Category Archives: About RenewLV
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?
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.
The Lehigh Valley Planning Commission has completed a study to predict the growth of the Lehigh Valley over the next thirty years. The Reader’s Digest version would say that there are A LOT of people coming to the region. Our population is projected to add another 226,722 people by 2040. The total population will be 873,954 in the LV at that time.
Using 2010 census data, the Planning Commission is able to detect trends in the growth patterns of Lehigh and Northampton counties and is able to break them down by age group to show specifically where we’ll be growing. It’s no secret that the baby boomer generation is aging, and that is shown clearly in the report. The largest growing age demographic will be the 75 and over crowd, who will add 54,265 people to their ranks. Coming second in growth rate are the 70-74 year olds, growing by 20,946.
As much as the elderly seem to love the Lehigh Valley, the young are leaving the region. One of the largest exits from the area is from 20-24 year old males with college degrees who lived here when they were pursuing their education and then moved away for jobs or other opportunities upon graduation.
Countering this trend is the influx of those in their later twenties, who often move to the region when they begin to start a family. As far as starting families goes, birth rates in Northampton County are expected to top the state average for every 5 year range that was studied. Lehigh County’s will stay closer to the state average or below.
Northampton County will also grow at a higher rate of 11.9 percent compared to Lehigh County’s 11.5 percent. The Planning Commission predicts that this is because of Northampton County’s proximity to New Jersey and New York as more employees from those states choose to live in Pennsylvania.
So, what do you think of all of this population growth? If you’ve got ideas or opinions on how the Lehigh Valley can better prepare or improve its existing stature, visit http://www.envisionlehighvalley.com and share your feedback or take one of the surveys about economic development, fresh food access, transportation and job/housing balance. With the massive growth in our region, we have to plan ahead so that residents, new and old, will have access to jobs, transportation, housing and food. People are flocking to the Lehigh Valley for a reason, let’s plan ahead to keep it great.
The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2012 annual report for Crossroads.
Here’s an excerpt:
600 people reached the top of Mt. Everest in 2012. This blog got about 8,300 views in 2012. If every person who reached the top of Mt. Everest viewed this blog, it would have taken 14 years to get that many views.
RenewLV and the Lehigh Valley Research Consortium announce the second-annual State of the Lehigh Valley community indicators report release event! Join us on Wednesday, February 15 from 11:30am to 1:30pm in Iacocca Hall at Lehigh University for a luncheon and report on the findings of the State of the Lehigh Valley 2011 study.
This year’s report focuses on the economy and employment, housing affordability, median household income, quality of life, and transportation. A special section has been added to highlight community health and health indicators. This year’s report also compares the Lehigh Valley to similarly sized metropolitan areas to get a sense of how our community measures up to others in the Northeast.
The event will feature a review of the report’s findings, a luncheon buffet, and discussion among community members and experts in the particular focus areas to encourage dialogue toward developing community solutions. Join us to work as a community toward a healthier, more successful, and more vibrant Lehigh Valley!
Last year’s event sold out and we have a 250-seat capacity, so register quickly! The registration fee of $25 includes your luncheon buffet. Details for registration and sponsorship opportunities can be found by clicking this link to our registration page. We look forward to seeing you there!
RenewLV is committed to promoting smart growth and smart governance to revitalize our core communities. That is our mission and that is what we hope to achieve for the Lehigh Valley. The Valley is experiencing a great deal of development, which is great news, but we want to make sure that we are developing wisely and growing in the right directions.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Smart Growth Network have compiled a list of 10 basic principles of smart growth that are proven approaches in creating successful communities:
- Mix land uses
- Take advantage of compact building design
- Create a range of housing opportunities and choices
- Create walkable neighborhoods
- Foster distinctive, attractive communities with a strong sense of place
- Preserve open space, farmland, natural beauty, and critical environmental areas
- Strengthen and direct development toward existing communities
- Provide a variety of transportation choices
- Make development decisions predictable, fair, and cost-effective
- Encourage community and stakeholder collaboration in development decisions
Numerous organizations throughout the Lehigh Valley hold these principles as main focuses of their activities. Through Renew’s partnerships with organizations like the Lehigh Valley Economic Development Corporation, the Lehigh Valley Planning Commission, LANta, the Wildlands Conservancy, and many others, RenewLV is trying to knit these principles into the culture of the Lehigh Valley. That is why we have partnered with the Lehigh Valley Sustainability Consortium to ensure these ideals are part of any development project here.
As residents of this great area, you know how unique and resilient the Lehigh Valley is. But there is always room for improvement. Through the recently awarded $3.4 million HUD grant, this area will be getting a major boost through projects and partnerships over the next three years. As part of the Lehigh Valley Sustainability Consortium overseeing this grant, RenewLV wants to hear from you, the residents of the Lehigh Valley. In the upcoming months we will be hosting events and opportunities to enable your voice and opinions to be heard in order to guide these projects. Visit our website and click the “Join Us” button to stay up-to-date on the grant projects and opportunities for the community to speak out. Bring these smart growth principles to the Lehigh Valley to make it an even better place to live.
RenewLV welcomes two new members to our team this fall– Pam Colton, Executive Director, and Rachel Bradshaw!
Pam Colton comes to Renew Lehigh Valley after 24 years of service in the US Government’s Open Source Center where she spent time as a document analyst, an editor, a “Daily Report” manager, and an overseas chief editor, working in places like Nicosia, Cyprus, Abidjan, Ivory Coast, Reston, Virginia, and her home in Washington Township, PA. Before taking her position in the federal employee ranks, Pam graduated with a degree in Political Science and Russian/East European Studies from the University of Pittsburgh.
Upon returning to the Slate Belt where she grew up, Pam made a successful run for the Bangor School Board, where she was just re-elected for her fourth term. As school board vice president, she has negotiated two successful five-year teacher contracts and numerous other Act 93 contracts. She represents the board as its legislative liaison and is also its representative on the board of the Colonial Intermediate Unit #20.
Pam was also instrumental in starting the Slater Family Network Foundation, Inc (SFN), a family center based in the Bangor Area School District. SFN is a joint venture with the school district, the United Way of the Greater Lehigh Valley, Two Rivers Health and Wellness Foundation, Northampton County Children & Youth, the 21st Century Community Learning Center, and other donors and is currently beginning its 12th year of assisting families in the Bangor School District with resources, referrals to programs throughout the Lehigh Valley, and advocacy on an as needed basis. Pam served as the organization’s president for 11 years before stepping down to pursue the position at RenewLV.
Rachel Bradshaw is a Community Fellow from Lehigh University. She will be serving as the Community Coordinator for the next year as she pursues her M.A. in Political Science. Rachel graduated from Western New England College with a B.A. in History.
While attending Western New England, Rachel was extremely active in the First Year Students & Students in Transition Program. She mentored a cohort of 20 first year students for three years as a Peer Advisor and led the Peer Advisor group her senior year as a member of the Steering Committee. Rachel also assisted in reinstating the Sexual Misconduct Advocate Response Team (SMART) at Western New England, while serving as the Community Coordinator of the peer education and support group. She facilitated peer educational events and workshops in partnership with the Springfield YWCA. While at Western New England College, Rachel was also a member of the Historical Society, Class Council, Omicron Delta Kappa Honor Society, Mortarboard Honor Society, and Alpha Lambda Delta Honor Society.
Rachel has worked at the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania as the Education Assistant for the past three summers planning and executing educator workshops and week-long institutes. Her previous work experience at the National Constitution Center and her thesis work at Western New England encouraged her interest in both the nonprofit sector and public policy. The fellowship at RenewLV offers a unique opportunity to combine her two interests while she gains practical experience coordinating events and collaborating on initiatives. Rachel resides in her hometown of Perkasie, Pennsylvania.
Although high-speed rail was completely de-funded in the last budget battle, the president’s bill still provides $53 billion over six years to the program, with $37.6 billion of it for network development and the rest for system preservation and renewal.
Unless this is the first Crossroads article that you have read (in which case, welcome!), I assume that you’ve noticed a trend throughout many of our posts on smart growth: studies show that average people want it, local mayors and town boards aim for it, small businesses benefit from it, and neighborhoods thrive on it. We’ve written about studies that demonstrate how various principles of smart growth benefit the economy, the environment, and public and private health. Lately, we’ve been able to blog about how the nation is seeing more and more of it.
But all too often, the overwhelming evidence of local and nonpartisan support for smart growth feels a bit…lacking. Sure, a survey of 2,071 people from the United States shows that 77% of them support smart design programs. Yeah, an analysis of how local transportation money has been spent proves that complete streets are spreading both in major cities like New York and San Francisco and in small towns in Idaho. But what does that mean for us? These are local efforts, and while they demonstrate a trend, we have yet to feel that “woah…Smart Growth is awesome” moment for ourselves in the Lehigh Valley.
But let’s say that this is your first visit to Crossroads. Have you ever heard of “smart growth” before?
Even if you do not know the term, chances are pretty good that you are familiar with the principles it represents. You wish it was easier to use mass transit, you’ve heard of “urban revitalization,” and you’ve noticed at some point in your life that it feels safer to walk on a sidewalk than on a poorly lit street on which cars routinely try to shatter the sound barrier. You want to feel safe letting your kids ride their bikes to friends’ houses, and you wish you could walk around the corner when you need one or two things for dinner, instead of having to jump in the car.
The guiding phrase itself is far less important than the practices it stands for. While the common word is a useful way to connect with like-minded groups and succinctly refer to a varying collection of thoughts, to the average person “smart growth” changes nothing — but the installation of sidewalks does.
Using and spreading the obscure phrase will not help us promote “smart growth” among the average people (all of us) who stand to benefit from it. Only two things that can do that. One, as I mentioned before, is the “woah” moment. Imagine, after having lived in Allentown for the past 10, 20, or 30 years, leaving. Imagine returning five years later. Imagine coming back to find a thriving downtown. Fantastic, affordable, safe places to live, just blocks from restaurants, bars, and your office. Drastically less traffic on the streets. Unobtrusive bike racks on curbs, for you, your neighbors, and your coworkers. A healthy, vibrant, safe, happy community.
If we continue to move forward, that’s coming. But it might take a bit of time, and it will definitely take a bit of work.
Until that moment, we rely on the second thing to promote the movement: the making mainstream of principles included in “smart growth.” While we try to work towards that through Crossroads, Facebook, and Twitter, we are clearly biased. What we need is institutional acknowledgment of Smart Growth.
Fortunately, we have lately begun to see this on the federal level. The EPA supports sustainable development. The President and the Department of Transportation and the continue to push for mass transit and alternative transportation, and the Department of Housing and Urban Development sponsors many programs consistent with Smart Growth.
There’s also the Centers for Disease Control.
While economic and environmental benefits are frequently touted by the smart growth community, public health benefits are sometimes mentioned as an afterthought. They’re just as important, just as easy to prove, but somehow, they tend to take a backseat. RenewLV has made an effort over the past year or so to bring public health to the forefront of our push for smart growth in the Valley, both through the inevitable health benefits that come from other policies (such as walkability and mass transit), and through the establishment of a Regional Health Department (see here for more information about this campaign).
The federal government appears to see the health benefits of smart growth, as well. The CDC has a page dedicated to “community design.” It echos the public health arguments that RenewLV has made:
Community design refers to all the elements of a community that are human-made and form the physical characteristics of that community. It includes:
- buildings, such as schools, workplaces, and homes,
- parks and recreation areas,
- transportation systems, and
- places to buy food.
Well-designed communities can improve public health. The design and maintenance of our communities may be related to:
- chronic diseases,
- injury rates,
- mental health, and
- the effects of climate change.
Through design, communities can attempt to offer residents:
- opportunities to incorporate routine physical activity into our everyday lives,
- cleaner air,
- lower risk of injury from vehicle accidents, and
- decreased effects of climate change.
According to the page, the CDC actively tracks data on community design as it relates to public health concerns including “types of transportation to work, air quality (ozone and PM 2.5), childhood lead poisoning, and motor vehicle-related fatalities.”
The page is not promoting anything specific, nor does it represent the transformation of the CDC into a leading “smart growth” advocacy group. It simply represents an acknowledgment that Smart Growth has real effects: this is not some crazy scheme based on theory and fantasy. Smart Growth is real, it benefits everyone in many different ways, and it can be successful in any urban community.
When the annual County Health Rankings were released late last month, the Morning Call, Express Times and Patch reported on the very high morbidity numbers in Northampton County and Lehigh County. Meanwhile, these county rankings received coverage that looked at how other parts of the state were faring as well. Union County was ranked the highest [Check out WNEP news for more info] and Philadelphia was ranked the least in regards to health outcomes and health factors [Here’s the link]. Closer to home, both Montgomery and Bucks Counties ranked in the top 10 of Pennsylvania counties in terms of overall health [Here’s the link here for phillyburbs.com article].
Generally, the rankings showed that counties located in south and central Pennsylvania performed better than did counties in the northeast and northwest. Also, more of the urban counties are ranked in top half than the rural counties — this using the definitions of “urban” and “rural” developed by the Center for Rural Pennsylvania (The Center defines rural vs. urban Pennsylvania based on population density).
Amid these overall regional trends, in some cases the rankings show significant differences even among neighboring counties. Consider the area to the north of Harrisburg, where Union and Snyder Counties both are amongst the top five counties statewide in overall health, while adjacent Northumberland County is ranked in lower one-third. The factors that contribute to such great disparities among neighboring counties would lend itself to further analysis that could shed light on the local conditions that contribute to – or stand in the way of – good health. (As a side note: For an interesting resource on county-level conditions across economics, demographics, and other areas, check out Patchwork Nation – an interactive data site.)
While considering how Pennsylvania counties fare among themselves, it is important to look at where Pennsylvania stands nationally on support for public health. Public health infrastructure in Pennsylvania clearly lags that in others. For its population size, Pennsylvania has the lowest number of public health professionals. Also, according to a study released last month, public health spending in Pennsylvania is very low itself. Here’s the link.
Ultimately, failing to adequate support public health is a short-sighted policy and an unwise investment of public dollars. As noted in the local coverage of the county health rankings [Patch article], we either invest upfront in public health and prevention or we spend far more on what it takes to address illness and injury after they occur.
What is impressive and valuable about the County Health Rankings is not only the numbers themselves, but the huge potential to use these data to improve the health of our communities. Look here to see how people can take action. Patrick Remington, who is the University of Wisconsin Professor and has lead the County Health Rankings report, remarks that the County Health Rankings report is a teaser to catch interest. The point is get people to take some action towards the health of their community.
The current work on establishing a regional health department for the Lehigh Valley represents an important step toward building a strong system of prevention and health promotion for our region. For more information on this effort, visit RenewLV’s Regional Health Initiative page.