Tomorrow, Renew Lehigh Valley will be partnering with the Lehigh Valley Research Consortium (LVRC) to present the third annual State of the Lehigh Valley: Community Trends at a Glance report at a luncheon event at Iaccoca Hall on Lehigh University’s Mountaintop Campus.
The view of the entire Lehigh Valley from the Wood Dining Room will provide an appropriate backdrop as the Lehigh Valley Research Consortium unveils their report of the successes and struggles of the region from the perspective of civic engagement, economic growth, and health, with a special focus on the environment and environmental sustainability. The LVRC brings together faculty members from Lehigh Valley Association of Independent Colleges (LVAIC) institutions with diverse and interdisciplinary expertise to focus on regional topics. These institutions include Cedar Crest College, DeSales University, Lafayette College, Lehigh University, Moravian College, and Muhlenberg College, along with affiliate members Northampton Community College and Lehigh Carbon Community College.
Co-presenting the event is Renew Lehigh Valley, which since 2007 has been a nonprofit advocate for smart growth in the Lehigh Valley, revitalizing our core communities, preserving open space, and creating an economically and environmentally sustainable foundation for the region’s growth.
This will be an opportunity to discuss the issues that are facing the Lehigh Valley, but an even better opportunity to organize action in planning its future. Forefront in our minds this year will be Envision Lehigh Valley, a public outreach effort designed to engage the citizens of Northampton and Lehigh Counties to create a truly sustainable Lehigh Valley. The project received a three year, $3.4 million Sustainable Communities grant and will conclude at year end 2014. In the span of that time, partnerships throughout the Lehigh Valley will work together to produce comprehensive plans to address economic development, fresh food access, employment and housing balance, as well as transportation.
Highmark Blue Shield is once again the Presenting Sponsor of the event. Thanks go out to our other sponsors Lehigh Valley Economic Development Corporation, Lehigh University’s Social Science Research Center, Capital Blue Cross, PPL, St. Luke’s University Health Center, Spillman Farmer Architects, Susquehanna Bank, and Just Born, Inc.
Registration and buffet will open at 11:00am with a poster session displaying data about the Lehigh Valley. The event will kick off at 12:00pm with highlights from the State of the Lehigh Valley report, followed by a few leading community members who will speak to their work in relation to the report’s findings. Registration is $35 and can be completed right at the event. Don’t miss this opportunity to meet with fellow community leaders and take action to address the needs of the Lehigh Valley.
If you’re planning on attending the event, be sure to use #SLVR when you tweet about the report and speeches. There will also be an opportunity for community discussion where the audience can provide feedback on the report as well as their ideas and visions for the Lehigh Valley. For more information on the event as well as the EnvisionLV project, head to http://renewlv.com/. If you would like to see the report, it will be published in PDF format at renewlv.com and lehighvalleyresearch.org on March 1st.
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.
Yesterday, Governor Tom Corbett unveiled his budget proposal which will inevitably be tinkered and toyed with until the General Assembly passes their final version in the end of June, but it made clear the hopes and dreams of Governor Corbett in the coming fiscal year.
Last year, Corbett proposed major cuts to education and paid for it with his approval rating. He hasn’t made the same mistake this year. Corbett proposed a 1.7 percent increase to basic education funding and promised $1.6 billion to higher education. However, these funding increases are not yet a foregone conclusion. The spending increase is tied to several other reform projects that Corbett has his eye on. Education funding will be tied to the privatization of state liquor stores, a greatly debated issue in the past few years. Without this reform, budget officials say that major cuts are inevitable. Public schools would be forced to choose between increasing their taxes, cutting their programs or an unfortunate combination of the two.
Funding for transportation will also be increased in a similar deal. Over the next five years, $5.3 billion is to be invested in transit with $510 million immediately going to highway and bridge projects if the legislature votes to reform the state pension system. The proposed reform would do nothing to reduce the benefits that current employees have already paid, but the future of their plan would switch to a 401(k) program in which they allocate 6.25 percent of their salary to their retirement benefits. New state employees would enter the pension system with this program in place.
New employees to the state may be sparse though; Corbett’s budget includes the elimination of 900 positions, including 400 layoffs. Most of these staff reductions will come from the Department of General Services, the Health Department and Public Welfare. In Human Services news, Corbett has proposed $6.1 million to transition patients at state facilities to community placements.
Despite the spending increases, this budget proposal is also business friendly. It eliminates the Capital Stock and Franchise Tax, reduces the Corporate Net Income Tax and repeals the Corporate Loan Tax. Small businesses certainly weren’t left out of business benefits either. They are now eligible to a $5,000 tax deduction for start-up businesses and access to a new team within the Department of Community and Economic Development that will provide advice on how to best utilize state and local incentives to increase the success rate of new businesses. The Pennsylvania Business Development Authority will consolidate eight loan programs into one large pool of $1.1 billion loan funds.
The Republicans control both the state house and senate, but it is unlikely that Corbett will get everything that he asked for in this proposal. However, it will certainly shape the debate in the coming months before the 2012-2013 fiscal year expires.
Answer: Not an urban legend.
In metropolitan areas across the country, residents have been faced with fresh food deserts, or areas where one third of the population is more than a mile from a grocery store and one fifth exists below the poverty line. City dwellers are faced with carrying their groceries on long public transit rides, buying a car or relying on convenience stores to purchase their groceries.
For some lucky metro-poles, there is yet another option: visiting their local urban grocery stores. Though not exactly super markets, these small grocery stores strive to provide their cities with fresh food, meat and cooking staples within reasonable walking distance. Corner stores like these became passe after super stores like Wal-Mart, Wegmans, Weis and Giant came to suburbia. However there’s been a new push toward walkability and sustainable growth within our cities and we again need accessible food in our urban areas.
However, the confines of urban design present some challenges. These grocery stores have to use a fraction of the space that super stores have, prioritize the goods they will provide and consider parking in an area unable to accommodate a super-parking-lot. Even with these challenges in mind, many cities and entrepreneurs have taken the risk and opened such grocery stores.
In the city of Dallas, Texas, there is one such grocery store that also encompasses a delivery component. Nestled in the heart of downtown Dallas, Urbanmarket is the only full service grocery store in its area. They provide produce, meat, deli, seafood, wine & beer, health and beauty products, flowers and prepared foods. Also, if you submit your grocery list online by noon on Tuesday or Friday, your groceries will be delivered right to you.
Washington, D.C. is getting even more use out of urban space by utilizing mixed use development. On the same property as the Urban Lifestyle Safeway grocery store, there are 441 condos, 244 apartments and 75,000 square feet of retail space. The property is only 3.2 acres. Parking for these facilities is approximately 40 percent of a standard suburban grocery store but still has maintained a successful business model through foot and bike traffic.
There are four food deserts in the Lehigh Valley right now, which (according to the USDA) means that there are four regions in which one third of the population has to travel more than a mile to reach fresh food and at least one fifth of the population exists below the poverty line. Is an urban grocery store a potential solution to this fresh food problem? Envision Lehigh Valley has been gathering public input on fresh food access and those findings will be included in a comprehensive plan to combat food deserts in the Valley. Community involvement and ideas will be critical in this planning process.
The Greater Lehigh Valley chapter of Buy Fresh Buy Local (BFBL-GLV) has released a study that counters the popular perception that prices at farmers’ markets are more expensive than at grocery stores. (Click here to read the complete study on the pricing of farmers markets compared to grocery stores) No significant price difference was found between the two venues in the LehighValley. In fact, “Because there was a wide price range for produce at the Lehigh Valley farmers’ markets, it was always possible to find less expensive produce there than at the grocery stores,” says study author and Lehigh University Community Fellow, Laura Schmidt.
The study included pricing data for nine seasonal products (produce, meat and eggs) collected in the fall of 2012. Data was collected from four LehighValley farmers’ markets and two grocery stores and accounted for both organic and conventional growing methods.
“This study challenges the myth that food at farmers’ markets is always more expensive than at grocery stores.” says BFBL-GLV Director, Lynn Prior. “In addition, it shows that seasonal, locally-grown foods can be very affordable and cost less than food imports at grocery stores.”
The study will be incorporated into an Assessment Report for a Fresh Food Access Plan being developed as part of EnvisionLehighValley, and funded by a HUD Sustainable Communities Grant. Fresh food access forums for public comment will be hosted in March 2013 by Buy Fresh Buy Local and the Nurture Nature Center. (Visit www.envisionlehighvalley.com for event schedules and updates.)
The report will look at the assortment of businesses and relationships involved in moving food from our local farms to our tables. While there’s been great success with direct sales from our local farms to consumers, we are not doing as well getting local foods to wholesale buyers. Infrastructure is critical to move local food to wholesale buyers. The report will examine what we have and need in terms of infrastructure to scale up our local food system.
There are four designated food deserts in the LehighValley. The USDA defines a food desert according to census tracts. Communities qualify as food deserts if they meet two criteria:
- low-income communities (a poverty rate of 20 percent or more); and
- low-access communities (at least 33% of the population lives greater than 1 mile from a large grocery store).
Consumers in the LehighValley spend $1.5 billion on food each year; less than one percent of this is purchased directly from our local farms. The result is that most of our food dollars are leaving our region through purchase of food imports. By increasing the amount of food purchased from our local growers, we can help make farming more profitable and ensure that farmland & healthy, flavorful food will be available for future generations. At the same time, we will also be investing our food dollars locally and creating jobs right here in the Lehigh Valley.
BFBL-GLV is a program of the NurtureNatureCenter, a 501©(3) organization. BFBL chapters across Pennsylvania are coordinated by the Pennsylvania Association for Sustainable Agriculture (PASA), on behalf of our national partner, Food Routes Network.
As Envision Lehigh Valley has pushed residents to think about what they want their community to look like over the next twenty years, there is no better time to consider the fabric of the community that binds us. The Lehigh Valley is projected to change drastically over the next 20 years, adding 145,000 new residents, an additional 72,000 households and a 15 percent increase in jobs. With these changes, the region will have to adapt and it is the role of the community to play an active part in cultivating their home.
According to Thomas Borrup, in his book on creative community building, “Community is an elusive term…the word will refer to the people and the natural and built environments within a geographically defined area. [It is] more inclusive of the social, civic and economic bonds in addition to physical bonds.”
Through the public forum meetings held to discuss the future of the Lehigh Valley, residents from all walks of life have shared their opinions and outlooks for the region. This diversity in ideas, has lent itself to creating particularly creative solutions in which Borrup says that we “weave multiple endeavors and professions into the never-ending work of building and rebuilding the social, civic, physical, economic and spiritual fabrics of communities. Creative community building engages the cultural and creative energies inherent in every person and every place.”
These creative solutions will manifest themselves in the master plans that Envision partners are going to undertake over the next few years. The arenas of these reports include environment and energy conservation, affordable housing, access to fresh food, enhancement of public transportation, economic development and catalytic projects undertaken by the three major cities that comprise the Lehigh Valley– Allentown, Bethlehem, and Easton.
Studies in multiple US cities consistently have found that cultural organizations, particularly small, community-based cultural groups, exert far greater impact than their size would suggest. Organizations of this nature have partnered with municipalities to maximize the effects of the grant that this project received. Envision Lehigh Valley partners include RenewLV, Lehigh Valley Planning Commission, Lehigh Valley Economic Development Council, CACLV, LANta, Buy Fresh Buy Local, Wildlands Conservancy and The Nurture Nature Center. While independently these groups have a limited reach within the Lehigh Valley, their voices together will be able to provide comprehensive plans and solutions to problems facing the entire region.
“We shape our cities and then our cities shape us.” – Surburban Nation
As a follow-up to last week’s blog about Chuck Marohn’s Strong Towns presentation, guest bloggers Ron Beitler and Scott Alderfer co-wrote the following post. Ron Beitler – Ronbeitler.com, Ron is a local smart growth advocate. Scott Alderfer - Scott’s blog “streamhugger”, Scott is Chair of LMT’s Environmental Advisory Council
“Earlier this week, we had the opportunity to attend the lecture by Chuck Marohn, author and Executive Director of the Minnesota-based non-profit group Strong Towns that Ron mentioned guest blogging here on ‘Crossroads’ two weeks ago. The mission of Strong Towns is to support a model for growth that allows America’s towns to become financially strong and resilient. Chuck stopped in Lower Macungie last Wednesday as part of his week-long, 11-town lecture tour of Pennsylvania. (Here is a link to a news story about Chuck’s talk in Lancaster, PA, later the same day that I heard him speak. )
Drawing on his experience as both a civil engineer and a land planner, Chuck argued that the way U.S. municipalities have been growing since World War II has been based on an unsustainable Ponzi scheme that funds continually-expanding suburban development without considering the long-term costs of that development.
- Transfer payments between governments: where the federal or state government makes a direct investment in growth at the local level, such as funding a water or sewer system expansion.
- Transportation spending: where transportation infrastructure is used to improve access to a site that can then be developed.
- Public- and private-sector debt: where cities, developers, companies, and individuals take on debt as part of the development process, whether during construction or through the assumption of a mortgage.
But these developments rarely generate more revenue than the taxpayer invested when governments take into account long-term obligations. New, short-term gains in public revenue must then be used to offset the long-term costs from the “next big thing” of 20 years ago. That’s because the costs to these governments in long-term maintenance or added debt service were not accounted for when the politicians were being courted by the developers decades earlier.
Chuck’s take home message was that any private development project that is seeking public assistance (e.g. utility or transportation subsidies or financing incentives) should present a realistic cost-benefit analysis. And that includes all long-term costs.
When we … exploit land development ordinances that fail to recognize Smart Growth principles, we get more and more big box stores and strip malls on the outskirts of developed areas. In other words, we get more sprawl. They try to sell it to us with a fairy tale about how many more jobs their big box will create and how much more tax revenue the development will generate if the municipality will “partner” with the developer to extend roads and utilities to the cornfields that they want to pave over. But widening our local roads to accommodate more sprawling developments only gives the illusion of prosperity in our local communities.
Developers and municipal officials, who may either be naïve or have ulterior motives, will continue the Ponzi scheme of getting governments to subsidize the infrastructure for more sprawl until there is a grassroots push to demand cost-benefit analyses for these train wrecks of cinder blocks and asphalt being touted as economic development.
Strong Towns’ mission to help towns become financially strong and resilient by making better-informed decisions is a mission that should appeal to folks of all political stripes. For tree huggers (or stream huggers) like Scott, it means putting the brakes on unchecked development of greenfields, because most developers would have to fund more of the infrastructure improvements themselves. For fiscal conservatives, like Ron, it means making development pay it’s own way. Both of us see the value in both approaches. Either way the Strong Towns perspective is something to consider.”
Guest blogger, Ron Beitler, from Friends for the Protection of Lower Macungie, will blog today and tomorrow about the Strong Towns presentation being held tonight in Easton at Lafayette College and tomorrow at Lower Macungie Township Offices. To view location details, visit http://www.strongtowns.org/pennsylvania-tour/. This is his report:
On January 9th, Charles Marohn will bring the Strongtowns.org ‘curbside chat‘ message to the Lehigh Valley. The chat is a presentation, followed by a community-specific discussion, about the financial health of our places.
The Strongtowns message is important because it transcends politics. Personally I get nervous when folks assume one particular party has ‘ownership’ over the smart growth issue. At it’s core smart growth is a fiscally conservative philosophy. Some such as Kaid Benfield have went so far as to call the Strong Towns message a conservatives manifesto against sprawl.
While many associate “sprawling growth patterns as rooted in their effect on the landscape, the environment, and severely compromised populations left behind,(All very important messages!) Marohn is all about the money. As Thoughts on Building Strong Towns (Marohns book) makes quite clear, Chuck believes that sprawl is a Ponzi scheme and we the taxpayers are the ones left holding the empty bags.” – Benfield NRDC Switchboard
The chat addresses the following fundamental issues:
- Why are our ‘places’ short on resources despite decades of robust growth? What went wrong?
- Why do we struggle at the local level just to maintain basic infrastructure?
- What do we do now that the economy has changed so dramatically?
The answer according to Marohn is in the way we’ve developed and the financial productivity of our places. The Strong Towns message takes the traditional smart growth narrative and looks at it from a fiscal sustainability standpoint. Marohn explains a growth Ponzi scheme in the following way:
Swapping long-term obligations for near-term cash works for a while, but as with any Ponzi scheme, it ultimately collapses under its own weight. We have grown in a pattern that is inefficient, making poor use of our resources and investments.
‘Friends LMT‘, an East Penn smart growth advocacy group brought Marohn to the area a few months ago via webcast. I found the presentation eye-opening. I will definitely be attending the Lower Macungie Township visit to see Chuck in person. The message is relevant to a place like Lower Macungie that may be falling into the trappings of hyper growth for two decades and only now beginning to feel the effects of the second life cycle of developments.
What: Chuck Marohn Curbside Chat
Where: Lower Macungie Municipal Building
When: January 9th 8-9:30am
Free & Open to the public