Monthly Archives: March 2011

Proposal to Weaken EPA and What It Means for Latinos

A new report released by The Center for American Progress reveals that Latino communities will be severely impacted by the proposal to weaken the EPA.  Adrianna Quintero over at NRDC Switchboard provides further insight into the potential harm that limits to the EPA would pose. The report shows the reality that many Latinos currently live and work in areas with very poor air quality.

Latino families are disproportionately exposed to some of the most dangerous environmental hazards—and often in their own backyards. Fully 66 percent of U.S. Latinos—25.6 million people—live in areas that do not meet the federal government’s safe air quality standards. This translates into shorter life spans: Latinos are three times as likely as whites to die from asthma. Latino children are also 60 percent more at risk than white children to have asthma attacks.

As the following chart from the report indicates, Allentown-Bethlehem-Easton Latino population of 11.30% made it on the list of one of the 25 most polluted cities in the US.  It is clear that the proposal to weaken the EPA will negatively impact millions of people, especially vulnerable populations.

The report comes to the conclusion that Latinos should support a strong EPA that protects their health to avoid further damage:

Latinos will pay the price for cuts to the EPA. They and their children will be exposed to elevated levels of risk and harm. Dirty air and water mean more visits to the emergency room, more missed days of work and school, and more cases of dangerous and expensive health issues.

Inch by Inch, Row by Row, Gonna Make This Community Garden Grow

Sustainable Cities Collective has an intriguing post by John Reinhardt about one possible consequence of rising gas prices. While some in the smart growth community have been writing about increased transit ridership as a result of high energy costs, Reinhardt asks whether those costs might “pique interest in community gardens.”

As food prices rise alongside gas prices, Reinhardt notes that some people may be inspired by the benefits of urban gardening (within the context of high energy costs):

  1. It saves money on food. Some of the gardeners in the Dollar Stretcher community estimate that they save up to $500 per year growing and preserving their own veggies — and eating much better produce at that!
  2. It saves money on gas. A walk to the balcony or backyard to harvest vegetables saves the gas money spent driving to the grocery store.
  3. It saves petroleum. By growing locally (and presumably organic), you’ll be eating vegetables that haven’t been produced and transported with large amounts of petroleum.  In this way, you’re indirectly reducing the demand for petrol and gas.

Urban community gardens have been rising in popularity over the past decade, as Reinhardt notes in his post. Here in the Lehigh Valley, a community garden initiative has been growing for several years.

SUN*LV, which was formed in 2009, “works with organizations and residents to help support existing community gardens and to assist in the creation of new community gardens in neighborhoods across the Lehigh Valley.” They offer a number of resources through their website, including training, a list of gardens in the Valley, and opportunities to support their efforts.

Community gardening is part of a larger local-food movement. Eating local is known to have many benefits — for the environment, for local economies, and for health. Locally grown produce can be sold and consumed quickly after being harvested, instead of being shipped hundreds of miles and left on shelves or in stockrooms for days. Therefore, there is less of a need to use artificial chemical preservatives. In addition, the elimination of those shipping periods means that, unlike with commercial farms, local produce is not harvested until it is fully grown and ripe, and at the peak of its nutritional potential.

Whether the current rise in gas prices will directly lead to an increase in urban gardening remains to be seen. However, community gardens offer a number of benefits — a rise in popularity of such gardens could be a good thing to come out of a bad situation.

Interesting Reading About Municipal Bond Ratings

Here’s a link to Iris J. Lav’s (bio) recent NYT op-ed discussing the ongoing debate regarding the prospect for municipal bond default and municipal bankruptcies as (serious) aftershocks of the recession.

Lav’s position is that “this fear of an imminent bond crisis reflects a profound misunderstanding of the differences between the short- and long-term challenges facing state and local governments, and what these governments can do to address them.”

I find myself going back and forth (figuratively speaking, not actually rocking or swaying) a bit when thinking about whether which side in the municipal-default debate has the “profound misunderstanding of the differences between the short- and long-term challenges facing state and local governments, and what these governments can do to address them.”

Is this time different, or will a workable (albeit painful) solution to the long-term challenges facing municipalities across Pennsylvania and the nation?  Will budget and taxation fixes (the tools available to state and local governments) be enough to put those governments on sound financial footing?  I don’t know.  Maybe both.  Maybe this time the problems (or at least their causes) are different, but a solution will nonetheless be reached.

Jon Stewart interviewed author T.J. English about his new book, The Savage City: Race, Murder, and a Generation on the Edge (about NYC during the late ’60s and ’70s).  I don’t know how much (if at all) the book discusses the dire financial straits NYC was in during that time period, but the interview offers some perspective on our national sense of crisis.  As one who falls into the “was not alive at the time” crowd referred to in the interview, I found the perspective offered somewhat reassuring . . .

Daily Show — TJ English Interview (The interview is the final third of the full-episode clip.)

As Simple as Riding a Bike

Although I currently live in Allentown, attending Muhlenberg College, I am originally from the New York City area. Therefore, I follow a smattering of NYC-based blogs, newspapers, and Twitter accounts.  Over the past year or so, particularly the last few months, I’ve watched a furious debate engulf the city. The impassioned arguing and intense ideological clashes have reminded me of heated arguments over the most complex hot-button political topics. Surely, something revolutionary, dreadful, life-changing, must be happening in the city, right?

Wrong. The issue driving New Yorkers to take up positions on opposing front lines? Let’s say it’s as simple as riding a bike.

While bicycling is by no means a new phenomenon to urban centers, it has recently become the focus of renewed attention in New York. This is largely due to Janette Sadik-Khan, New York City’s transportation commissioner. In her four years in that position, Ms. Sadik-Khan has gained international fame for her aggressive attempts to “transform the car-clogged streets of New York” by making the city more navigable for cyclists and pedestrians. She has directed the addition of about 250 miles of bicycle lanes and added pedestrian plazas in parts of the city, including Times Square. Keep in mind: bike lanes are installed only with the consent of local community boards. In other words, if there is a bike lane, elected officials approved it.

While many are elated with the increased focus on biking and walking, some are opposed. The controversy in New York City comes down to the usual obstacles that progressive policies run into; a resistance to change in the status quo, and political posturing.

For example, New Yorker columnist John Cassidy wrote an essay applauding the anti-bike lane lobby and supporting those who frequently drive within the city. Cassidy, who rode a bike when he lived in the East Village in his 20s, reminisces that:

Those days, there were few cyclists on the roads, and part of the thrill was avoiding cabs and other vehicles that would suddenly swing into your lane, apparently oblivious to your presence. When I got back to my apartment on East 12th Street, I was sometimes shaking.

Meanwhile, politicians have chosen to use the issue of bicycling in an attempt to gain support. Representative Anthony Weiner, who ran for mayor in 2005, considered doing so again in 2009, and will likely run again in the future, is quoted in the New York Times as telling Mayor Bloomberg last year that:

“When I become mayor, you know what I’m going to spend my first year doing? I’m going to have a bunch of ribbon-cuttings tearing out your [expletive] bike lanes.”

Representative Weiner, a Democrat who has previously positioned himself as a progressive, has been a staunch critic of Mayor Bloomberg, and has been known to reach out to conservatives in the past.

Meanwhile, legislation has been introduced by a NY City Councilman and a NY State Assemblyman to require adult cyclists to carry licenses, register their bikes, and even add license plate. The bill proposing the last measure was eventually withdrawn.

By now, you’re probably wondering why Crossroads, a Lehigh Valley blog, has published a post focusing on a different city.

While New York City is over a hundred miles away, with a very different political and social climate from the Lehigh Valley, the virtual culture war that has erupted over urban biking has major implications for smart growth around the nation, including right here in the Valley.

RenewLV supports the idea of “complete streets;” streets that are “for everyone, whether young or old, motorist or bicyclist, walker or wheelchair user, bus rider or shopkeeper.” Such streets are vital for the rise of vibrant, healthy urban core communities. A strong city, even a strong neighborhood, allows residents to easily get around, whether to go to school, work, shopping, to meet friends, and so on. A sole reliance on cars inhibits these neighborhoods: roads become over-congested with traffic, parking spaces run out quickly, and an abundance of inattentive drivers leads to accidents.

While I am not necessarily arguing for bike lanes to be installed throughout the Lehigh Valley, I strongly support efforts to make biking a more practical method for navigating the cities, which can include the installation of bike-friendly infrastructure. In addition to a handful of recreational cycling groups, there are a few area organizations which promote biking as a means of transportation.

Bike Allentown advocates “city planning that ensures that all residents can cycle and walk safely through their neighborhoods and communities.” The group supports various efforts including the strategic placement of bike racks in and around Allentown, shared lane markings to alert drivers of cyclists, and a “Safe Routes to School” initiative. The organization also supports the proposed Greenway plan which will, among other actions, connect bike trails in the city’s public parks to streets, in order to make safer biking routes.

The Coalition for Appropriate Transportation is a Bethlehem organization which encourages alternative transportation throughout the Northampton-Lehigh county areas: specifically, walking, biking, and use of LANTA busses. CAT supports a complete streets approach; their website has a wide range of resources for walkers, bikers, and riders — definitely worth a look.

If you support cycling in the Lehigh Valley, try reaching out to one of these groups. Everyone, including motorists, can benefit from an emphasis on safe biking and complete streets. Bike Allentown has a meeting tonight (Tuesday, 3/22), 7:00 PM, at Ringer’s Roost. Newcomers are welcome; if you can, stop by!

 

Update, 3/23: John Cassidy has come under fire from all corners of the blogosphere for his New Yorker blog post (cited above), but the criticism from economists is perhaps the most acute.

Cassidy, an economics writer, uses brief, vague cost-versus-benefits arguments against the bike lanes. Here are two articles countering Cassidy’s flawed reasoning with their own economic analyses: a blog post by Olaf Storbeck, an international economics reporter (thanks to Matt Tuerk of the AEDC for the link), and a blog post on The Economist‘s site.

Get on Board with High Speed Rail

Secretary LaHood sums up well the reason why high speed rail is key to staying on the track to economic development:

“People often ask, ‘Why are President Obama and Vice President Joe Biden so devoted to high-speed rail?’ I have a simple answer: Jobs, jobs, and jobs.”

In his op-ed article, Sec LaHood explains that high speed rail will generate over 85,000 manufacturing and construction jobs, stimulate economic development on new corridors, and increase the US’s competitiveness in the long run.

As I mentioned in one of my last posts, traffic volumes have increased significantly since 2007, showing that people continue to rely heavily on our roadways. Sec LaHood suggests that we start taking action now on high speed rail to both create jobs and avoid problems later: “Jobs today, more convenient transportation tomorrow.”

Just a few days ago, Sec LaHood wrote to Senator Lautenberg (D-N.J) that he designated the Northeast Corridor as the 11th and final High-Speed rail corridor, which will include the existing Northeast Corridor main line and any alternative routings for trains between metropolitan areas of Washington, D.C.; Philadelphia, PA; New York, NY; and Boston, MA. This means that Amtrak’s NEC can apply for $2.4 billion in federal funding that Florida bypassed.

2011 County Health Rankings Report to be Released March 30th

The 2011 County Health Rankings are scheduled for release on March 30th. These rankings show that where we live matters to our health; they are based upon the idea that a community’s health depends on factors such as individual health behaviors, educations, jobs, quality of health care, and the environment.

You probably recall that last year’s county health ranking report outlined the disparity between mortality and morbidity rankings in the Lehigh Valley. While the Lehigh Valley ranked well on mortality (people lived relatively long lives), it ranked less well on morbidity (people were not as healthy as they could be).

In particular, the report revealed a significant county-level discrepancy in morbidity rankings in Northampton and Lehigh Counties. While the Lehigh County ranked 32 out of 67 on morbidity, the Northampton county ranked 59 out of 67.

At RenewLV, we will look at and use the data from this year’s report when considering the benefits a regional health department would provide for the Lehigh Valley.

Not Just Another Day at the Office

Two heads are better than one. Right?

That’s part of the idea behind the Allentown Economic Development Corporation‘s Hive 4A project. Hive 4A, as it describes itself on their Facebook page “is an entrepreneurial development initiative of the Allentown Economic Development Corporation. It includes a hackerspace and a coworking space, sharing a building with a business incubation program.”

I spent this past Tuesday working at Hive, instead of in the CACLV building in Bethlehem (where RenewLV is located). The idea of coworking spaces is fairly new to me, so I was not sure what to expect walking in the door. Hive currently occupies a temporary space in the old Mack building at 905 Harrison in Allentown. The room is set up with several long tables, where people can sit, pull out a laptop, and work for the day. A more permanent coworking space is planned to be completed in the same building by around mid-May. There were a wide range of people working on this particular day—a neighborhood revitalization consultant, a web designer, a magazine writer, an economic development advocate, and a social media intern/smart growth supporter—all sharing the coworking space.  Every now and then, one person would ask for another’s opinion or advice (“I’m working on a few logos for this project, which do you prefer?”), while the occasional conversation would yield some interesting news or resources. For example, while talking briefly about RenewLV, one person introduced me to the Indie City Index, which examines independent retail vitality in metropolitan areas—research has shown that “independent retail produces local wealth by recirculating dollars within the community,” but that’s another discussion.

Hive also includes a Hacker space, basically an “open community lab” with workshops for hobbyists and product developers.

Coworking is a very neat concept, one which seems to be catching on. Lt. Governor of California Gavin Newsom of California made headlines this week by deciding to use a shared work space in San Francisco, rather than the more-expensive state office building where the lieutenant governor usually works. In addition to saving money, Newsom cites the benefits of the “entrepreneurial energy” in the shared space.

You can read more about the coworking space at the AEDC’s blog. For now, the space is open every Tuesday, with a 5-day-a-week setup coming soon. Give it a try this month!

Smart Growth Round-Up: Livable Cities and Transportation

Here’s a quick recap of what’s trending in regard to livable cities and transportation:

Livable cities:

Vancouver, Canada is the most livable city in the world (according to The Economist, at least). The Canadian city ranked highest on stability, health care, culture and environment, education, and infrastructure. In contrast, Harare in Zimbabwe ranked the worst city based on these same five indicators.

Tao Rugkhapan over at ThisBigCity, however, makes a valuable critique about the Economist’s assessment of the “most livable cities”:

“Rather than account for progress in policy change, the ranking considers instead some indicators that are of a nearly static, absolute nature. For developed countries, such indicators as ‘quality of road network’ or ‘quality of water provision’ although a necessary benchmark for a city’s infrastructure, are unlikely to significantly change from one year to the next. Like their temperate, thus ‘tolerable’ weather, the mature infrastructure makes Vancouver, Melbourne, and the other chart-toppers, natural winners who will continue to occupy this rank’s top spots for years to come. Cities with a long-established tradition of sound fiscal health and sizable capital are clearly at an advantage in providing development of corresponding proportions.”

Transportation:

As a nation, are we still too car-dependent? TransportationNation provides data from US DOT’s monthly “Traffic Volume Trends” report revealing that Americans drove three trillion miles in 2010, the most vehicle miles traveled since 2007 and the third-highest ever recorded.

Secretary LaHood says, “This new data further demonstrates why we need to repair the roads and bridges that are the lifeblood of our economy.”

The proposition to fix roads first goes hand-in-hand with this recent Brookings Institution report advocating for road repair and maintenance. Authors Kahn and Levinson explain the need to fix existing infrastructure first:

“Fix it first, expand it second, and reward it third. By focusing on fixing existing infrastructure before creating new, the report explains, states can boost their economy and maximize the number of jobs created…[This approach will allow] states to more with the money they already have and meet transportation challenges while catalyzing economic growth at the same time.”

But where is the funding for new transit projects that would both reduce car-dependence and create more jobs?

The House passed a spending bill last week indicating cuts to transit, smart growth and rail. In addition, the cuts will eliminate funds for High Speed Rail projects.

Angie Schmitt over at Streetblogs.net explains that these cuts are  detrimental to economic recovery:

“But one thing is clear: with global unrest sending gas prices skyrocketing and threatening the economic recovery, it’s exactly the wrong time to cut back on transit, rail, and active transportation.”

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