Category Archives: Public Infrastructure
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.
Last week we told you a little bit about the huge population growth expected to hit the Lehigh Valley within the next thirty years. We broke it down by county, but now the Lehigh Valley Planning Commission has a Profile and Trends report that can show you how much your municipality is expected to grow by 2040.
If you go to the Lehigh Valley Planning Commission’s website, http://www.lvpc.org, click ‘Enter the Site,’ choose ‘Publications’ on the left side of the page and select the Profile and Trends report, you’ll find the unique histories of Lehigh Valley municipalities, average daily mileage for residents, property values, birth rates, death rates and what we were talking about before – local population percentages (if that’s all you’re looking for, head straight to page 23).
Do you live in North Whitehall? Your local population right now is around 15,703…in 2040, it’s projected to be over 26,000!
Maybe you live in Palmer Township, where the population is now around 17,000 and in thirty years, it will be over 27,000.
Want to see how big your community is going to get? Head over to the Lehigh Valley Planning Commission’s website or look at the chart below where you can find population growth in municipalities from Alburtis to Wind Gap.
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.
In my master’s coursework, I was assigned to read Suburban Nation: The Rise of Sprawl and the Decline of the American Dream by Andres Duany, Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk, and Jeff Speck. The 10th anniversary edition is still as poignant as when it was originally printed. I highly recommend reading it.
What caught my eye was a chapter called “The Victims of Sprawl.” Children growing up in cul-de-sacs, mothers chauffeuring their children to numerous activities, bored teenagers unable to experience independence without access to a car, the elderly unable to drive anymore, commuters, the immobile poor– all were identified as “victims” of suburban sprawl. I couldn’t help but nod as I read the chapter identifying how suburbia’s dependence on the automobile has created such victims and how much money is spent supporting this dependence. I had to chuckle out loud when I discovered a new holiday– “Automobile Independence Day.” The authors explain:“Recognizing the tremendous cost of the auto-dependent lifestyle, the author Philip Langdon has proposed a new national holiday: “Automobile Independence Day.” It would take place on that date each year by which we have earned one quarter of our salaries, the amount that it takes to support our cars. How appropriate that it is April Fool’s Day.”
How much do you spend on supporting your car? It brings a whole new meaning to April 1st, now doesn’t it? Perhaps, in the end, the joke is on us.
Sure, we all know that regular exercise and eating well are essential components of a healthy lifestyle and are important in fighting obesity. But rather than just telling people to go to the gym, how can we make physical activity a more realistic (and exciting!) option that will encourage people to abandon their sedentary lifestyles?
The authors and collaborators of the NYC Active City Guidelines propose active urban design as the key to promoting more physical activity and fighting the obesity epidemic. The Guidelines are the product of a collaborative effort between NYC public health professionals, architects, urban designers, and urban planners.
The Guidelines are grounded in the idea that the design of the built environment can have a crucial and positive influence on improving public health.
They propose interesting strategies as to how planners can transform the built environment to encourage more active lifestyles for its residents and visitors through stair climbing, walking, bicycling, transit use, active recreation, and healthy eating.
While they focus ostensibly on New York City, the Guidelines can also be applied to other cities and communities.
These are my ten favorite suggestions, and perhaps the ones most pertinent to communities in the LehighValley:
1. Consider shared-use paths in areas with viewing attractions.
- Check out Allentown’s plans to encourage active transportation: This Morning Call article discusses the plan to connect local bicycle and walking trails.
2. Explore bicycle share programs to increase access to bicycles for both city residents and visitors.
3. When designing sites that include parking, consider how the provision of parking can affect the use of more active modes of travel such as walking, bicycling, and public transit. In general, when parking is available, people use it. Research in California indicates that increased parking supply may result in reduced active transportation and public transit use. Design car parking so as to reduce unnecessary automobile travel, particularly when walking, bicycling, and public transit are convenient alternatives.
4. Locate new projects near existing public and private recreational facilities and encourage development of new facilities, including indoor activity spaces.
5. In the design of parks and playgrounds, create a variety of climate environments to facilitate activity in different seasons and weather conditions. For example, include sunny, wind-protected areas for use in the winter and shaded zones for use in the summer.
6. Design plazas that allow for diverse functions. Plazas can accommodate physical activities like dance and volleyball, passive activities like sitting and chess, and cultural events such as concerts, exhibits, and historical celebrations. Plazas can also provide space for café style seating and farmers’ markets. When programming plazas, consider the needs of users with varying mobility levels. Seek partnerships with community groups to maintain and program plazas.
7. Incorporate temporary and permanent public art installations into the streetscape to provide a more attractive and engaging environment. Seek collaborations with local arts organizations, philanthropic institutions, or other nongovernmental groups to create and help maintain the artwork.
8. Provide safe walking and bicycle paths between densely populated areas and grocery stores and farmers’ market sites.
9. Further develop Greenways—alternative routes that are integrated into the regional park system. Greenways feature relatively few intersections, many plantings, and a dedicated bicycle right of way. These routes can serve as commuter corridors during the week and recreational paths on the weekend. Connect Greenways to street bikeways.
- Join the Support Allentown Greenways facebook group to help transform Allentown into a biker and pedestrian friendly city!
10. Design stairs to be more visible, in order to encourage their everyday use.
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.
The Lehigh Valley news circuit has been percolating for some time now regarding the recent Lower Macungie development decision. Patrick Lester of the Morning Call had an excellent write-up about the matter earlier this week.
Here’s a brief recap: David Jaindl, property owner, wants to develop homes and warehouses on a big chunk of his land (about 600 acres). He went to the Lower Mac Commissioners for permission; the Commissioners, hoping to make good on promises of open space preservation, denied his request. Jaindl then threatened to turn the land into a quarry, at which point the Commissioners decided to renegotiate and allow for the land to be developed, with a preservation of about a few hundred acres. Many in the township are outraged at this agreement, mainly because they claim that the Commissioners made the decision without public input.
Some in the township are now fighting back. According to Lester:
The Friends [for the Protection of Lower Macungie Township] group has dug in for what is expected to be a long and costly legal battle over zoning and land development ordinance changes that benefit Jaindl’s plans for about 500 acres in an area bounded by Smith Lane and Mertztown, Spring Creek and Ruth roads. The changes essentially allow heavy industrial, commercial and residential development that previously weren’t permitted.
Several of the group’s members have joined to sue the township in Lehigh County Court in an attempt to overturn the zoning changes and prevent what they describe as a dangerous precedent that could have statewide implications.
Open space is not the only aspect that is of concern (or, at least, open space for the sake of open space is not the only concern). Worries are high that a new development in this area will come with a slew of externalities, such as increased traffic and problems with stormwater management. If we look at a map of the area below, two things stand out: 1) the area proposed for development is very large (600 or so acres means nothing to some until you look at a visualization, and 2) this development is situated in a place that already experiences high traffic volumes and, additionally, developments like these have caused numerous quality of life problems in this part of the region. Here is the map:
Patrick Lester followed up on his coverage with an article published in the Morning Call yesterday. The article reports on a Tuesday meeting, at which Jaindl representatives addressed the worries of the residents:
Scott Pidcock, Jaindl’s engineer, said the company will exceed its obligations for controlling storm water on a proposed 14-lot subdivision plan and is well aware of the traffic concerns. The subdivision is part of Jaindl’s overall plan to add warehouses, businesses and homes on 600-plus acres. The township approved zoning and subdivision ordinance changes to accommodate Jaindl’s plan.
“The goal is that we have proper functioning roads,” Pidcock said. “We, as you, want the roads to work, otherwise the value of the property is diminished.”
The Lower Macungie Planning Commission did not take action this week and discussions are to continue into early next year.
My question: Where is the Lehigh Valley Planning Commission fit into all of this? I am sure that they provided their recommendation for this (they do so for all development decisions in the Lehigh Valley), but given that they are purely advisory (thanks to Pennsylvania’s MPC), their recommendations are just that: recommendations. Lower Mac can ultimately do what it wants to, even though their decision will impact more places than just Lower Mac.
What are your thoughts on this situation?
Much of RenewLV’s work focuses on the revitalization of the cities in the Lehigh Valley. In part, we examine the structural issues that are in place that prohibit the redevelopment of brownfields and vacant lots in the cities and we work toward solutions to the challenges. But lately we’ve been realizing that the problem is not just affecting the cities anymore. The so-called inner-suburbs have also suffered a decline over the past two decades. In fact, this is the very issue that the Southeast Pennsylvania First Suburbs project works on and a significant part of the Building One Pennsylvania movement.
Urbanophile writes about this issue in a recent post, mentioning the huge unfunded liabilities that one generation lays in place for the next one to pay. They write:
It is a huge incentive for politicians and residents to vote for immediate gratification with the bill – infrastructure costs, pensions, redevelopment costs, or what have you – pushed out 25-30 years. Then these people or their children simply move to a greenfield and start the process over again.
And here is where the realization comes in:
If you think about it, we spend virtually all of our time in the planning process thinking about the upfront side of the development. We charge impact fees to mitigate road needs from new development and such. We go through an extensive review process to make sure there are no adverse impacts on the surroundings. But we spent little time thinking about the back end of the project, of its end of life, and the types of negative externalities that occur there as people can simply abandon homes and malls and go elsewhere.
One suggestion for how to plan for this, as mentioned by Urbanophile, is to mandate redevelopment insurance on the developer. Sure, it might serve as a disincentive to develop if only certain municipalities or states did this, but if it was mandated uniformly across the nation, then we would all be in the same boat. Read more about this idea on the original Urbanophile post.
Could this be one way that we could ensure that our communities don’t die? Essentially, what the decline of the inner suburbs has shown us is that, given the way we’ve been planning and developing in this nation, no community is safe from falling into distress. It’s happening all across Pennsylvania. And we have to do something about it.
Lehigh Valley Independent has posted a great video on municipal consolidation efforts in New Jersey. This brief video does an excellent job of framing the issue as well as countering arguments against municipal consolidation. Although Pennsylvania and New Jersey have different policy frameworks at the state level, there’s plenty we can learn from this effort going on across the river. Definitely worth checking out. We’d be curious to hear your take. Feel free to post replies/comments below.
Incidentally, Pennsylvania has five times as many municipal governments as does New Jersey, despite us having only about 50 percent greater population.