Do Sharrows in Allentown Encourage Cycling?

http://m.wfmz.com/bicycling-experts-demonstrate-proper-ride-techniques-in-allentown/-/15946050/20764214/-/bwrbjaz/-/index.html

Enter to win RenewLV’s Smart Quote and FabFoto Contests!

Congratulations to Dave Lobach, double winner of our Smart Quote and FabFoto contest.  Dave shared with us a beautiful photograph of his farm in the LehighValley, which he personally saved from being developed.  Along with the photograph, he provided us with this poignant quote: “We’re losing the farmland forever. Do you know how long that is?” See it here! 

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In the short term, we may think that greenfield development is a good idea, but thanks to Dave, we are compelled to remember that the farmland being developed would be forever lost.

We look forward to seeing more beautiful photos of the LehighValley and encourage all of you to send us many more for next week’s photo contest.  RenewLV is also eager to read any quotes, ideas, or stimulating thoughts you may have, so make sure to submit those as well.  The LehighValley is a beautiful place with some thoughtful residents and we look forward to hearing from you. Winners will have their photo and/or quote sent to the 2,600 Friends of Renew Lehigh Valley.

Email submissions to smartgrowth@renewlv.org

Lehigh Valley residents urged to attend ‘virtual town hall’ meeting

Lehigh Valley residents are being urged to take part in a “virtual town hall meeting” that’s slated for 8 p.m. Monday, Sept. 16th. The location: wherever you use your personal computer or tablet device.

Attendees will simply have to log in and make their way to a YouTube video presentation on economic development and the future of the Lehigh Valley. The program is set up to allow input from viewers.

This cutting-edge event is being coordinated by Lehigh Valley Economic Development Corporation (LVEDC) in conjunction with Envision Lehigh Valley.

The entities are attempting to compile a regional approach to development and growth in the Lehigh Valley. During the planning stage, the goal is to engage the organizations, municipalities and individuals who have a stake in future development of the region.

The virtual town hall premise removes all obstacles for interested parties who cannot make their way to a brick-and-mortar meeting location.

The video will feature Jay Garner of Garner Economics, LLC, of Atlanta, Ga. Garner, who has been contracted to conduct this important study, is a nationally-recognized site selector and economic development consultant.

Garner’s work, which is being paid for with a grant from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, is a key initiative of Envision Lehigh Valley – a public outreach effort designed to engage the citizens of Northampton and Lehigh Counties to create a truly sustainable Lehigh Valley.

“We need to take a hard look at ourselves in comparison to other regions and understand our strengths, weaknesses and opportunities and to develop our plans and strategies from an informed and realistic perspective,” said Don Cunningham, president and CEO of LVEDC.

“We can’t afford to guess at things. We need to understand our own backyard fully, how we compare in the marketplace, and our unique assets to market. This will make our strategies and efforts informed and cost-effective.”

Once the program is set up, it can be accessed at http://www.youtube.com/user/EnvisionLehighValley. The virtual town hall will not get underway until 8 p.m. Monday.

For more information, contact Holly Edinger, director of Envision Lehigh Valley, at (610) 266-6775.

Marin named as Executive Director of RenewLV; brings wealth of experience and passion for smart growth and regional approaches

joyce marin headshotJoyce Marin, a well-known Lehigh Valley community/economic development professional, has been hired as our new executive director here at RenewLV (renewlv.org).

Marin brings extensive experience in downtown revitalization and local ordinances that support traditional neighborhood design from her time as Main Street Manager and council woman in Emmaus, as well as her past service as Director of the Department of Community and Economic Development for the City of Allentown. Ms. Marin was founding co-chair of RenewLV in 2006.

“Having an experienced, strategic and knowledgeable professional like Joyce will enable RenewLV to continue its important efforts to be the voice for regionalism in the Lehigh Valley,” said Deana Zosky, co-chair of the RenewLV board of directors. “Joyce also brings a tremendous amount of passion for smart growth, which will help us engage our stakeholders and the general public and raise the level of discussion Valley-wide.”

Marin’s academic credentials include an MBA from the University of Pittsburgh and inclusion in the Knight Fellowship in CommunityBuilding at the University of Miami’s School of Architecture, the recognized center for New Urban thought and practice.

“I’m really looking forward to the opportunity to direct my experience and education toward engaging the region’s leadership and the public more deeply in the discussion of a sustainable Lehigh Valley, regional cooperation and the efficient use of our resources through utilization of smart growth principals and policies,” said Marin.

In her new role, Ms. Marin will be facilitating the public outreach effort for Envision Lehigh Valley, engaging the citizens of Northampton and Lehigh Counties to create a truly sustainable Lehigh Valley. Additionally, Ms. Marin will be helping to organize the Lehigh Valley’s first smart growth conference, the Lehigh Valley Summit for Smart Growth to be held on October 24th at the Holiday Inn at Center City in Allentown. “The summit is a great opportunity for both the region’s leaders as well as regular citizens to get informed and engaged on what we can each do to have a better Lehigh Valley as we grow,” said Marin. For more information about the Smart Growth Conference, visit renewlv.org.

Marin resides in Macungie, Pa.

Intro to Traditional Neighborhood Development

Smart growth isn’t simply a matter for cities to discuss and work toward, it can be used at the township and borough level to encourage sustainable suburbs. In more rural regions, Traditional Neighborhood Development has taken hold in the planning process for smart communities.

The PA Municipalities Planning Code defines Traditional Neighborhood Development (TND) as follows:

“Traditional neighborhood development, an area of land developed for a compatible mixture of residential units for various income levels and nonresidential commercial and workplace uses, including some structures that provide for a mix of uses within the same building. Residences, shops, offices, workplaces, public buildings, and parks are interwoven within the neighborhood so that all are within relatively close proximity to each other. Traditional neighborhood development is relatively compact, limited in size and oriented toward pedestrian activity. It has an identifiable center and a discernable edge. The center ofthe neighborhood is in the form of a public park, commons, plaza, square or prominent intersection of two or more major streets. Generally, there is a hierarchy of streets laid out in a rectilinear or grid pattern
of interconnecting streets and blocks which provide multiple routes from origins to destinations and are appropriately designed to serve the needs of pedestrians and vehicles equally.”

Traditional neighborhoods have several physical features that are recognizable: short front yard setbacks, street walls, and multiple transportation choices (cars, bicycling and walking). Sounds nice, doesn’t it? But what are the objectives?

Communities utilize TND to address concerns in several fields: transportation, safety, sociability, housing access, visual character and identity. For transportation, TND’s reduce the number of commuter miles because of access to public transit and biking which also leads to decreased traffic congestion. TNDs see less crime within their communities because of the secure areas that can easily be surveilled. These neighborhoods promote socialization across diverse groups of people and build a sense of community. One of the most important aspects of TNDs is the variety and affordability of the units. Housing types often associated with TNDs include apartments built over garages and apartments over stores or offices. These scattered units can help meet the needs for rental units without overwhelming an area with massive apartment complexes. The opportunity for creating more affordable housing arises from the higher densities found in TNDs and by the inclusion of rental units and ownership housing units, like condominiums and single family attached housing, in the housing mix.

To learn more about Traditional Neighborhood Development or to see pictures of Lehigh Valley TNDs, check out the Lehigh Valley Planning Commission’s report here. This fall, Renew Lehigh Valley will be hosting a conference on smart growth and our keynote speaker will be urban planner and specialist in Traditional Neighborhood Design, Tom Comitta. Look for more information soon about registering for the conference!

Farewell & Good Luck

After two years here at Renew Lehigh Valley, first as a Community Fellow and now as the Director, it is a bittersweet Friday.   I will be leaving RenewLV to get married this fall and head north to Connecticut to join my fiance in the next chapter of our lives.  Today is my last day here at RenewLV, but before I left I wanted to say a few words over the blogosphere.

First and foremost, thank you!  It has been an exciting two years to witness change and growth here at RenewLV.  Though our initiatives have shifted since our foundation, our mission remains the same– promoting smart growth and efficient governance in the Lehigh Valley to create an environmentally and economically sustainable future for the region.  The addition of Envision Lehigh Valley, the three-year Sustainable Communities regional planning grant, has gotten stakeholders and communities talking and excited about planning for a sustainable future for the Lehigh Valley.  It has been a privilege to work with so many wonderful and talented people and to talk with so many enthusiastic and active community members across the Lehigh Valley.  RenewLV’s continues to promote regional collaboration and efficient governance through regional crime data-sharing, regional collaborative management of water/wastewater systems, and inter-governmental cooperation for delivery of services in the Slate Belt.  There are many exciting things on the horizon, including our first annual smart growth conference on October 24th and the return of our Brown Bag Discussion sessions.  I’m sorry to be leaving at such an exciting time!

I hope you will welcome my successor (who you will meet shortly) with open arms, as you welcomed me into this new position, and support them in their new role.  This is a long-term agenda, but through this collaborative network that continues to grow, I trust that even more promising things will blossom from the cooperative efforts of the Lehigh Valley.  Though I may be four hours north, I’ll certainly be closely following the progress of this region that has become home.   So thank you to you all for your support, your input, and your conversation over the past two years.  I hope you will continue to support RenewLV and our efforts as we ALL work together to create a sustainable future for the Lehigh Valley.

With all the best,

Rachel

Transit Disoriented in the Lehigh Valley

Transit oriented development (TOD) promotes building, developing and redeveloping community resources and employment centers around transit centers, whether those are bus or train. We don’t have that here in the Lehigh Valley.

Here’s the official definition:

“Development concentrated around and oriented to transit stations in a manner
that promotes transit riding or passenger rail use. The term does not refer to a
single real estate project, but represents a collection of projects, usually mixed use,
at a neighborhood scale that are oriented to a transit node.”

TOD doesn’t mean the construction of a bus stop near an office park, but a holistic approach to making communities accessible for those who don’t have or choose not to use a personal vehicle. This promotes equitable access to resources and employment, but also has positive environmental consequences. If fewer individuals are taking personal cars and opting to take the bus or train, carbon emissions will decrease.

In their 2012 report, the Lehigh Valley Planning Commission outlines the requirements for TODs:

TOD charts

The Planning Commission even produced a map of potential TODs in the Lehigh Valley:

TOD map

Making it easier for people to get where they want to go is an idea that’s hard to argue with, but new development and providing the infrastructure and support for public transit can become expensive. DC Streets Blog examines this problem and offers suggestions for convincing developers to invest in TOD. These recommendations include:

  • Public subsidies, like transit oriented development promotional grants or tax incentives
  • Educating developers about the costs to them in automobile dominated communities
  • Reform land use policies, for example loosening or eliminating single-use designations
  • Educate and engage employers
  • A new approach to looking at costs. While a building in a TOD community may cost more, it may also provide more affordable housing and increase the efficiency of workers.
  • Walkability is also TOD. Land use policies that encourage walkability are also likely to improve TOD in communities.
  • Connect the suburbs to TOD. This increases the size of the potential workforce for any given company, which increases the value of TOD to them.

It takes Lehigh Valley residents an average of 25 minutes to get to work and The Lehigh Valley Transportation Study (LVTS) long range plan estimates a $1.7 billion shortfall for funding needed through 2030. As part of the Envision Lehigh Valley project, LANta is producing a study on Transit Oriented Development and Bus Rapid Transit. Stay tuned for more information on that report as it is expected to be unveiled very soon!

On high density housing

High density housing often gets a bad reputation for unfair perceptions about increased traffic, crowded living and minimal parking but there are many advantages to this efficient use of land.

A developer presented a plan to the South Whitehall Township Commissioners on Wednesday night to build medium and high density housing along Blue Barn Road. The site to which he was referring is currently utilized by a single family home, a barn and open space. Nearby is a tract of land that was approved for a zoning change to accommodate medium to high density housing. The current zoning of the proposed development only allows for less than 4 units per acre; the new development would require 10 units per acre.

Attendees at the South Whitehall Township Board of Supervisors meeting voiced the usual concerns of increased traffic in more established neighborhoods, but the official vote on the zoning change won’t come until early September.

The Urban Vision has a compelling argument in favor of high density housing that outweighs arguments of increased traffic:

A high density and compact city form is the most ideal development pattern for the future. Here’s why:

Promotes thriving communities.

High density essentially signifies a concentration of people and their activities. A higher density neighborhood establishes a greater variety of leisure, shopping, amenities, work, and travel options. The wide cross -section of people and their activities also makes for a culturally rich area.

Better economically

According to studies, the expenditures of housing and transportation for inhabitants with a moderate standard of living in a compact city would be 25 percent less in comparison with a standard low density city. Compact City would cost 50 percent less for comparable housing and superior transportation for people with a high standard of living. In addition, the costs for structuring a Compact City are really a redirecting of investments by way of urban rejuvenation instead of a fresh expense. The cost of redevelopment versus the cost of additional building by way of newer colonies shows that it may be a better bargain to rejuvenate urban cores.

Further, studies indicate that auto and fuel expenses per person in a low density American neighborhood costs in the region of $500 per year. Also, in such an urban area with a population of two million, there are typically more than one million cars. Transportation costs in such a situation can run over one billion dollars a year. In a compact high density city, more than a million cars could be swapped with less than 10,000 cars. This would represent not only millions of dollars of fuels saving but also lesser pollution.

Compact, high density cities are also said to be more economical given that infrastructure, such as roads and street lighting, can be offered more cost-effectively per capita .Also ,urban sprawl brings about the repetition of hospitals, schools, and many other public services and institutions. Larger and more equitable distribution of services is possible in dense compact cities. The merging and amalgamation of a number of urban facilities and public amenities makes way for many specialized conveniences that are currently not cost-effectively achievable. These services are also far more economical in a compact city vis-à-vis a low density city.

Sustainability

High density cities are known to be proficient for more sustainable transport systems. A compact city has population densities that are great enough to operate and maintain public transport. Also, because compact cities essentially mean high density and mixed use- people can live near to their work place and leisure facilities. Therefore, the need for travel is less and people can walk and cycle without trouble. According to estimates, the overall energy use should go down by at least 15 percent in compact cities. Also, Compact cities are known to conserve land. By reducing sprawl which is characterized by incessantly growing urban areas; land in the countryside and forests are preserved

Social Equity and integration

High density cities will also promote a sense of social equity by providing opportunities for the economically underprivileged. Further, the only way to offer housing for all sections of the society is by pursuing high density planning strategies. In societal terms, compact cities and mixed uses are connected with diversity, social unity and cultural growth. There is also indication that more concentrated neighborhoods have a great sense of kinship, cooperative spirit and vivacity – fundamentally because a wide range of people with a different set of beliefs and vales are in closer contact with one other.

The social, economic and environmental should be seriously considered as this debate unfolds at the next meeting of the South Whitehall Township supervisors, but they may also consider the current rural state of this area. Higher density housing can be used to combat sprawl but isn’t the right choice for every municipality. As the Lehigh Valley population continues to increase, many people will rightfully want to see rural areas maintained in conjunction with the need for more housing. Open space and land for food production are also important needs for any community. We must also consider other sustainability practices and while this development would provide land efficient housing, South Whitehall will have to make a big decision regarding their open space, the proposed neighborhood’s access to transportation and other resources as well as their housing needs.

Comprehensive Planning with the Community

Discussing comprehensive planning is not typically at the top of people’s list of things to discuss over the dinner table or with neighbors in the evenings.  But what many of us fail to realize is how important the Comprehensive Plan for a region can be.  The Cambridge, Maryland community was similar, until plans for a large development project that would have changed the whole character of the town forced community members to pay attention to zoning and land use planning.

In 2008, a 1,000 acre project was proposed for the community that would have added 3,200 homes and a golf course to the community of about 1,200.  Such a large project and the possibility of drastic change in the town got the community’s attention.  Together with local planners, city officials, and university architecture schools, community members and main street groups decided to change the course of planning in their communities.  They held over 75 public meetings to gather public input, asking residents what they envisioned for the town.  This public input and collaboration process assisted the creation of a new comprehensive plan for the community that was designed to “help prioritize community needs and investments…publicly announce and renew commitments to people, places, and to ideas, [and] give direction to all who would accept responsibility for the well-being of their city.”  After the adoption of this new community-driven comprehensive plan, Cambridge is now working to update zoning regulations and will recommend a draft Unified Development Code.

The Lehigh Valley Planning Commission engaged public input for the creation of an updated comprehensive plan back in 2005.  I’m betting that most people have not read the entire document, but the Comprehensive Plan…The Lehigh Valley 2030 certainly should be more familiar to community members and municipal officials.  The region will be adding another 145,000 people to our communities over the next 20 years.  Where will these people live?  Will there be affordable housing options?  What will the impact be on infrastructure and public services?  How will such growth impact economic development and job availability? Just as Cambridge, Maryland received assistance from the Partnership for Sustainable Communities for its planning efforts, so too has the Lehigh Valley received federal assistance.  Envision Lehigh Valley is a grant-funded project through the Partnership for Sustainable Communities aimed at enhancing our Current Comprehensive Plan to make it more sustainable.  And, just as Cambridge asked the community for input on their vision for their communities, so too are we asking the community to envision the Lehigh Valley’s future.

I won’t sugarcoat it; planning and codes is not always the most exciting topic for evening discussion. But it is absolutely necessary for us as a community to be aware of the implications these comprehensive plans have on our future.  We need your input as the Lehigh Valley Planning Commission and other members of the Sustainability Consortium work together to create a regional sustainability plan for the Lehigh Valley.  Cambridge, Maryland has proven that it can work with very positive results.  Join us and share your vision for the sustainable future of the Lehigh Valley and public forums scheduled this fall focused on fair housing, fresh food access, affordable housing, economic development, transit, and energy efficiency.

Save King George Inn

The King George Inn has been a South Whitehall historical institution since 1756, but it may soon be a modern hotel and drug store.

Cliff McDermott owned the King George Inn for 42 years before a decline in business pushed him to close the restaurant that is designated as a National Historic Site by the National Park Service. He is now working with a development company to destroy the building and build a hotel or other commercial property.

Below is a letter to the editor of the Morning Call from Renew Lehigh Valley board member and State Representative Robert Freeman.

I was dismayed to read in The Morning Call that the owner of the King George Inn and Hotel Hamilton LLC plan on tearing down the 257-year-old historic structure to make way for a new hotel, bank and possible drug store.

While some might consider this progress, it is not. We lose a significant historic structure in return for more ubiquitous suburban-sprawl commercial structures. Instead of tearing down the King George Inn, the developers, architects and planners involved in this project should incorporate the original stone structure into the plans for the hotel. Incorporating the Inn into the hotel complex would offer restaurant and bar patrons something unique and historic. The developer could even qualify for historic tax credits.

The communities of the Lehigh Valley have lost a number of significant historic structures over the years as the result of misguided urban renewal initiatives and the ever-expanding pattern of suburban sprawl that consumes our landscape. It would be a travesty to see this National Register of Historic Places building torn down when a creative plan to incorporate it into the development could save it and offer something special.

The sale of the building depends on several zoning variances and the next meeting to review those is in two weeks. In the meantime, a MoveOn.org petition has been started to send to legislators when it reaches 2,000 signatures. Right now, it has 1,760. By providing your information on the MoveOn.org page, you can add your name.

In addition to the redundancy of adding another hotel and drug store to an area that is rife with commercial amenities, given its proximity to Dorney Park, the destruction of the King George Inn would be detrimental to South Whitehall’s sense of place. Smart growth and sustainability are not concepts that we should apply only to new construction. Historic buildings have a place in creating the distinct character of a community. Some of the most notable features of the Lehigh Valley are the historic ones; the maintenance of the blast furnaces at the old Bethlehem Steel site amid new construction is one example. Revitalizing our core communities does not require demolition, but rather the careful planning of necessary commodities with respect for the heart and soul of the area.

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