Author Archives: brittanyleighfoster

Enter to win RenewLV’s Smart Quote and FabFoto Contests!

Congratulations to Dave Lobach, double winner of our Smart Quote and FabFoto contest.  Dave shared with us a beautiful photograph of his farm in the LehighValley, which he personally saved from being developed.  Along with the photograph, he provided us with this poignant quote: “We’re losing the farmland forever. Do you know how long that is?” See it here! 

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In the short term, we may think that greenfield development is a good idea, but thanks to Dave, we are compelled to remember that the farmland being developed would be forever lost.

We look forward to seeing more beautiful photos of the LehighValley and encourage all of you to send us many more for next week’s photo contest.  RenewLV is also eager to read any quotes, ideas, or stimulating thoughts you may have, so make sure to submit those as well.  The LehighValley is a beautiful place with some thoughtful residents and we look forward to hearing from you. Winners will have their photo and/or quote sent to the 2,600 Friends of Renew Lehigh Valley.

Email submissions to smartgrowth@renewlv.org

Lehigh Valley residents urged to attend ‘virtual town hall’ meeting

Lehigh Valley residents are being urged to take part in a “virtual town hall meeting” that’s slated for 8 p.m. Monday, Sept. 16th. The location: wherever you use your personal computer or tablet device.

Attendees will simply have to log in and make their way to a YouTube video presentation on economic development and the future of the Lehigh Valley. The program is set up to allow input from viewers.

This cutting-edge event is being coordinated by Lehigh Valley Economic Development Corporation (LVEDC) in conjunction with Envision Lehigh Valley.

The entities are attempting to compile a regional approach to development and growth in the Lehigh Valley. During the planning stage, the goal is to engage the organizations, municipalities and individuals who have a stake in future development of the region.

The virtual town hall premise removes all obstacles for interested parties who cannot make their way to a brick-and-mortar meeting location.

The video will feature Jay Garner of Garner Economics, LLC, of Atlanta, Ga. Garner, who has been contracted to conduct this important study, is a nationally-recognized site selector and economic development consultant.

Garner’s work, which is being paid for with a grant from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, is a key initiative of Envision Lehigh Valley – a public outreach effort designed to engage the citizens of Northampton and Lehigh Counties to create a truly sustainable Lehigh Valley.

“We need to take a hard look at ourselves in comparison to other regions and understand our strengths, weaknesses and opportunities and to develop our plans and strategies from an informed and realistic perspective,” said Don Cunningham, president and CEO of LVEDC.

“We can’t afford to guess at things. We need to understand our own backyard fully, how we compare in the marketplace, and our unique assets to market. This will make our strategies and efforts informed and cost-effective.”

Once the program is set up, it can be accessed at http://www.youtube.com/user/EnvisionLehighValley. The virtual town hall will not get underway until 8 p.m. Monday.

For more information, contact Holly Edinger, director of Envision Lehigh Valley, at (610) 266-6775.

Marin named as Executive Director of RenewLV; brings wealth of experience and passion for smart growth and regional approaches

joyce marin headshotJoyce Marin, a well-known Lehigh Valley community/economic development professional, has been hired as our new executive director here at RenewLV (renewlv.org).

Marin brings extensive experience in downtown revitalization and local ordinances that support traditional neighborhood design from her time as Main Street Manager and council woman in Emmaus, as well as her past service as Director of the Department of Community and Economic Development for the City of Allentown. Ms. Marin was founding co-chair of RenewLV in 2006.

“Having an experienced, strategic and knowledgeable professional like Joyce will enable RenewLV to continue its important efforts to be the voice for regionalism in the Lehigh Valley,” said Deana Zosky, co-chair of the RenewLV board of directors. “Joyce also brings a tremendous amount of passion for smart growth, which will help us engage our stakeholders and the general public and raise the level of discussion Valley-wide.”

Marin’s academic credentials include an MBA from the University of Pittsburgh and inclusion in the Knight Fellowship in CommunityBuilding at the University of Miami’s School of Architecture, the recognized center for New Urban thought and practice.

“I’m really looking forward to the opportunity to direct my experience and education toward engaging the region’s leadership and the public more deeply in the discussion of a sustainable Lehigh Valley, regional cooperation and the efficient use of our resources through utilization of smart growth principals and policies,” said Marin.

In her new role, Ms. Marin will be facilitating the public outreach effort for Envision Lehigh Valley, engaging the citizens of Northampton and Lehigh Counties to create a truly sustainable Lehigh Valley. Additionally, Ms. Marin will be helping to organize the Lehigh Valley’s first smart growth conference, the Lehigh Valley Summit for Smart Growth to be held on October 24th at the Holiday Inn at Center City in Allentown. “The summit is a great opportunity for both the region’s leaders as well as regular citizens to get informed and engaged on what we can each do to have a better Lehigh Valley as we grow,” said Marin. For more information about the Smart Growth Conference, visit renewlv.org.

Marin resides in Macungie, Pa.

Intro to Traditional Neighborhood Development

Smart growth isn’t simply a matter for cities to discuss and work toward, it can be used at the township and borough level to encourage sustainable suburbs. In more rural regions, Traditional Neighborhood Development has taken hold in the planning process for smart communities.

The PA Municipalities Planning Code defines Traditional Neighborhood Development (TND) as follows:

“Traditional neighborhood development, an area of land developed for a compatible mixture of residential units for various income levels and nonresidential commercial and workplace uses, including some structures that provide for a mix of uses within the same building. Residences, shops, offices, workplaces, public buildings, and parks are interwoven within the neighborhood so that all are within relatively close proximity to each other. Traditional neighborhood development is relatively compact, limited in size and oriented toward pedestrian activity. It has an identifiable center and a discernable edge. The center ofthe neighborhood is in the form of a public park, commons, plaza, square or prominent intersection of two or more major streets. Generally, there is a hierarchy of streets laid out in a rectilinear or grid pattern
of interconnecting streets and blocks which provide multiple routes from origins to destinations and are appropriately designed to serve the needs of pedestrians and vehicles equally.”

Traditional neighborhoods have several physical features that are recognizable: short front yard setbacks, street walls, and multiple transportation choices (cars, bicycling and walking). Sounds nice, doesn’t it? But what are the objectives?

Communities utilize TND to address concerns in several fields: transportation, safety, sociability, housing access, visual character and identity. For transportation, TND’s reduce the number of commuter miles because of access to public transit and biking which also leads to decreased traffic congestion. TNDs see less crime within their communities because of the secure areas that can easily be surveilled. These neighborhoods promote socialization across diverse groups of people and build a sense of community. One of the most important aspects of TNDs is the variety and affordability of the units. Housing types often associated with TNDs include apartments built over garages and apartments over stores or offices. These scattered units can help meet the needs for rental units without overwhelming an area with massive apartment complexes. The opportunity for creating more affordable housing arises from the higher densities found in TNDs and by the inclusion of rental units and ownership housing units, like condominiums and single family attached housing, in the housing mix.

To learn more about Traditional Neighborhood Development or to see pictures of Lehigh Valley TNDs, check out the Lehigh Valley Planning Commission’s report here. This fall, Renew Lehigh Valley will be hosting a conference on smart growth and our keynote speaker will be urban planner and specialist in Traditional Neighborhood Design, Tom Comitta. Look for more information soon about registering for the conference!

Transit Disoriented in the Lehigh Valley

Transit oriented development (TOD) promotes building, developing and redeveloping community resources and employment centers around transit centers, whether those are bus or train. We don’t have that here in the Lehigh Valley.

Here’s the official definition:

“Development concentrated around and oriented to transit stations in a manner
that promotes transit riding or passenger rail use. The term does not refer to a
single real estate project, but represents a collection of projects, usually mixed use,
at a neighborhood scale that are oriented to a transit node.”

TOD doesn’t mean the construction of a bus stop near an office park, but a holistic approach to making communities accessible for those who don’t have or choose not to use a personal vehicle. This promotes equitable access to resources and employment, but also has positive environmental consequences. If fewer individuals are taking personal cars and opting to take the bus or train, carbon emissions will decrease.

In their 2012 report, the Lehigh Valley Planning Commission outlines the requirements for TODs:

TOD charts

The Planning Commission even produced a map of potential TODs in the Lehigh Valley:

TOD map

Making it easier for people to get where they want to go is an idea that’s hard to argue with, but new development and providing the infrastructure and support for public transit can become expensive. DC Streets Blog examines this problem and offers suggestions for convincing developers to invest in TOD. These recommendations include:

  • Public subsidies, like transit oriented development promotional grants or tax incentives
  • Educating developers about the costs to them in automobile dominated communities
  • Reform land use policies, for example loosening or eliminating single-use designations
  • Educate and engage employers
  • A new approach to looking at costs. While a building in a TOD community may cost more, it may also provide more affordable housing and increase the efficiency of workers.
  • Walkability is also TOD. Land use policies that encourage walkability are also likely to improve TOD in communities.
  • Connect the suburbs to TOD. This increases the size of the potential workforce for any given company, which increases the value of TOD to them.

It takes Lehigh Valley residents an average of 25 minutes to get to work and The Lehigh Valley Transportation Study (LVTS) long range plan estimates a $1.7 billion shortfall for funding needed through 2030. As part of the Envision Lehigh Valley project, LANta is producing a study on Transit Oriented Development and Bus Rapid Transit. Stay tuned for more information on that report as it is expected to be unveiled very soon!

On high density housing

High density housing often gets a bad reputation for unfair perceptions about increased traffic, crowded living and minimal parking but there are many advantages to this efficient use of land.

A developer presented a plan to the South Whitehall Township Commissioners on Wednesday night to build medium and high density housing along Blue Barn Road. The site to which he was referring is currently utilized by a single family home, a barn and open space. Nearby is a tract of land that was approved for a zoning change to accommodate medium to high density housing. The current zoning of the proposed development only allows for less than 4 units per acre; the new development would require 10 units per acre.

Attendees at the South Whitehall Township Board of Supervisors meeting voiced the usual concerns of increased traffic in more established neighborhoods, but the official vote on the zoning change won’t come until early September.

The Urban Vision has a compelling argument in favor of high density housing that outweighs arguments of increased traffic:

A high density and compact city form is the most ideal development pattern for the future. Here’s why:

Promotes thriving communities.

High density essentially signifies a concentration of people and their activities. A higher density neighborhood establishes a greater variety of leisure, shopping, amenities, work, and travel options. The wide cross -section of people and their activities also makes for a culturally rich area.

Better economically

According to studies, the expenditures of housing and transportation for inhabitants with a moderate standard of living in a compact city would be 25 percent less in comparison with a standard low density city. Compact City would cost 50 percent less for comparable housing and superior transportation for people with a high standard of living. In addition, the costs for structuring a Compact City are really a redirecting of investments by way of urban rejuvenation instead of a fresh expense. The cost of redevelopment versus the cost of additional building by way of newer colonies shows that it may be a better bargain to rejuvenate urban cores.

Further, studies indicate that auto and fuel expenses per person in a low density American neighborhood costs in the region of $500 per year. Also, in such an urban area with a population of two million, there are typically more than one million cars. Transportation costs in such a situation can run over one billion dollars a year. In a compact high density city, more than a million cars could be swapped with less than 10,000 cars. This would represent not only millions of dollars of fuels saving but also lesser pollution.

Compact, high density cities are also said to be more economical given that infrastructure, such as roads and street lighting, can be offered more cost-effectively per capita .Also ,urban sprawl brings about the repetition of hospitals, schools, and many other public services and institutions. Larger and more equitable distribution of services is possible in dense compact cities. The merging and amalgamation of a number of urban facilities and public amenities makes way for many specialized conveniences that are currently not cost-effectively achievable. These services are also far more economical in a compact city vis-à-vis a low density city.

Sustainability

High density cities are known to be proficient for more sustainable transport systems. A compact city has population densities that are great enough to operate and maintain public transport. Also, because compact cities essentially mean high density and mixed use- people can live near to their work place and leisure facilities. Therefore, the need for travel is less and people can walk and cycle without trouble. According to estimates, the overall energy use should go down by at least 15 percent in compact cities. Also, Compact cities are known to conserve land. By reducing sprawl which is characterized by incessantly growing urban areas; land in the countryside and forests are preserved

Social Equity and integration

High density cities will also promote a sense of social equity by providing opportunities for the economically underprivileged. Further, the only way to offer housing for all sections of the society is by pursuing high density planning strategies. In societal terms, compact cities and mixed uses are connected with diversity, social unity and cultural growth. There is also indication that more concentrated neighborhoods have a great sense of kinship, cooperative spirit and vivacity – fundamentally because a wide range of people with a different set of beliefs and vales are in closer contact with one other.

The social, economic and environmental should be seriously considered as this debate unfolds at the next meeting of the South Whitehall Township supervisors, but they may also consider the current rural state of this area. Higher density housing can be used to combat sprawl but isn’t the right choice for every municipality. As the Lehigh Valley population continues to increase, many people will rightfully want to see rural areas maintained in conjunction with the need for more housing. Open space and land for food production are also important needs for any community. We must also consider other sustainability practices and while this development would provide land efficient housing, South Whitehall will have to make a big decision regarding their open space, the proposed neighborhood’s access to transportation and other resources as well as their housing needs.

Save King George Inn

The King George Inn has been a South Whitehall historical institution since 1756, but it may soon be a modern hotel and drug store.

Cliff McDermott owned the King George Inn for 42 years before a decline in business pushed him to close the restaurant that is designated as a National Historic Site by the National Park Service. He is now working with a development company to destroy the building and build a hotel or other commercial property.

Below is a letter to the editor of the Morning Call from Renew Lehigh Valley board member and State Representative Robert Freeman.

I was dismayed to read in The Morning Call that the owner of the King George Inn and Hotel Hamilton LLC plan on tearing down the 257-year-old historic structure to make way for a new hotel, bank and possible drug store.

While some might consider this progress, it is not. We lose a significant historic structure in return for more ubiquitous suburban-sprawl commercial structures. Instead of tearing down the King George Inn, the developers, architects and planners involved in this project should incorporate the original stone structure into the plans for the hotel. Incorporating the Inn into the hotel complex would offer restaurant and bar patrons something unique and historic. The developer could even qualify for historic tax credits.

The communities of the Lehigh Valley have lost a number of significant historic structures over the years as the result of misguided urban renewal initiatives and the ever-expanding pattern of suburban sprawl that consumes our landscape. It would be a travesty to see this National Register of Historic Places building torn down when a creative plan to incorporate it into the development could save it and offer something special.

The sale of the building depends on several zoning variances and the next meeting to review those is in two weeks. In the meantime, a MoveOn.org petition has been started to send to legislators when it reaches 2,000 signatures. Right now, it has 1,760. By providing your information on the MoveOn.org page, you can add your name.

In addition to the redundancy of adding another hotel and drug store to an area that is rife with commercial amenities, given its proximity to Dorney Park, the destruction of the King George Inn would be detrimental to South Whitehall’s sense of place. Smart growth and sustainability are not concepts that we should apply only to new construction. Historic buildings have a place in creating the distinct character of a community. Some of the most notable features of the Lehigh Valley are the historic ones; the maintenance of the blast furnaces at the old Bethlehem Steel site amid new construction is one example. Revitalizing our core communities does not require demolition, but rather the careful planning of necessary commodities with respect for the heart and soul of the area.

We are full of garbage

We’ve all seen the copious quantities of garbage cans that line our streets and trash closets on collection day and it seems almost impossible that anyone could run out of garbage but it’s happened to Sweden. The country has actually run out of trash.

Cities in Sweden burn garbage for the energy to power their buildings and plants; nearly half of the structures in Oslo are powered by the burning of garbage. Sweden’s use of garbage for fuel, coupled with their extensive and popular recycling programs leaves only 4 percent of their solid waste going to landfills. What percent of household trash from the United States ends up in a landfill, you ask? An estimated 50 percent. In fact, one garbage burning plant owner in Oslo has expressed interest in purchasing American garbage. They’re already paying neighboring countries for their trash.

Available data for landfill use in the United States is a little bit old, but nevertheless startling. In 2003, Americans landfilled 2.46lbs of garbage…per person….per day. We have 3,091 active landfills across the states and while we are in no danger of running out of fill, we should consider that we may run out of land.

In the Lehigh Valley, there has been some discussion about the necessary expansion of the IESI Bethlehem landfill that operates off of Applebutter Road in Lower Saucon Township. The expansion would require a rezoning of the nearby area to accommodate waste, but the Lehigh Valley Planning Commission voted against this redesignation.  So, where is the trash to go? The United States recycles 34.7 percent of its Municipal Solid Waste (MSW), burns 11.7 percent of it and discards 53.7 percent. With our population and rate of consumption, this leaves us with a lot of stuff packing our landfills while our municipalities are opposed to expanding landfills.

Should we start burning our trash for energy like Sweden? Try to recycle more? Or should we sell our trash?

What do you think is the SUSTAINABLE solution for the Lehigh Valley?

The City of Whitehall?

What’s in a name? That which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet.

Currently a township, Whitehall is considering the requirements and consequences for their designation as a city, and from the rapid growth in its population it looks like Allentown, Bethlehem and Easton may have a new member in the city-club of the region.

Whitehall is a first class township and is eligible to change their designation to third-class city after a voter referendum and a council change to their home charter rules. Their population, at the time of the 2010 census, was 26,738 just below Easton’s population of  26,800. Although their population nearly mirrors a neighboring city, there are other considerations in changing a municipality’s designation. There are many benefits in Pennsylvania to becoming a city. For example, only cities are eligible for certain tax incentive programs from the state like the Neighborhood Improvement Zone (NIZ) and the Community Revitalization Improvement Zone (CRIZ). Cities have more departments and authorities, like their own independent housing authority, which Whitehall Mayor Ed Hozza has said would be an important element to the now-township. The increase in size and scope of municipal government that comes with a change from township to city obviously isn’t free. The idea to change Whitehall into a city is still in its early stages and the cost to taxpayers is a major consideration right now.

The proposed change in Whitehall’s designation will hopefully spark an interesting conversation in Pennsylvania about the nearly unparalleled fragmentation and silo-like nature of the state’s local governance. The process of turning into a city may cause other municipalities to consider joining in a merger with Whitehall. The city of Bethlehem is the product of several borough mergers. Bethlehem was first formed in the Borough of South Bethlehem, a separate Borough of West Bethlehem. Decades later, the Borough of West Bethlehem joined with the Borough of Bethlehem (in Lehigh County). Finally, in the 20th century, the City of Bethlehem merged with the Borough of South Bethlehem to create the City of Bethlehem that we have today. Whitehall Township has several neighboring boroughs that may benefit from a merging with Whitehall Township to become the City of Whitehall. One such borough that could benefit is Coplay. With a population of under 5,000, a shared physical border and a combined school district, their merge makes sense and wouldn’t result in a decrease of services to Coplay residents. Another benefit to the merge is eligibility for a CRIZ. The CRIZ mandates a population over 30,000 which Whitehall Township doesn’t have on its own but would with the addition of Coplay residents.

If you’re a regular reader of the Renew Lehigh Valley blog here (which you should be!), you may have already heard of the hollowing out of the urban cores in our region as the population left cities in favor of new, sprawling second class townships. This was highlighted by a 2003 Brookings Report called Back to Prosperity. Some of the contributing research for this report detailed the excessive, small-box government that plagues Pennsylvania. There are 2,562 municipalities in the Keystone State each with their own municipal governing body. They range in size from 1.5 million in Philadelphia to the Borough of Centralia with 8 residents at the time of the 2010 Census.

In this state, they are broken down into cities, townships, boroughs and one town (Bloomsburg). Within those classifications there are first class cities (Philadelphia is the only one), second class cities (Scranton is the only one) and third class cities. There are first and second class townships and unclassified boroughs.

The Lehigh Valley alone has 62 municipalities (Northampton and Lehigh Counties). This fragmentation and duplication of efforts and services promotes sprawl and inhibits regionalism. Municipalities in Pennsylvania are permitted to create their own comprehensive plans and are not bound to formally adopt the regional comprehensive plan that is written by the Lehigh Valley Planning Commission. Changes in state policy that would encourage smaller municipalities to merge with their neighbors would increase the efficiency of service provision, minimize redundancies and create a more amenable environment for regional efforts.

How to attract a Millennial

The Millennial Generation comprises those who were born from 1980 to the early 2000s and now represents America’s young professionals who are graduating from college, getting their first and second jobs and buying homes. We’re now seeing where they want to live: downtown.

For the first time in decades, the population of American cities has grown at a faster rate than the suburbs. There is some speculation that this is a result of the recession, with urban dwellers remaining in place instead of moving to the suburbs with low and unpredictable home prices. Alternatively, there is evidence to suggest that the migration to the cities is more intentional for this generation.

Young professionals are now seeking different communities than the suburbs that their parents and grandparents had coveted for generations. Walkable, mixed-use communities are on the rise. A developer in Cleveland seized this trend and built one of the most desirable blocks in the entire city. Ten years ago, the Maron family bought up an entire block of the city where restaurants had gone out of business, retailers had failed, crime rates were high and there was little hope for residential use.

Here’s what it looks like now:

If You Build It, They Will Come: How Cleveland Lured Young Professionals Downtown

The block is thriving with outdoor seating, apartment buildings at capacity and successful retail. The project wasn’t immediately accepted by other entrepreneurs though; the Maron’s opened their own restaurants when others weren’t willing to take another chance on the neighborhood. By the time they opened a 224 unit apartment building on the block, the area was so popular that the building filled almost immediately.

Perhaps they’ve read The Creative Community Builder’s Handbook (by Tom Borrup).

The term creative community building describes efforts to weave multiple endeavors and professions into the never-ending work of building and rebuilding the social, civic, physical, economic and spiritual fabrics of communities. Creative community building engages the cultural and creative energies inherent in every person and every place.

Looking at the above picture of the block, it certainly seems like they’ve done that. This vibrant community in downtown Cleveland captures what many Millennials are looking for as they begin to live on their own. The area is walkable, there are residential options, dining and retail. It’s high-density, efficient land use with a markedly decreased rate of crime and it’s actually pretty cool.

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