Category Archives: Urbanism
Today’s post draws on the work of Nina Izábal over at ThisBigCity. OpenCities, an innovative project presented at the UNESCO/UN-HABITAT seminar focused on enhancing inclusiveness for international migrants in cities, acts on the idea that migrants are important contributors to city development and enrichment. After analyzing various indicators (such as perception and inflow of international population), areas, and policy ideologies in 26 different cities, OpenCities reached the conclusion that cities that attract new populations are more competitive than those that do not.
Thus, the project revealed an important implication: migrants enhance cities by adding cultural enrichment, which in turn puts these cities at a competitive advantage. Not only do migrants bring cultural diversity, but they also make necessary contributions to business and innovation that encourage city growth and progress. “Cities are dynamic by definition and new residents change the urban landscape,” Ismael Fernandez Mejía from ISOCARP points out in the seminar.
How is this relevant to the Lehigh Valley? You may have found 2010’s State of the Lehigh Valley report particularly revealing in terms of the trends in population demographics. While in 2009 and 2010 the Lehigh Valley had a lower percentage of Black residents than in the rest of Pennsylvania, the US Census Bureau data in the report indicates a greater percentage of the Lehigh Valley reported being Hispanic than in the rest of the state.
The Lehigh Valley has steadily attracted more residents; from 2000-2009, the population in both Northampton and Lehigh Counties grew significantly. According to this report, recent population growth in the Lehigh Valley has been primarily due to the influx of foreign immigrants: “The principal component of population change in the last decade has been in-migration from other countries, not other states.”
Given the population trends in Lehigh Valley, the OpenCities’ approach will help to identify ways to make our cities more open and integrated. What exactly does “open” mean in this context? As defined on their website, openness is “the capacity of a city to attract international populations and to enable them to contribute to the future success of the city.”
What are organizations in the Lehigh Valley already doing to allow for more “openness”? To name a few, AEDC has a strong focus on fostering urban manufacturing and entrepreneurship, and is working to engage the diverse communities of Allentown. In addition, LVEDC provides business assistance for minority-owned businesses. Among other initiatives, CACLV provides individualized assistance and entrepreneurial training to new and existing business owners through their Start Your Business course.
I’ll leave you with some food for thought: What can we do to make cities in the Lehigh Valley more “open”? And what are some practical ways we can better foster inclusiveness to encourage smart growth?
As the new year approaches us quickly, we wanted to thank all of our supporters and community members in the Lehigh Valley. We’ve had a great year, filled with many opportunities, as well as many challenges. If you haven’t had a chance to do so yet, check out our End-of-Year Message.
As many of you know, I am leaving the Lehigh Valley and moving to warmer weather down south. Sadly, this means that today is my last day with Renew Lehigh Valley. It’s been a fantastic ride and I feel so lucky to have been part of the RenewLV team.
I will continue blogging on the Crossroads blog as much as possible. Some of these updates will be ones about smart growth in Panama. Yes, Crossroads is going international.
If you haven’t already done so, please add us to your RSS reader. By doing so, you’ll never miss any of our posts.
Happy holidays and a great New Year!
A slew of transportation improvement projects were approved for funding on Monday. PennDOT officials and members of the Lehigh Valley Transportation Study chose 10 projects out of a proposed 24 to receive a share of $3.3 million in available money. These funds come from the Transportation Enhancement Program, which aims to fund projects that will improve transportation connections and provide much-needed improvements to our network. Dan Hartzell of the Morning Call reports:
TEP funds normally are awarded for improvements apart from direct road or bridge construction work, said Joseph Gurinko, chief transportation planner for the Lehigh Valley Planning Commission. These include sidewalks, pedestrian crosswalks and related work, bicycle safety projects, street lighting, rail trails and other park improvements.
Better connectivity means more livable communities, so I’m thrilled to see that this important program is still around and still funding such crucial projects.
The Express Times posted the full list of projects:
^ $500,000 to Lehigh County to restore Manassas Guth covered bridge in South Whitehall Township
^ $499,100 to Allentown for pedestrian lighting along Seventh Street
^ $497,835 to Freemansburg for Main Street enhancements
^ $488,750 to the D& L National Heritage Corridor for trail construction from Hokendauqua to North Catasauqua
^ $449,500 to Whitehall Township to develop Jordan Creek greenway
^ $439,875 to Fountain Hill for pedestrian enhancements to Delaware Avenue
^ $434,654 to Hellertown for streetscape work at the government complex off Route 412
^ $243,600 to the Coalition for Appropriate Transportation for bicycle education for cyclists and law enforcement
^ $172,500 to Allentown for a safety/crosswalk project for Muhlenberg College students
^ $158,485 to Community Bike Works for bicycle safety and maintenance classes
Great to see that Hellertown received funding to continue it’s street enhancement project. Sure sign that this community will continue thriving (go visit if you haven’t yet — I recommend the restaurant at the Crossroads Hotel, and not just because our blog shares the name with it).
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.
Thanks to a very generous sponsorship provided by the conference organizers, last month I had the opportunity to travel to Portland, Oregon, to attend the 10th edition of Rail-Volution, a national conference that concerns (naturally) rail transportation, but is really about how transit and transportation are connected to the goals of creating vibrant, high-quality communities and regions.
With about 1,200 attendees, as well as dozens of workshops, Rail-Volution was an ideal way to learn about how communities across the United States and elsewhere are using transit to foster economic development as well as to create strong communities and increase mobility and choice. Workshops covered a diverse set of topics. Here’s a very small sample of the types of sessions offered during the four-day conference: “Private Investment in Transit-Oriented Development (TOD): A Lender’s Perspective”; “Building Community Support for TOD”; “Weaving Transit into Existing Communities”; “New Directions in Public-Private Partnerships,” and “Getting the Most Out of Station Area Planning.”
Also, Rail-Volution featured various “mobile workshops,” where attendees could tour areas of Portland that showcased the city’s transit system as well as its many, many transit-oriented neighborhoods. (I had a chance to tour a few of Portland’s “20-Minute Neighborhoods. These are areas designed to provide residents with access to all their daily services and amenities — including transit hubs — within a 20-minute walk, or about a one-quarter to one-half-mile radius.”)
The role of federal policy in promoting TOD and walkable, mixed-used communities was a common theme at the conference. One of the best plenary sessions featured senior-level staff from each of three federal agencies (HUD, EPA and DOT) that are participating in the Sustainable Communities Partnership, discussing the progress (and challenges) in getting their agencies to align their funding priorities with an eye toward advancing livable communities and regional equity.
Rail-Volution 2010 happened to take place about a week after HUD had announced the winners of $100 million in major regional planning grants (part of the Sustainable Communities Partnership). Additionally, another round of major federal grants — the “TIGER II” grants, about $600 million in funding for 75 innovative transportation projects — were announced from D.C. during the course of the conference. Needless to say, there was a lot of buzz around both these grant programs, and the conference provided a great setting in which to informally meet some of these awardees and talk one-on-one about their work and their approach to securing federal funding.
Another area of federal policy that figured heavily in the conference was New Starts, the Federal Transit Administration’s primary program for funding new and expanded transit systems. New Starts was a topic of much discussion (and a few different conference sessions), not only because the program is “oversubscribed” (i.e., too many applicant systems chasing far too few dollars) but also because USDOT is working to make community-building benefits of transit more of a factor in how applicants are scored. This is a significant departure from prior policy (enacted under President Bush in 2005), which had elevated cost-effectiveness above all other scoring criteria for New Starts applicants.
While the conference covered public financing for transit and TOD in-depth, the focus of the workshops and other sessions were clear on one point: In an era of constrained public budgets, states and regions are going to need to focus on funding new transit projects through mechanisms that combine public and private financing. In Pennsylvania in recent years, the term “public/private partnership” (or “P3″) has typically been taken to mean leasing the turnpike to a private operator, but regions and states represented at Rail-Volution described a variety of creative ways that government could work with the private sector to finance transit projects that foster mixed-use, mixed-income developments. As one speaker noted, “Transit is always going to involve some type of public subsidy. But public funding can never be the whole story.” Another speaker identified no less than 25 different mechanisms by which private-sector involvement could be integrated into funding transit and TOD.
Everyone knows that planning and implementing transit projects and systems is a long-term play. But the clear (and pervasive) message from Rail-Volution was the importance of looking at what’s possible to get started on right now in your region. For example, several speakers noted the value of beginning the process of station-area planning early, even before the actual transit infrastructure (such as rail lines) is in under development. This points to the importance of work already underway in Lehigh Valley cities to channel development into central business districts and foster commercial/entertainment hubs and a mix of pedestrian uses. Similarly, LANTA is beginning to look at bus rapid transit (BRT), which can itself foster TOD while also setting the stage for higher modes of transit (such as rail) in the future.
The key is using success in these near-term opportunities to build momentum toward a long-range vision not just for transit-oriented development, but for what we want our communities to look like 5, 10 and 20 years from now.
DCStreetsBlog did an interview series(Part 1, part 2) with Maria Zimmerman the Deputy Director for Sustainable Communities at the department of Housing and Urban Development, and Brian Sullivan from the Office of Public Affairs. The series highlights not only the importance and reasoning behind the three agencies’ partnership, but also the challenges of working together. It’s a really informative series. Here’s a few choice sections, mostly on the technical issues the agencies have had to overcome:
Maria Zimmerman: In terms of messaging, we have always felt there is a strong economic need for investing more smartly, leveraging our resources. Federal coordination is just cost effectiveness.
That message is one we can be stronger on. We’ve talked about some of the environmental and quality-of-life reasons for sustainability – we can do a better job of explaining what are the costs of not investing this way and what are the savings if we do. It’s really about trying to invest more wisely.
MZ: To set up the process to review the grants, we all had these amazing firewalls of our internet systems to prevent hacking, and literally just getting between the firewalls was an unbelievable headache. That involved countless calls, and countless IT people. And yeah, we have different budgeting codes from OMB and from Congress, so coordinating can be quite a bit of effort.
Sullivan: We didn’t even have their phone number a year ago.
MZ: For instance, for HUD CDBG (Community Development Block Grant) money, we have a preference for local hiring. And our funds can be used as a match for DOT funds, but DOT has provisions against local hiring – you have to do a competitive bid. So if you have a project and you’re trying to bring together DOT and CDBG money, you either have to create a strange artificial wall, or what most folks do is say, we’re not going to pool that money – it’s too hard. That would require a Congressional fix.
There are real improvements in quality of life to be gained from the partnership. A concerted government effort towards achieving livability and sustainability is a pretty big step in the bureaucracy, and it’s really encouraging to see what steps the organizations are taking agency-wide in their pursuit of livable communities. What really interests me, though, is how these agencies have to work together to begin to work together — overcoming competing policy goals and regulations, making their technology compatible, and even something as simple as talking to each other. It’s a way for the agencies to reduce duplication of effort, standardize the technologies they use and achieve something close to economies of scales in their policies.
Easton’s West Ward Neighborhood Partnership is planning a meeting to discuss the master plan for the neighborhood and city residents are encouraged to attend. The Express Times reports:
It’s the longest block in the city and includes 57 properties, 113 apartments and about 215 residents served by six bus routes. It serves as the transition between Downtown and the West Ward.And city officials say the 600 block of Northampton Street is also one of the most challenging in Easton.
“This block for a very long time has seen change, transition, disinvestment,” said planning and codes Director Becky Bradley.
Neighbors and residents are encouraged to participate in shaping the plan. Though many city officials have been going door to door with surveys, there are many voices who have not been heard yet. Attend the meeting to discuss the proposed master plan for the 600 block of Northampton St — this Wednesday, November 17, 6pm at the Salvation Army, 1110 Northampton St. You may also fill out a survey on the plan online; visit the Easton planning website.
Sometimes, collaboration is necessary for survival. For some of Pennsylvania’s small or struggling municipalities, merging or consolidation is the only road to fiscal health and the return to a growing, vibrant community. Yet it used to be nearly impossible to do. Team PA convened 20 organizations to help distressed municipal governments by devising a better way to voluntarily consolidate or merge their services. Six months – and a few close calls later – a successful bill was signed into law by the governor, providing a new, easy, and more direct merger and consolidation process.
Just another step to success in PA’s municipal government system. Thanks, Team PA.
In its landmark study on boosting Pennsylvania’s economic competitiveness (Back to Prosperity), the Brookings Institution highlighted the importance of providing educational opportunities that lay the groundwork for innovation and entrepreneurship. Creating a culture of entrepreneurship is key to helping revitalize older core communities in the Lehigh Valley and across Pennsylvania. Further, creating an economic culture in which new ideas and firms can flourish would help Pennsylvania reverse the “brain drain” that sees many younger, educated workers leave the state.
For RenewLV’s next brown-bag session, we’re pleased to be partnering with the Allentown Economic Development Corporation to hold a panel discussion on science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) education and its importance for cultivating innovation, entrepreneurship and a vibrant regional economy. The expert panel includes:
Steve Melnick, Vice President of Entrepreneurial Development, Lehigh Valley Economic Development Corporation
Kelly Rosario, STEM Director, Allentown School District
Troy Thrash, Executive Director and CEO, DaVinci Science Center
Todd Watkins, Director, Baker Institute for Entrepreneurship, Creativity & Innovation, Lehigh University
This session will feature brief presentations from each of the panelists, followed by time for Q&A and discussion.
Please join us on Friday, November 19, from 12:00 to 1:30pm at AEDC’s Bridgeworks Enterprise Center, 905 Harrison Street in Allentown. Please note that a light lunch will be provided, thanks to support provided by the Enterprise Zone Program of the Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development.
I hope to see you on the 19th at Bridgeworks. If you plan to attend, please RSVP by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org or calling 484-893-1060.
The Grist has an excellent piece on US Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood. The article describes the doubt that many sustainable transportation advocates had regarding the ability of Sec. LaHood to be a partner in pushing for smarter transportation networks. Well, not only has LaHood proven himself, he has exceeded any expectations one could have for a US Transportation Secretary. Sarah Goodyear writes:
He’s been an outspoken and articulate proponent of high-speed rail. He’s mounted an aggressive campaign against distracted driving. He’s jumped up on a table to address the National Bike Summit, saying that, “I really came here just to say thank you to all of you for hanging in there with us. You all have made a big difference.”And perhaps most significantly, he has emerged as a defender of the “livable communities” concept, advocating for the construction of a transportation infrastructure that would make walking, biking, and modern public transit available — and attractive — options for every American.
The article features a great interview with Sec. LaHood that includes his thoughts on the meaning of ‘livability.’ I suggest checking it out.
For more on the fight for more sustainable transportation in the Lehigh Valley, visit RenewLV’s Sustainable Transportation Initiative page.