Category Archives: Trends
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.
While sustainability is usually associated with nonprofit organizations and government planning, corporations have begun to take sustainability seriously and are reporting their progress to their shareholders.
These Corporate Sustainability Reports (or CSRs) are popping up on the websites of major companies like Pricewaterhouse Coopers, Coca Cola, Nike, GE, UPS and Nokia. These reports can include data on carbon disclosures, emissions, water usage and challenges in implementing sustainable growth policies.
CSRs should be transparent and authentic, as they are telling their customers and stakeholders what they are doing to help people, the planet and the economy. Data should be measured comparatively and the corporation should provide a baseline for the statistics that they provide. Sections can include balancing short and long term profitability, management of economic and environmental issues, risks and opportunities.
If you’d like to read some real reports, here is a list from Triple Pundit that ranks the top 10 sustainability reports from the past year. Does your company produce a sustainability report? Will it in the future? Hopefully at least one of these answers is yes!
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.
The Brookings Institution compiled data for the nation’s 100 largest metro areas to track the economic recession and recovery. Guess what they found? According to their indicators, the Allentown-Bethlehem-Easton area is in the 20 weakest metro areas based on economic performance! The data tracked the metro areas across 4 indicators: employment change, unemployment rate change, gross metropolitan product (GMP) change, housing price index (HPI) change. Let’s break it down by the numbers.
Overall Performance Recovery
Allentown-Bethlehem-Easton ranked 94/100
Employment Change (during the recovery)
Allentown-Bethlehem-Easton ranked 79/100. With a 0.8% change in employment, the area was placed in the Second-weakest 20 Metro Areas.
Unemployment Rate (during the recovery)
Allentown-Bethlehem-Easton ranked 53/100. With a 7.9% change in unemployment rates, the area was placed in the Middle 20 Metro Areas.
Gross Metropolitan Product Change (during the recovery)
Allentown-Bethlehem-Easton ranked 43/100. With a 5.94% change in GMP, the area was placed in the Middle 20 Metro Areas.
Change in Housing Prices (during the recovery)
Allentown-Bethlehem-Easton ranked ranked 94/100. With a 0.17% change in housing prices, the area was placed in the 20 Weakest Metro Areas.
So what can we do about it? We need to come together as a community to plan for a better, stronger, more revitalized future for the Valley. The Lehigh Valley’s economy may be slowly recovering, but we still have a long way to go. And our local and state governments can’t do it alone. They need your input. Add your thoughts here, contact your local officials, or voice your opinion at local meetings. Do you want the future of the Lehigh Valley to be determined by chance or by choice?
Thank you to everyone who attended the “State of the Lehigh Valley” lunch event on February 15th, and a special thanks again to our sponsors, without whom this event would not have been possible: Highmark Blue Shield, Lehigh Valley Economic Development Corporation, Capital Blue Cross, PPL, Air Products, Susquehanna Bank, Lehigh University’s Social Science Research Center, Just Born, Inc., Spillman Farmer Architects, and the United Way of the Greater Lehigh Valley!
With President Obama recently delivering his State of the Union address and Governor Corbett giving us the state of the commonwealth budget, it is an appropriate time to consider the “State of the LehighValley.” (To read the report: State of the Lehigh Valley 2011.) Last year the Lehigh Valley Research Consortium (LVRC) partnered with Renew LehighValley (RenewLV) to present “State of the Lehigh Valley 2010: Community Trends at a Glance” to an audience of 250 concerned LehighValley residents.
This year’s presentation of the 2011 data focused on the livability of the LehighValley as measured by indicators like health, economics, education, environment, and quality of life standards. This year’s results suggest that the LehighValley “is in a better position economically and socially than in the recent past” even though most will agree that there are still many challenges to overcome before we can boast of regional prosperity. The luncheon was very participatory, with audience members providing their perspectives about the LehighValley’s competitiveness, public schools, disparities in access to health care, air quality, jobs, housing, and quality of life using a hand-held electronic response system, thus allowing for real time results. There were community experts in attendance to facilitate discussion based on these results.
The LehighValley is a very diverse collection of 62 municipalities and 17 public school districts within two of Pennsylvania’s 67 counties, all acting independently to govern and lead in the best interest of each area’s residents. While it is the uniqueness of each area that makes it pleasing to its inhabitants, the similarities from one municipality to the other and how they assimilate to form the Lehigh Valley is a natural progression of governance and decision-making, unnoticed by most who live here.
In looking at just one section of data from the report, one sees that the Lehigh Valley’s current unemployment rate is higher than the Pennsylvania average, but lower than New Jersey and the national average, and our job growth is also below the rate of growth of Pennsylvania as a whole. On the other hand, average weekly wages in the LehighValley are higher than the state average but lower than New Jersey and the national average, and LehighValley residents as a group had higher median household incomes than the state and the nation. The report highlights how educational attainment is tied to this data. Perhaps a surprising statistic, graduation rates are not very different when economically disadvantaged student rates are compared to overall graduation rates, and in some districts the rate of graduation is higher among the economically disadvantaged students.
What does this mean? Well, 90 percent of all residents surveyed rated the LehighValley as either good or excellent with regard to living in this area. In light of the dissatisfaction with the economic situation, this is a significant statistic. It is indicative of the many great things the LehighValley offers its residents that are above and beyond dollars and cents: a relatively low crime rate, good public schools, easy access to goods and services, and a great network of hospitals and health care professionals. All of these are highlighted in the report.
I’m going to borrow a thought from this Sunday’s sermon (hope you don’t mind Father Steve) and if you have ever played sports, you will appreciate this. Were you ever a bench warmer? Did you like sitting on the bench? Or for that matter, if you were a starter, did you like coming out and watching from the sidelines? I bet the answer is no. You wanted to be involved, to make your mark, to influence the outcome of the contest, to be heard and noticed.
Well now is your chance to do that for your community, our community, the community we all call home. Whether you live in the northern-most point of the Slate Belt or the west end of Allentown, you are a LehighValley resident and the health and well-being of our residents and our cities and boroughs is your business and your voice should be heard. Time to get off the bench. Time to get involved. This is your opportunity to be in the starting five. Take it and join the discussion.
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.
In case the National Association of Realtors report from last month wasn’t enough, a new analysis by the National Complete Streets Coalition gives more evidence for the rising popularity of smart growth. Kaid Benfield of the NRDC writes: “While the prospects for transportation policy reform appear stagnated at the federal level, more and more state and local governments across the country are adopting strong ‘complete streets‘ measures.”
Benfield, citing a press release from the Coalition, points out that the number of complete streets policies has nearly doubled in each of the last three years. The Coalition’s Executive Director, Barbara McCann, claims that:
Recent polls show that voters’ top priority for infrastructure investments are safer streets for our communities and children. Our report shows that this commitment is not only wide, but deep: community leaders and transportation practitioners are rolling up their sleeves and working together in small towns and big cities, in almost every state in the nation, to pass policies that will ensure that future transportation investments create complete streets.”
Complimenting the NAR and NCSC reports is a study out of London, which, according to This Big City, found that “making a street more walkable can add up to £30,000 to the average property price in that street.” Walkability improvements include “widened pavements, extra trees, improved lighting, and new wayfinding signs.” Furthermore, shops located on walkable streets in commercial or mixed-use areas can expect to make a greater amount of money.
People want smart growth, complete streets policies are exploding in popularity on the local level, and walkability enhancements are proven to benefit property values and local business profits. This is all fantastic to see, but let us not grow complacent. While these studies and surveys certainly represent a victory for the larger smart growth community, there is still much work to be done — particularly here in the Lehigh Valley. To be truly effective, smart growth/smart design programs require a long-term investment of resources and effort, and a willingness to push for all, not just some, of the necessary projects.
As Jon Geeting of the Lehigh Valley Independent reminded us late last week, we still have a long way to go to bringing these improvements to the Valley. Accessible public transit is as important as walkability; unfortunately, transportation planners from Bucks and Montgomery Counties, who have been working to restore SEPTA rail service in those areas, have scaled back the proposed Lansdale-Quakertown rail corridor. While previous proposals set the rail line to reach very near the Lehigh County line, it now stops in the Pennridge area of Upper Bucks. Geeting writes:
Extending SEPTA to the Lehigh Valley is a no-brainer. If it cost $1 billion it would still be a no-brainer. Washington and Harrisburg need to get serious about transportation and raise the gas tax to get this done. This would put lots of people to work in the short term, and the long-run economic benefits would definitely outweight the short term costs.
I couldn’t agree more. I am happy to see the national trend toward smart growth. Now it’s our turn: Let’s make it work here.
Some good news for smart growth advocates: a new report released by the National Association of Realtors indicates that Americans favor mixed-use walkable neighborhoods over those that necessitate more driving. More than three-quarters of those surveyed for the report said they would look for neighborhoods with pedestrian-friendly infrastructure, and half of the respondents stated that they would prefer to see improvements to existing public transportation over new road construction.
Furthermore, the survey indicates that while most Americans would prefer to live in detached single-family homes (generally for privacy reasons), they would “choose a smaller home and smaller lot if it would keep their commute time to 20 minutes or less.” This result is highly significant: Americans place such a high value on walkable neighborhoods with shops, restaurants, and local businesses that they would be willing to sacrifice home size.
Smart Growth America’s discussion on the report quotes Chris Leinberger, President of LOCUS: Responsible Real Estate Developers and Investors, as saying “NAR’s survey reveals what many real estate developers are seeing across the country: smart growth strategies are the best way to meet market demand for walkable neighborhoods with shorter commutes, diverse housing options and transportation choices. Demographic shifts in the United States along with the changing consumer preferences highlighted in NAR’s survey illustrate that consumers want neighborhoods with more walkable housing and transportation choices.”
This study is a reminder of a major economic benefit of smart growth. Americans’ desire for mixed use walkable communities can contribute to a rise in property values in neighborhoods that meet this demand. This, of course, is in addition to the many other advantages of smart growth practices, including benefits to the environment, public health, and local businesses.