Did you catch Envision Lehigh Valley’s virtual town hall meeting this week? If so, you were one of 99 viewers who tuned in to hear planners for Bethlehem, Easton, Allentown and the Lehigh Valley Planning Commission discuss growth projections and planning in the cities.
Particpants learned about the timeline for the catalytic projects in each of the three cities and how each city went about choosing the specific project that they undertook as part of the Envision Lehigh Valley grant. In addition to working on the rewrite of their city’s comprehensive plan, Becky Bradley a planner for Easton, discussed the 13th Street Corridor project that will begin soon in Easton. Darlene Heller, a planner for Bethlehem, discussed the planning and progress being made on the Eastern Gateway project in Bethlehem and Mike Hefele talked about all of the exciting development happening in Allentown as well as the Little Lehigh Industrial Corridor that he is working on as a planner for Allentown. Mike Kaiser, retiring executive director of the Lehigh Valley Planning Commission, shared information and maps showing the expected growth in population for the next thirty years in the Lehigh Valley. He broke it down by municipality and demographics, as well as discussing the implications for employment and transit.
After briefly presenting their projects, the panel took questions from participants in the live chat and from those e-mailed prior to the live feed. Planners were asked about transportation and fresh food access and explained the process of comprehensive planning as a city and as a region.
Despite a brief blip with the audio in the beginning of the meeting, viewers tweeted and chatted excitedly about the discussion the planners were having, as well as the idea of a virtual town hall to discuss other Envision initiatives. It was especially convenient for those who couldn’t make it to a public meeting in person this past fall; anyone who was interested could watch the meeting right from home and still participate!
If you’re kicking yourself for missing the meeting, or want to catch the audio from the introduction that we missed – don’t fret! The full video, with the full 60 minutes of audio is going up on Envision Lehigh Valley’s YouTube channel and you can watch the whole thing, advertisement free!
Based on all of the positive feedback that we got for this meeting, we hope to hold another one soon! Stay tuned!
Nurture Nature Center’s Urban Recycle Garden: A Demonstration Garden for Urban Communities
Nurture Nature Center in Easton, PA, is a dynamic center for community learning that uses science, art and dialogue programs to get the community talking and thinking critically about local environmental risks. Since its opening in 2011, NNC has hosted thousands of visitors for its programs, including shows on its noted Science on a Sphere exhibit. NNC’s newest project, the Urban Recycle Garden, is a chance to bring the community together to create a new exhibit that will help local residents to grow food and transform their own urban spaces.
What it is: NNC’s demonstration garden will use recycled and found materials to demonstrate growing techniques for urban areas (walls, balconies, small paved spaces), so that people can learn how to grow their food and/or beautify their urban space. The techniques demonstrated will be low cost and easy to replicate. This garden will be an exhibit at the center in downtown Easton, Pennsylvania.
Funds from this Kickstarter campaign will be used to create the Urban Recycle Garden in the rear of their building along the Pine Street Alley. Specifically, funds will be used 1) to purchase any plants, tools, and materials needed for the garden, 2) to buy art materials, such as mosaic tiles, to create beautiful recycled growing containers, 3) to purchase a Rainwater Hog (water collection tank), and 4) to develop and print educational signage for the garden and to produce how-to sheets that can be handed out and posted on the website . Any funds raised beyond $8,000 will be used to expand the project to the unused rooftop (pictured below).
What they hope to accomplish: Urban Recycle Garden will not be a typical green roof or urban garden. Instead, it will demonstrate growing techniques that people can implement in their own living space, no matter how small. This project will help urban residents and local business create a greener and more beautiful community, one container or trellis at a time!
Who they are: NNC has grown and developed in response to the needs of the community and was designed by and for community participation. Nurture Nature Center is located in Easton, Pennsylvania, a small urban community of about 25,000 people. Nurture Nature Center has a small staff, but is committed to sharing what they learn in Easton. Through partnerships with other organizations, programming, educational materials and approaches to community engagement on environmental risk, topics have been shared with museums and communities throughout the country. The Urban Recycle Garden is NNC’s most recent effort to create intelligently designed, community-driven programming and exhibits that can help the community respond to critical environmental needs such as access to fresh food.
NCC is also acting as a sub-awardee under the Sustainable Communities Grant to develop a Fresh Food Access Plan (FFAP) for the Lehigh Valley. The FFAP will include both an Assessment Report of the current state of the Lehigh Valley food economy and a strategies plan to improve this economy in the future.
Small urban spaces are not often considered places for growing things. With this project NNC hopes to change this mentality by introducing techniques that require little space and are also less intensive and therefore many times more practical for everyday people than larger scale gardening. By creating this Urban Recycle Garden, NNC is making a commitment to maintain it year-round and has already set aside staff time to make sure they can meet this challenge. NCC also plans to incorporate it into current programming for school and community groups as one of the primary exhibits.
Follow this link to make a donation to their Kickstarter account – only a few days left to contribute!
Since our inception, Renew Lehigh Valley has been committed to smart growth and revitalizing our core communities by advocating smart governance, open space preservation and establishing an environmentally and economically sustainable region for all its residents.
Making “smart growth” a reality in the Lehigh Valley must involve broad-based regional collaboration and the participation of individuals and organizations across the region’s various communities. RenewLV seeks to catalyze action focused on creating a vibrant region characterized by strong core communities, abundant open space, and regional thinking.
Of course, all of that sounds great – but what tenets do we adhere to in advocating for smart growth and sustainability? The New Urbanism school of thought breaks it down into this friendly, numbered list.
-Most things within a 10-minute walk of home and work
-Pedestrian friendly street design (buildings close to street; porches, windows & doors; tree-lined streets; on street parking; hidden parking lots; garages in rear lane; narrow, slow speed streets)
-Pedestrian streets free of cars in special cases
-Interconnected street grid network disperses traffic & eases walking
-A hierarchy of narrow streets, boulevards, and alleys
-High quality pedestrian network and public realm makes walking pleasurable
3. Mixed-Use & Diversity
-A mix of shops, offices, apartments, and homes on site. Mixed-use within neighborhoods, within blocks, and within buildings
-Diversity of people – of ages, income levels, cultures, and races
4. Mixed Housing
A range of types, sizes and prices in closer proximity
5. Quality Architecture & Urban Design
Emphasis on beauty, aesthetics, human comfort, and creating a sense of place; Special placement of civic uses and sites within community. Human scale architecture & beautiful surroundings nourish the human spirit
6. Traditional Neighborhood Structure
-Discernable center and edge
-Public space at center
-Importance of quality public realm; public open space designed as civic art
-Contains a range of uses and densities within 10-minute walk
-Transect planning: Highest densities at town center; progressively less dense towards the edge. The transect is an analytical system that conceptualizes mutually reinforcing elements, creating a series of specific natural habitats and/or urban lifestyle settings. The Transect integrates environmental methodology for habitat assessment with zoning methodology for community design. The professional boundary between the natural and man-made disappears, enabling environmentalists to assess the
design of the human habitat and the urbanists to support the viability of nature. This urban-to-rural transect hierarchy has appropriate building and street types for each area along the continuum.
7. Increased Density
-More buildings, residences, shops, and services closer together for ease of walking, to enable a more efficient use of services and resources, and to create a more convenient, enjoyable place to live.
-New Urbanism design principles are applied at the full range of densities from small towns, to large cities
8. Green Transportation
-A network of high-quality trains connecting cities, towns, and neighborhoods together
-Pedestrian-friendly design that encourages a greater use of bicycles, rollerblades, scooters, and walking as daily transportation
-Minimal environmental impact of development and its operations
-Eco-friendly technologies, respect for ecology and value of natural systems
-Less use of finite fuels
-More local production
-More walking, less driving
10. Quality of Life
Taken together these add up to a high quality of life well worth living, and create places that enrich, uplift, and inspire the human spirit.
These principles make sense and should be central in smart growth planning, but they can be a bit vague and nebulous. Bill Adams from UrbDeZine in San Diego has 10 new principles that he thinks will make smart growth smarter if they are put into practice.
1. Purge the term NIMBY from your language and your thinking. It stultifies any further understanding of community concerns, or how to reach a compromise. Every criticism or opposition to a high density project is now labeled as NIMBYism, with little further discussion of community concerns. Community stakeholders typically have great knowledge of their neighborhoods though they may not use formal planning terms.
2. Respect community planning. Recognize that many community development regulations are the result of lengthy and thoughtful public planning processes. Community stakeholders often have years of volunteered time and effort invested into the local planning process. Modern smart growth occurs best through this planning process, not through ad hoc project variances. Large variances rarely create good results. Increased density via the community planning process allows the community to “buy in.” Developments that require spot zoning under the smart growth or TOD banner are usually wolves in sheeps clothing. See Smart Growth Principles #9 & #10
3. Integrate with the surrounding community. A project which becomes an island or erects barriers to the existing neighborhood may cause nearby businesses to close or nearby residents to move away, which causes blight and loss of density. A successful smart growth project recognizes the existing desirable and undesirable neighborhood patterns, and works to fit in with the former and tweak the latter. In this way, it is most likely to be part of a walkable and sustainable community. See Smart Growth Principles #4 & #5
4. In transit oriented developments (TODs), transit orientation should exceed auto orientation. Projects are passing as TOD simply because they are near retail establishments and transit routes. However, they are usually just as close to major thoroughfares, imbued with ample off-street parking facilities (usually required by the municipality), and pedestrian deterring exteriors. These project rarely enhance walkability, and the convenience of public transit is offset by equal or greater auto amenities and convenience. Recent studies have found mixed evidence of public transit relieving traffic congestion. One contributor to this mixed result may be that TODs have yet to significantly coax people from their cars. Several cities are taking the next step to shift the transportation paradigm by eliminating or reducing minimum off-street parking requirements for new construction. This step also helps to lower construction costs and make housing more affordable. However, most cities remain daunted by anticipated opposition from businesses and residents (as can be seen in Portland, a leader in reducing off-site parking requirements, from adjacent residential areas fearing increased load on street parking) or long held perceptions of the need for off-site parking. Creating communities that encourage a walking and transit lifestyle requires a holistic and integrated approach, as well as bold vision and courage from municipal leaders.
5. Respect neighborhood character & identity. A positive neighborhood identity helps to sustain densification. Lack of identity or a negative identity makes increasing neighborhood density difficult. A development that challenges or changes a community’s identity architecturally or in terms of land use can undermine the very thing that attracts residents to the neighborhood. Diversity of land uses is good but incompatibility is not. Preserve historic resources and urban fabric. See Smart Growth Principle #7
6. Increase density incrementally. A lot of increased density can be achieved incrementally. Reduce setback requirements. Allow “granny flat” construction. Small lot infill should be given preference over block-clearing projects. These incremental methods are especially important in communities that are not blighted or depressed. The height and mass of buildings in the community are usually closely related to its character and identity. On the other hand, a small lot project can rise higher without negatively impacting the community than a full block project. Large scale developments tend to trigger large scale transitions. Large scale transitions usually have uncertain outcomes, which can as easily result in blight and lost density as increased density and walkability. Even if the end results are increased density, such transitions can result in interim abandonment of existing uses, demolition, empty lots, and surface parking, as property owners clear or “bank” their land in anticipation of new development, leading to interim lost density. Don’t let maximizing density become the enemy of increasing density.
7. Conform to existing “smart” retail corridors and centers. Don’t set up competition for such corridors or centers, or confuse a community’s existing smart growth layout. Most traditional retail districts were established before auto-convenience dominated development in the 60s & 70s. Examples of large scale mixed use projects which negatively impacted resurging nearby traditional retail districts include the following: CityPlace in West Palm Beach FL caused a regression in the revitalizing Clematis St. Horton Plaza in San Diego CA set back the resurgence of historic Gaslamp Quarter and helped relegate it to restaurant and bar uses. Park Station, a proposed project for La Mesa, CA threatens its traditional main street commercial district. A successful smart growth project doesn’t add a large amount of retail space on the periphery of an existing successful or resurging commercial district. This principle is especially important in this era of shrinking or plateaued “brick and mortar” retail. See Smart Growth Principle #7
8. Look for opportunities to narrow (verb) streets and vanquish parking lots. The antithesis of smart growth and the trademark of sprawl are wide streets, dispersed development, and parking lots. Revitalizing older commercial districts too often feel compelled to try to compete with suburban shopping centers by providing equally ample parking. However, such districts attract customers by providing the walkability, human scale, diverse architecture, narrow streets, and historic attractions absent from master planned commercial districts. They’ll never be able to compete on convenience. Parking lots and wide streets directly undermine the attraction. Conversely, people come to successful traditional commercial districts despite the auto inconveniences. Auto inconvenience means pedestrian orientation. Look for opportunities to do more with less parking through better parking management, e.g., negotiating arrangements with private parking facilities to make them available to the public at certain times. Never base the supply of permanent parking on capacity for special events.
9. Prioritize non-auto transportation by creating unique or exclusive pedestrian and bicycle amenities. The health and quality of life detriment of auto-oriented living is well documented. However, too often cities strive to simply add pedestrian and bike amenities alongside its auto amenities. In these circumstances, placement and route selection is for the benefit of the car with pedestrians and bikes an afterthought. However, communities built before auto orientation often have amenities for pedestrians (and sometimes available to bicyclists) that give the latter an advantage or shortcut unavailable to autos. A perfect contrast exists in the author’s own community. One of its better known features are three sets of stairs that vertically ascend/descend a hill supporting a residential neighborhood. In contrast, cars must follow streets which zig zag up the same hill due its steepness. The three sides of the hill with stairs were developed in the first half of the 20th century. (Incidentally, this neighborhood also has narrow streets and minimal setbacks, resulting in a both densely developed yet quaintly scaled neighborhood). However, the fourth side was developed from the 1960s through 2007. This newer side of the hill contains wider streets with sidewalks on both sides (on the older sides of the hill, sidewalks are less extensive and contiguous) but no hillside stairs. As a result, pedestrians must take long and circuitous routes on the sidewalks to get to destinations at the base of the hill, such as the neighborhood park. It is frustrating to see the missed opportunities of direct and short pedestrian shortcuts to the park that could have been built on the newly developed side of the hill, as they were on the older sides. Even though the new neighborhood has more sidewalks, they are less useful, making the neighborhood less walkable. Real smart growth means building pedestrian and bicycle amenities as a priority, not simply as an adjunct to road building.
10. Design for human nature, honed over millions of years, rather than efficiencies and logic, decided upon during the course of design. Such design is often counter-intuitive. This concept is exemplified in the attraction of people to small spaces, crowded rooms, and long lines. William H. Whyte’s City: Rediscovering the Center (1988), is a masterpiece of counter-intuitive conclusions about such things as appropriate sidewalk width and use of urban plazas. New “shared space” street design, often involving removal of “safety features” such as traffic lights, are also having a counter-intuitive traffic calming, hence safer, effect. In contrast, much of the inhospitable, dangerous, and unhealthy design of post-war communities came about in an era with the most planning, in which travel efficiencies, privacy, and safety concerns were given the highest consideration.
Smart growth, new urbanism, densification, transit oriented development, and related concepts are in danger of triggering a backlash from heavy handed application. One can already see localized backlashes across the country. These backlashes may develop into a more coalesced national backlash if local opposition to projects is routinely dismissed as NIMBYISM and densification is achieved with a sledgehammer rather than a scalpel. Ironically, the “rules” postulated above are not really new. Rather they expound on existing smart growth principles that often seem forgotten. Smart growth and new urbanism have always emphasized the importance of respecting neighborhood planning, character, and scale. Hopefully this article will help to refocus attention on these principles and serve as a reminder that smart growth involves much more than simply higher density and proximity to transit.
Addendum (bonus rule!):
11. Preserve and enhance existing density and urban fabric. Avoid demolition for lower density uses (e.g. parking), or as “interim” or anticipatory demolition, (e.g. before project funding). Pursue adaptive reuse, including partial preservation when full preservation or adaptive reuse is not feasible. Allow or encourage adaptive reuse which modifies non-historic structures (or non-historic components of historic structures) to achieve increased density.
What do you think of the New Urbanism principles? What about UrbDeZine’s? Did they miss anything? Can we utilize both sets of principles concurrently for the best chance of smart growth?
In 2002 the City of Bethlehem and Community Action Development Corporation of Bethlehem (CADC-B) embarked on a 10-year mission to revitalize the neighborhoods of South Bethlehem. The guiding master plan, South Side Vision 2012 (now Southside Vision 2014), is an action plan for physical, economic and community development. It originated as a companion to the Southside Bethlehem Master Plan completed in 2001, which focused on strategies for commercial development in the core retail and commercial district of south Bethlehem adjacent to Lehigh University. These strategies focus on:
- Create a strong open space network, with new and improved parking opportunities
- Concentrate new commercial and retail establishments on the existing commercial areas of East Fourth Street, as well as developing positive recreational activities for the youth
- Improve the gateways leading into Bethlehem, especially the Eastern Gateway where home ownership and home improvement is encouraged
Since the origination of the Southside vision 2012 plan, much has changed in South Bethlehem. The Southside has experienced a renaissance, with major development projects such as the Sands Casino Resort Bethlehem, ArtsQuest’s SteelStacks and Lehigh Valley Industrial Parks VII campus. Public/private partnerships and hard work have enabled us to attain many of our Southside Vision 2012 initiatives including a new greenway and a new skate plaza, and charming streetscapes linking all of these together.
The Southside energy is palpable here; there is no doubt south Bethlehem is now an exciting urban destination. Our present challenge is how to enhance the Eastern Gateway, which is not only a primary entrance to the City and all of these projects, but an ethnically diverse residential neighborhood. We want a strategy to integrate components of the original Southside Vision plan – possibilities for reuse of buildings and land, parking challenges, youth recreation, and suggestions for concentrated commercial establishments. But we need these to be combined with new concepts for marketing the neighborhood, suggestions for and renderings of possible streetscape amenities, and signage and wayfinding ideas to fit our new identity.
Here’s what it looks like:
The Eastern Gateway in Context
An entrance to South Bethlehem, the Eastern Gateway is a gateway from all sides for visitors arriving from the east, it is a gateway to the residential and commercial core of South Bethlehem, including the Four Blocks International area; for locals, it is a gateway to the future development and jobs of the Lehigh Valley Industrial Park (LVIP) to the east; the academic community of Lehigh University and the wooded slopes of South Mountain to the south; and the entertainment and arts district of the Sands Casino Resort Bethlehem (Sands) and the SteelStacks complex (on the former Bethlehem Steel site) to the north.
In addition, it is a local and regional transportation connector with easy access to I-78 and the developing South Bethlehem Greenway, which will eventually connect the regional recreation and green space networks. What all this tells us is that the Eastern Gateway is not just a gateway for any one group or location, but rather it has the potential to be the node at the center of these diverse and growing activities and communities. It is a crossroads – physically, socially, culturally, and economically – more than a gateway to any one thing.
The Eastern Gateway is also a gateway in more than just the physical sense. The entire Southside neighborhood itself, has and continues to function as a “gateway” community. Whether we are talking about steel workers arriving in Bethlehem from overseas at the turn of the last century, students arriving to attend Lehigh University, or new workers arriving to staff the SteelStacks complex or filling tech jobs in the growing Lehigh Valley Industrial Park, the area has, for generations, been a community of opportunity, where people arrive in Bethlehem. Now new arrivals mix with families who have lived in the Southside for generations, creating a vibrant and dynamic, historically rich community culture in the Southside. This is the community that development in the Eastern Gateway must serve.
The Eastern Gateway Vision Plan
The Eastern Gateway Vision Study was selected as Bethlehem’s component of the Regional Sustainability Plan because it addresses an area of the city that is currently in a critical time period of transition. The Study addresses opportunities for more transportation choices, includes market analysis to determine the neighborhood’s market potential and competitiveness, analyzes and promotes the area’s opportunities for infill housing units that meet neighborhood need and ties the neighborhood goals and objectives to those of the surrounding development. The Vision Study was supported by substantial public input. It is clear that the heart of the Eastern Gateway is the people themselves. It is the community’s desires for a long-term vibrant and viable community that drives this vision.
An Emerging Vision
The South Bethlehem Eastern Gateway is an active, dynamic, lively public space that serves as a hub – not just a gateway – of the City of Bethlehem. It reflects the Southside’s history, culture, and community and builds on its physical landscape and infrastructure. The Eastern Gateway is a strong neighborhood-oriented mixed-use district that serves existing and new residents, employees, and other stakeholders wishing to take part and invest in the long-term success of the neighborhood.
This past weekend, a plethora of events were held in the area: Earth Days on the Greenway, Spring on 4th – What’s on 3rd? and the Chili Cookoff! Foot traffic in the Southside continues to grow as these events are held in the revitalized region.
For more information on the Southside Vision, go to their website right at this link. Envision Lehigh Valley also provides information on the Eastern Gateway project as it has become part of their 3-year sustainable communities grant from U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
The word ‘sustainability’ is thrown around over and over again, by environmentalists, nonprofits, corporations and United Nations conspiracy theorists but we rarely pause to define the principle. Turning to the dictionary isn’t helpful either in the context we’re looking at (the ability to be sustained, supported, upheld, or confirmed.)
At Renew Lehigh Valley, we focus on promoting smart growth and smart governance in order to revitalize our core communities, preserve open space, and establish an economically and environmentally sustainable foundation for our region’s future growth.
A picture is worth 1,000 words, and sometimes a 2 minute video is even better. The Green Meeting Industry Council made such a video where they focus primarily on the environmental aspects of sustainability, but the principles are applicable to every realm of sustainability.
Do you agree with their definition of sustainability? Are there more principles that they miss? What does sustainability mean to you?
The transcript of the video is below:
Sustainability means that things can keep going, can sustain themselves, can continue into the future and go on forever. from a human perspective, sustainability means that our planet can continue to do what it was designed to do: provide fresh air, clean water, produce food and allow us all to have a high quality of life forever. Unsustainability means that it cannot and that is where we are now
20 years ago, scientists in Sweden developed a definition of sustainability with four basic principles. these can be seen as the care instructions for our planet, and if we follow them – it is good for our planet and because we are part of a system that includes our planet, it is good for us too.
The care instructions are as follows:
- Reduce our dependence on fossil fuels and heavy metals
- Reduce our dependence on synthetic chemicals
- reduce our destruction of nature
- Ensure that we are not stopping people globally from meeting their needs
Demand for the earth’s services (air, water, food) increase as the population increases and living standards rise but the Earth’s ability to provide these services is declining because of the way we are living. In our search for prosperity, growth and success, we are destroying the system that we as humans are completely dependent on – nature. We, as humans, have become a threat to our own way of life. The Earth is a system and everything is connected: society, environment and economy.
To live sustain-ably we need to follow the 4 care instructions and apply them to everything we do at home and at work. If we follow these care instructions, we can work together to be sustainable we will all have a better quality of life, waste less, pollute less and create more things we value in society while improving our planets chances of providing us with the very things that we need to survive.
On Tuesday morning, Amtrak announced record high ridership in the first six months of the 2013 fiscal year. October, December and January each boasted all-time highs for those particular months. Ridership on their longer routes, like Chicago to New Orleans, also saw huge increases.
“The continued ridership growth on routes across the country reinforces the need for dedicated, multi-year federal operating and capital funding to support existing intercity passenger rail services and the development of new ones,” Amtrak President and CEO Joe Boardman said.
The Lehigh Valley is also in the process of examining its comprehensive public transit, through funds from the Envision Lehigh Valley grant directed toward LANTa. They’re going to be looking at a variety of transit modes, including their popular bus program. LANTa is currently looking at Bus Rapid Transit, and have done a lot of research in creating more efficient routes for their riders.
A key component to the quality of life of the Valley in the future will be the level of access to alternative modes of transportation like public transit, walking and biking. Currently, we face two major challenges in terms of access to public transportation. The first is the overall level of public transportation service available to residents of the Lehigh Valley. As part of the Lehigh and Northampton Transportation Authority (LANta) 2008 study Moving LANta Forward, a peer group review was performed comparing LANta and the Lehigh Valley to transit systems in similarly sized metropolitan areas throughout the country.
The second challenge is that many areas of the Valley have not been developed in a manner that facilitates the use of transit. For transit to be feasible, residents must be able to safely and conveniently access bus stops to board the bus as well as their final destination once leaving the bus. This requires a comprehensive and safe network of sidewalks, marked crosswalks and pedestrian phases at traffic signals. In addition, our neighborhoods, office parks and retail centers must be designed or retrofitted in a way to allow people to walk into, out of and throughout the developments in a safe and convenient manner. These types of improvements and changes to development patterns will not only facilitate the use of transit but will also facilitate and encourage more walking and biking throughout our communities.
Through their website, Envision Lehigh Valley received a total of 1,118 completed surveys as well as feedback from 47 public meetings that were held through the fall. The breakdown of the participants represented an accurate cross section of our regional population on the characteristics of race, age, income and location.
In the 47 focus groups that were held during the public meetings, Lehigh Valley residents appeared to be most interested in discussing economic development, which they saw as a positive thing for the region.
They mentioned large projects currently being undertaken across the Lehigh Valley. Participants discussed projects such as the hockey arena, casino, and ArtsQuest. Projects involving specific companies, including Ocean Spray, and the Lehigh Valley Hospital Expansion, were mentioned as well as more generic business expansions like the Allentown waterfront project, the P&P Mill, and new hotels and retail space in various locations.
Focus group participants were generally dissatisfied with the types of jobs available to Lehigh Valley workers and didn’t believe the job market matched the qualifications most workers have.
The groups also examined other topics; citizens talked 652 times about housing, 549 times about fresh food access, and 378 times about climate and energy.
One of the most interesting findings to come out of the focus group analysis is that the overall interests and topics of discussion varied very little in the different cities, boroughs, and townships where they were held. These commonalities suggest that quality of life factors in the Lehigh Valley are important across the valley, not just in one or two communities.
Spring has sprung, and hopefully this past week’s snow was our last of the season. Soon we will be seeing the reemergence of blossoms and farmers’ markets. Most of our local markets will be opening over the next month and a half, and there are plenty of reasons to shop from your Lehigh Valley farmers.
You may remember a blog post we did a few months ago where we highlighted the research of Buy Fresh Buy Local’s Community Fellow Laura Schmidt. She debunked the common perception that farmers’ markets prices are higher than grocery stores: (read the full report here!)
When the price of a shopping bag of farmers’ market food grown/raised using organic methods is compared to the price of a shopping bag of grocery store certified organic food, no statistically significant difference is found. There is also no statistically significant price difference between a bag of farmers’ market conventional and grocery store conventional food. Nor is there a statistically significant difference between the farmers’ market and grocery store bags of combination (organic methods/ certified organic & conventional) food.
The Buy Fresh Buy Local website explains other reasons for buying from regional farmers, including better taste, health benefits, supporting local business and the beneficial environmental factors. Supermarket produce average 7 to 14 days in transit, during which time fruits and vegetables lose some of their nutritional value and burns fossil fuels while travelling.
Now that you’re convinced to buy local, here’s where you can do it!
|1. St. Luke’s SteelStacks Farmers’ Market:
SteelStacks Farmers’ Market101 Founders Way
25 W. 3rd Street
Bethlehem, PA 18015
Distance: 4.67 miles.2. Bethlehem Farmers’ Market @ Campus Square:
Bethlehem Farmers’ MarketS New St & E Morton St
Bethlehem, PA 18015
Distance: 4.75 miles.
P.O. Box 14
100 N. Walnut Street
|7. Nazareth Market on the SquareCenter Square
Nazareth, PA 18064
Distance: 12.40 miles.8. Easton Farmers’ Market:
Nurture Nature Center518 Northampton Street
Easton , PA 18042
Distance: 14.54 miles.
LindenHillGardens (Route 611)
Penn& Main Streets
So now you have the why and the where, here’s the what: a schedule of when fruits and vegetables come into season
We hope to see you out this spring and summer supporting our local agriculture!
The American Society of Civil Engineers releases a report every four years that grades the quality of America’s infrastructure. Every single report for the past 15 years has shown a decline or stagnation in quality – until this year.
The last report was issued in 2009 and gave our domestic infrastructure a “D” grade. This year, it has been bumped up to a “D+.” The report shows progress in six areas which include bridges, rail, waste water and drinking water. Ports, waterways and levees have retained their position at the bottom of the list with a “D-.” Our highest grade comes in at a “B-” for our treatment of solid waste. Clearly the push for better development and repairs cannot stop, but to halt the downward spiral of quality is a serious step in the right direction.
Experts have contributed the small increase to more funding from private interests and local governments who have become tired of waiting for the federal government to subsidize these desperately needed upgrades in their infrastructure.
Matt Lehrich, a spokesman for the Obama administration, said to the New York Times, “This report confirms what we already know: that while smart investments in infrastructure have not only created jobs but started to produce the improvements American workers and businesses will need to compete in a global economy, we have a very long way to go.”
The Lehigh Valley is no different. Our infrastructure is aging and decaying. Efforts have been made across the Lehigh Valley, slowly addressing these concerns. Some infrastructure needs, such as water and wastewater systems, could benefit from regionalization efforts, something RenewLV discovered in a 2008 study.
The ASCE also breaks down the data and needs by state, below are their findings on Pennsylvania:
Water and Environment
- Pennsylvania’s dam safety program has 28 Full-Time Employees that each oversee an average of 118.8 state regulated dams.
- Pennsylvania has 852 high hazard dams.
- 96% of the state regulated dams in Pennsylvania have an Emergency Action Plan.
- Pennsylvania’s state dam safety program has an annual budget of $2,502,295.
- Pennsylvania has reported $11.4 billion in drinking water infrastructure needs over the next 20 years.
- Pennsylvania has 96 sites on the National Priorities List.
- Pennsylvania has approximately 199 miles of levees according to the current FEMA Midterm Levee Inventory.
- Pennsylvania has reported $17.9 billion in wastewater infrastructure needs over the next 20 years.
- There are 132 public-use airports in Pennsylvania.
- 5,540 of the 22,669 bridges in Pennsylvania (24.4%) are considered structurally deficient.
- 4,370 of the 22,669 bridges in Pennsylvania (19.3%) are considered functionally obsolete.
- Pennsylvania received $429.3 million from the Federal Highway Bridge Fund in FY2011.
- Pennsylvania has 260 miles of inland waterways, ranking it 28th in the nation.
- Pennsylvania’s ports handled 90.8 million short tons of cargo in 2009, ranking it 8th in the nation.
- Pennsylvania has 55 freight railroads covering 5,071 miles across the state, ranking it 5th by mileage.
- Driving on roads in need of repair costs Pennsylvania motorists $2.947 billion a year in extra vehicle repairs and operating costs – $341 per motorist.
- 57% of Pennsylvania’s roads are in poor or mediocre condition.
- Pennsylvania has 121,772 public road miles.
- Pennsylvania’s highway vehicle-miles traveled in 2009 was approximately 7,889 per capita, ranking it 45th in the nation.
- Pennsylvania’s gas tax of 32.3 cents per gallon has not been increased in 6 years.
- Pennsylvania has 450,252 annual unlinked passenger trips via transit systems – motor bus, heavy rail, light rail, and commuter rail.
Parks and Recreation
- Pennsylvania has reported an unmet need of $24.5 million for its parks system.
- Public school districts in Pennsylvania spent a total of $8 billion on capital outlays for school construction and acquisition of land and existing structures in fiscal years 2005–2008.
- It is estimated that Pennsylvania schools have $9.3 billion in infrastructure funding needs.
- Pennsylvania produces 6.577 gigawatt-hours of renewable energy every year, ranking it 17th.
Last week, we co-hosted, along with the Lehigh Valley Research Consortium, the annual State of the Lehigh Valley report presentation and luncheon. After the report was delivered, we had a lively discussion with many people in the audience about what they thought the issues facing the Lehigh Valley were and we put cards on each table for attendees to leave their thoughts on a few questions. We’ve compiled that data and the findings were very interesting!
First we asked what everyone thought the most pressing issue in the Lehigh Valley was, whether it was included in the report or not. Not surprisingly, the most common responses we got were related to employment, specifically in the types of jobs that are available in our region. Some community members have seen a disparity in the types of jobs that are vacant and the skills of our local workforce. Others want to see the Valley move toward more tech jobs and see employment in social science fields. Another major issue was education; residents of the Valley want to see graduation rates in public schools increase and make sure the students are reading at a grade appropriate level. With the concentration of colleges in the Lehigh Valley, community members want to see local students going on to higher education with the ability to pay for those institutions. Attendees also expressed concern with the “brain drain” they’re seeing from our local colleges; this drain is a result of graduates from local colleges leaving to take jobs with higher wages in New York City and Philadelphia.
We also asked what last week’s attendees wanted to see in next year’s report, and again, they pointed to education but also to quality of life data. They want to look at the correlations between early education and graduation, income level and graduation and the disparity of outcomes between suburban and urban school districts. As far as quality of life, some suggested looking at a happiness scale for residents and workers of the Lehigh Valley, comparative data of poverty rates and information on crime.
Finally we asked about the opportunities and obstacles that the Lehigh Valley faces as it moves toward becoming a more sustainable region. The opportunities are plentiful and spanned topics from economics to the environment to historical landmarks to the quality of our farmland. The Lehigh Valley has many resources at its disposal, in human capital, natural resources and a motivated and active citizenry. We will need these resources as we move forward to combat our obstacles. Standing in our way right now are barriers to regionalization. There are so many municipalities and local governments in the Lehigh Valley that could work together to provide better, faster services to their constituents while making more comprehensive plans for the area’s future. Cooperation is integral to planning for sustainability, and not just at the municipal level – corporations and non profit organizations can work together with citizens to make concrete steps toward smart and sustainable growth.
We hope you were able to attend the State of the Lehigh Valley, but if not, you can read a PDF of the report here. If you weren’t able to share your thoughts at the meeting or not able to attend the meeting, reach out on Twitter @RenewLV or on our Facebook page, http://www.facebook.com/RenewLV. Renew Lehigh Valley is also part of a several-year grant project from the US Department of Housing and Urban Development called Envision Lehigh Valley to plan for long-term, sustainable communities. If you have thoughts about community planning, share those in the ‘Feedback’ section on the lefthand panel of Envison’s website: http://www.envisionlehighvalley.com/envision-lehigh-valley