuring articles, op-eds, jobs, courses and information for the urban planning, design and development community.

· Governing:  Coverage of politics, policy, management, technology, environment and other topics for and about state and local governments.

· Next American City:  A national magazine created for and by a new generation of urban thinkers and leaders.

I know there are more out there – please leave your own in the comments below, and feel free to E-mail me at MikeS@lehighvalleychamber.org.

Better TOD: Focusing on Transit

The Sustainable Cities Collective often publishes ridiculously insightful and on-point pieces and yesterday’s post by Ariel is no exception. The article points out that, often, Transit Oriented Development (TOD) is too focused on the Development aspect and not as much on the Transit portion. Any project within 1/4 mile of transit is classified as TOD, even if the transit is not completely reliable or frequent.

An Econsult report is cited: “The value of any development is contingent upon the value of the transit service provided.” How true. And here comes the vital point (often made by RenewLV, 10,000 Friends of PA, Transportation for America, and countless other organizations working on transit and smart growth issues) that transportation and development are intricately tied to each other, and better land use planning is needed to make sure that regions grow in a smarter and more coordinated manner. We, as a society, are learning that not all development is good development. And while transit oriented development goes a long way in promoting better long-term visions, it still needs to be mindful of coordinated planning – one that promotes urban revitalization and redevelopment of the core communities.

But what are your thoughts on this?

Special State Tax District To Aid Allentown’s Riverfront Development

Allentown’s Riverfront development plans are coming along, as a special tax district designation will allow for the money collected from taxes to stay local. This is good news for Allentown’s mayor, Ed Pawlowski, and other city leaders, all who have been working on generating the revenue for various aspects of the development plan – including a hockey arena. The arena, which will house minor league hockey team, the Phantoms, is to be built in the district, and city officials are hopeful that other businesses will open up along the Riverfront over the course of the next few years.

The development is also aided by a grant from the Department of Transportation, as part of its Pennsylvania Community Transportation Initiative this past year. Joyce Marin, Allentown’s Director of Community and Economic Development at the time, spoke to the scope of this project at RenewLV’s brown-bag session in November. Check out our Multimedia page for the full recording of that session (along with great photos).

What sort of businesses would you like to see on the Allentown Riverfront? Personally, I’m hoping an Ethiopian restaurant opens in the area.

Traditional Neighborhood Development (TND) Bill Advances in Harrisburg

Communities across Pennsylvania may soon have an easier way to promote traditional neighborhood development (or TND), an approach to placemaking that emphasizes a mix of uses (housing, office, retail, education, parks), transit access and walkability.

Last week, the Senate Local Government Committee approved a bill–authored by Rep. Robert Freeman of Easton–that would allow municipalities to zone specifically for TND, thereby streamlining the process of undertaking this kind of village-style community design. Under current Pennsylvania law, a developer interested in TND has to apply to the municipality for an overlay district for the development. Rep. Freeman’s bill (HB 1609) would enable municipalities to zone certain areas for TND, meaning that a TND could be implemented there “by right”–without the need for special approvals.

“By allowing municipalities to make an outright TND designation in their zoning codes, it would be a lot easier to create TNDs,” Freeman said. “Municipalities could ensure that this more compact form of development would be utilized, rather than simply suggesting it to a developer as an alternative. With this added tool in their planning toolbox, local officials would be in a much better position to manage growth more effectively, preserve more open space and reduce people’s dependency on the automobile.” [Read the full press release.]

Next, the bill moves on to the full Senate for consideration. HB 1609 passed the House by a 195-0 vote last summer.

Updated–note change in date: And, on the topic of state policy: RenewLV’s next “brown-bag” session will feature Rep. Freeman providing a preview of what’s coming up in 2010 in Harrisburg, with regard to pending legislation related to urban revitalization, smart growth, open-space preservation, and related issues. This brown-bag session will be Friday, January 22, at 12 noon in the Victory Firehouse, 205 Webster Street in South Bethlehem. Bring a lunch and join the discussion. For more information, contact us at smartgrowth@renewlv.org.

Open house on I-78 E-ZPASS System

When: TODAY, Tuesday, December 22, 2009 from 3p.m. to 7 p.m.

Where: Easton Quality Inn, 185 S. Third St., Easton.

What: The Delaware River Joint Toll Bridge Commission is working to establish Express E-ZPass/Open Road Tolling at the I-78 bridge toll in Williams Township, PA. The first phase is scheduled to begin on January 8, with an estimated project completion on Memorial Day weekend in 2010.

If you have traveled westbound on I-78 from New Jersey into the Lehigh Valley during rush hour times (and, sometimes, during the evening times), you understand that the toll plaza can get pretty backed up. Open Road Tolling should go a long way in easing some of the traffic tension there. But public involvement is needed in the planning process, and for this reason, I encourage you to stop by the meeting, even briefly.

Is the Safe Drinking Water Act Keeping Us Healthy?

Last week, the New York Times ran a story claiming that the Safe Drinking Water Act (passed in 1974)  may not be keeping us as safe as it purports, mainly because it only regulates for 91 chemicals. The Environmental Protection Agency has estimated that close to 60,000 contaminants are within the nation’s water.  For this reason, the water may be legal, yet still be a cause for concern.

Some local systems have tried to use tighter regulation of their drinking water, but this has not always been successful:

Some officials overseeing local water systems have tried to go above and beyond what is legally required. But they have encountered resistance, sometimes from the very residents they are trying to protect, who say that if their water is legal it must be safe.

Dr. Pankaj Parekh [director of the water quality division for the City of Los Angeles] has struggled to make his case. “People don’t understand that just because water is technically legal, it can still present health risks,” he said. “And so we encounter opposition that can become very personal.”

There is a great video worth checking out on the Times’ page with the story, so I encourage all of you to read through it.

Post your thoughts below.

Downtown Easton Redevelopment Efforts Recognized

I love reading articles praising redevelopment efforts in the cities of Lehigh Valley. The Express-Times editorial board published such a piece today, highlighting how far downtown Easton has improved over the last few years. The article spotlights the growing businesses in the center city district, the facade restorations on Northampton St, and the work of Lafayette College in the revitalization efforts.

The editors urge those individuals who haven’t ventured into Easton in some time to come by and take a second look, declaring that “Something is happening in downtown Easton. Something worth seeing.” And I completely agree.

I can’t exactly recall my first visit to Easton, but I fell in love with the downtown city almost instantly. I have become even more enamored with it after taking part in an Urban Land Institute tour of Easton, led by its mayor (and smart growth advocate) Sal Panto, Jr. Easton has some fantastic redevelopment projects in the works currently – such as the Silk Mill project and the Nature Nurture center – and the revitalization effort is due in large part to the mayor’s work, and the work of other key employees of the city.

I have had the pleasure of spending a few fun evenings in Easton since moving to the Lehigh Valley, and I encourage all residents of the region (and those living outside of the region) who haven’t explored Easton’s downtown to rush there as soon as possible. From the fantastic restaurants, to the amazing art galleries (such as Connexions on Northampton St), and the entertaining State Theater shows, there’s something for everyone.

SAFETEA-LU extended to September 2010

The US House of Representatives passed a jobs bill yesterday that will affect transportation spending significantly – at least for the next year. First, the bill will provide $36 billion for roads and rails if signed into law as it stands currently, Second, it will extend the current transportation law, SAFETEA-LU, through September 2010. Many sustainable transportation advocates are hopeful that this extension will provide the legislators ample time to work on a comprehensive transportation legislation. The issue that it will certainly come down to is that of funding: how can the US continue funding current projects, as well as up and coming repairs, renovations, and innovations (like many of the new rail plans popping up all over the nation)?

House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman James Oberstar will surely continue promoting his six-year, $500 billion proposal over the next several months.

What are your thoughts on the extension to 2010 of the current bill?

Parking’s Not a Big Deal, Right?

An interesting article in the Hartford Courant addresses the parking debacle faced by the city of Hartford. Although, I’m sure people in Hartford would say that the problem goes way beyond parking at this point. According to the article, a 300 percent increase in parking spaces has done nothing but deface the city.

Hartford looks more like the hundreds of other American cities that have hollowed out their core to accommodate automobiles.

Hartford is a beautiful city with great history, lots of parks, and great architecture. However, like many other cities, it is facing the problems of limited public transit options, sprawl, and automobile dependence. Hartford has over approximately 700 parking spaces for every 1,000 employees. Contrast that to Washington D.C. where there are approximately 250 parking spaces for every 1,000 employees.

The need for so much more parking for each job in Hartford compared with more competitive cities is a significant physical and financial drag, limiting the potential for growth in the city.

There is a widespread belief that more parking and wider roads is what you need to do to solve the problems of urban congestion. Explained in Road Diets, a report put out by Walkable Communities in 1999, the authors wrote:

This process of roadway widening can be thought of as fattening a patient. The belt is let out another notch, and the patient puts on a few more unhealthy pounds toward auto dependency.

The Hartford example is an interesting one because when you arrive in Hartford, you are not met with an impression of a ‘hollowed-out city.’ Perhaps that is because of the appealing cityscape, attractions like the Mark Twain House, the Wadsworth Atheneum and Bushnell Theatre. Whatever the reason, it does not change the fact that ‘hollowing-out’ is not always an overt process.

…the state ties up some of what is potentially the most valuable land in the city in parking, costing the city and the state millions of dollars in tax revenue… If Travelers [a Hartford Insurance company] adopted the same approach to parking as did the state, it would cost the company almost $10 million more each year to own and operate the additional parking that would be needed.

It seems as though there would be plenty of support and plenty of reason for a collaborative discussion around public transit options and a new approach to funding policies in Hartford.

Shortsightedness and planning do not mix. Planning decisions should not be made to address immediate concerns without also addressing the long term ramifications. The Hartford scenario is just one of many that should serve as a lesson to planners everywhere because after all, if it’s not smart growth… it’s foolish growth. Smart growth is about planning. It is about seeing the big picture. You can buy a bigger belt to deal with weight gain, but sooner or later, unless you address the actual problem, paying for bigger belts will be the least of your concerns. Hartford is learning this lesson. They spend millions each year on parking and lose millions a year on the potential tax revenue they could gain from the land under the parking lots. Not to mention the continued parking problem, devaluation of property and the destruction of some of the city’s most valuable resources. The problems are perpetuated by these trends and their impact grows exponentially.

Last week I spoke to my sister who went home to West Hartford for a visit. She was looking forward to going out in Hartford and spending some time enjoying the great night life scene that people from the area refer to as “the downtown.” After her trip home, she told me Hartford was changing. Specifically, she said it didn’t seem as alive or as comfortable as it had in the past. Reading this article makes me wonder if an issue that seems as straighforward as parking, could be the root of these changes.

PennFuture Breakfast Meeting: January 14 in Allentown

Citizens for Pennsylvania’s Future (PennFuture) is holding a breakfast event on clean-energy policy in the Commonwealth, the morning of January 14, 2010. Here are the details:

PennFuture would like to invite you to a breakfast meeting at the Allentown Brew Works on January 14, 2010 from 8:00 – 10:00 a.m. to discuss proposed state legislation aimed at promoting economic growth in the clean energy sector.

Specifically, the meetings will provide an opportunity to learn more about legislation being considered in Harrisburg – House Bill 80 – which increases and lengthens the mandates for the purchase of renewable energy like wind and solar here in the Keystone State. This legislation, an expansion of our successful 2004 renewable energy standard, will help to significantly grow the clean energy sector, create green jobs and attract new investment into the region.

Speakers will explore the economic growth potential that policies such as the Alternative Energy Portfolio Standard of 2004 have already had, and what improvements to that law can have for both existing and emerging businesses.  Pennsylvania is among the nation’s leaders for green job creation, and passage of HB80 is likely to result in tremendous potential for local business growth, additional green job creation, and increased investment in the state.

Hear from:

  • Jan Jarrett- President & CEO, PennFuture
  • Joy Bergey- Federal Policy Manager, PennFuture
  • John Hanger- Secretary, PA Department of Environmental Protection (invited)
  • Governor Ed Rendell (invited)

Space is limited.

Register today to attend this breakfast and find out how you can take action to assist in the passage of this important piece of legislation.

For additional information, contact Christine Knapp, PennFuture, at knapp@pennfuture.org.

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