Blog Archives

What Is Your Vision for the Valley?

What will the Lehigh Valley be like in 5, 10, or 20 years?  Whether your live or work in the Lehigh Valley, the answer will directly affect you.  Join Envision Lehigh Valley, a three year visioning project, and help us plan the future for the Valley!

Envision Lehigh Valley is a public outreach effort designed to engage the residents of Northampton and Lehigh Counties to create a truly sustainable Lehigh Valley.  More than ever, the residents of the Lehigh Valley need to work together to create a shared vision for our community.  This three year project was made possible by a Sustainable Communities Grant from the US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) .

The Lehigh Valley is comprised of 62 municipalities, each with its own governmental authority. However, if you ask anyone who lives in the Lehigh Valley you will quickly learn that we live “regionally.” Many of us live in one town, work in another town, and have dinner in yet a third. The municipal boundaries that are crossed to reach a desired destination are usually invisible. In order to be a sustainable community, the Lehigh Valley should consider the value of all our communities, how we can enhance our economic competitiveness, and perhaps most importantly how we can coordinate policy and leverage investment within our community.

Over the course of the next three years, Envision Lehigh Valley will be gathering input from ALL residents of the Lehigh Valley in order to create a vision for the future of the region.  The project will focus on the main areas of economic development, fresh food access, transportation choices, housing choices, jobs/housing balance, and climate and energy.  All the input from social media, public meetings, surveys, and individual conversations will be used in the “Comprehensive Plan the Lehigh Valley…2030.”

Please join us to kick off this effort at our first meeting on Wednesday, July 11th at ArtsQuest at SteelStacks.  Two sessions are being offered– 4:00 to 6:00pm and 6:30 to 8:00pm.  The next three years promise to be exciting and innovative.  Join us as we work together– as a region– to create a shared vision for our community.

Visit www.envisionlehighvalley.com for more information! Follow us on Twitter and friend us on Facebook too!

Smart Growth is Good Sense, Not Partisan Politics

Smart growth has gotten a bad rap as a “liberal” plan that inhibits development and economic growth, while it forces people to live in overly densely populated areas through restrictive policies.  Some opponents have cited the intrusive policies proposed in the United Nations Agenda 21, which was presented at the 1992 United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) and subsequently adopted by all attending nations.  Agenda 21 is a lengthy document that presents many goals and strategies but was meant as a “comprehensive plan of action to be taken globally, nationally, and locally by organizations of the United Nations System, Governments, and Major Groups in every area in which human impacts the environment.”  (A comprehensive look at Agenda 21 can be found at: http://www.un.org/esa/dsd/agenda21/.) Those who oppose these strategies believe the adoption of such policies would overly expand the role of government and interfere with personal choice, local flexibility, and community and economic development.

Well, Renew Lehigh Valley is here to say that this simply is not true.  Smart growth is not and should not become a partisan issue.  Policies utilizing smart growth planning are meant to reinvigorate a community and provide for wise and effective economic development.  Rather than letting a piece of land be developed in any way, why wouldn’t a community want certain boundaries to ensure that the development enhances the economy, benefits the community, and brings jobs to the area for the long term?  “Planning” shouldn’t be considered a bad word; it’s smart.  And it has the community’s best interest at heart.

Smart growth does not force people to live on top of each other either.  We all like a little personal space, but that doesn’t mean that we need to spread out and misuse open land for housing or development.  This type of development only increases sprawl, which puts a strain on natural resources, infrastructure, local governments, and the community.  Density, in itself, is not a bad thing.  It’s overcrowding that should be avoided.  Smart development of apartments and other dense living spaces can be functional and quite comfortable.  Open space is then preserved in order to keep our natural resources pristine and to maintain the aesthetic beauty we all appreciate.  Smart growth communities offer comfortable, walkable neighborhoods with plenty of green space.  Sounds nice, doesn’t it?

If policy aligns with smart growth planning and development, it will only enhance the community.  The government will not overstep its boundaries infringing upon personal liberties.  Zoning laws aligned with smart growth policy and smart growth development are intended to preserve a community’s character while encouraging its strengths and improving its weaknesses.  Communities that align their policies in such a way have proven to be revitalized and reinvigorated.  Who wouldn’t want to live in a community with a thriving economy and a downtown that attracts visitors (which in turn attracts business and money!)?

Smart growth is not a nasty phrase or a terrible policy choice.  It is a smart decision for our communities.  This isn’t about politics; it’s about making the Lehigh Valley a successful, desirable community together.

Interested in learning more?  Register for the second annual State of the Lehigh Valley event through our website: www.renewlv.org.  Join in the discussion!

Bringing Smart Growth Principles to the Lehigh Valley

RenewLV is committed to promoting smart growth and smart governance to revitalize our core communities.  That is our mission and that is what we hope to achieve for the Lehigh Valley.  The Valley is experiencing a great deal of development, which is great news, but we want to make sure that we are developing wisely and growing in the right directions.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Smart Growth Network have compiled a list of 10 basic principles of smart growth that are proven approaches in creating successful communities:

  1. Mix land uses
  2. Take advantage of compact building design
  3. Create a range of housing opportunities and choices
  4. Create walkable neighborhoods
  5. Foster distinctive, attractive communities with a strong sense of place
  6. Preserve open space, farmland, natural beauty, and critical environmental areas
  7. Strengthen and direct development toward existing communities
  8. Provide a variety of transportation choices
  9. Make development decisions predictable, fair, and cost-effective
  10. Encourage community and stakeholder collaboration in development decisions

Numerous organizations throughout the Lehigh Valley hold these principles as main focuses of their activities.  Through Renew’s partnerships with organizations like the Lehigh Valley Economic Development Corporation, the Lehigh Valley Planning Commission, LANta, the Wildlands Conservancy, and many others, RenewLV is trying to knit these principles into the culture of the Lehigh Valley.  That is why we have partnered with the Lehigh Valley Sustainability Consortium to ensure these ideals are part of any development project here.

As residents of this great area, you know how unique and resilient the Lehigh Valley is.  But there is always room for improvement.  Through the recently awarded $3.4 million HUD grant, this area will be getting a major boost through projects and partnerships over the next three years.  As part of the Lehigh Valley Sustainability Consortium overseeing this grant, RenewLV wants to hear from you, the residents of the Lehigh Valley.  In the upcoming months we will be hosting events and opportunities to enable your voice and opinions to be heard in order to guide these projects.  Visit our website and click the “Join Us” button to stay up-to-date on the grant projects and opportunities for the community to speak out.  Bring these smart growth principles to the Lehigh Valley to make it an even better place to live.

BikeAllentown Ride to Emmaus Farmers’ Market, 10/10 at 10am

This Sunday, BikeAllentown is organizing a bike ride from Cedar Creek Park in Allentown to the Emmaus Farmers’ Market. With October already here, time is running out to go check out one of the best farmers’ markets in the Lehigh Valley — so get out there if you can.

The ride will be an easy-paced, 6-miler each way, and it will go through the parkway and side streets. There will be plenty of time to walk around the market and to shop before heading back.

When: October 10th, 10:00 AM.
Where: Cedar Creek Park, at the swimming pool parking lot, just off of Ott St. (9:45 ride start at Seegers Union for Muhlenberg students).

Reminder: Please bring along a basket, backpack or trailer to carry produce and goods from the market. Also remember to bring a lock.

Strawberries at Emmaus Farmers' Market

Questions? See the flyer and contact John Sharpe at bikeallentown@gmail.com.

Tune in to 88.1FM WDIY Tonight @ 6

Tonight on WDIY, Alan Jennings will host a segment on transportation and land use in the Lehigh Valley. The one-hour segment, airing from 6-7pm, will include four guests who will speak about the links between transportation and land use, and the importance of this linkage to the Lehigh Valley. Further, they will discuss how the Lehigh Valley can move forward on a multimodal approach to transportation that is both environmentally and economically sustainable– encouraging development while preserving the regional assets that make the Lehigh Valley unique.

From 6-6:30pm Jennings will host Representative Bob Freeman and PennDOT’s District 5 Press Officer, Ron Young. For the second half of the show, from 6:30-7pm, we will hear from Deana Zosky, co-chair of RenewLV’s Board of Directors, and Steve Schmitt, Executive Director of the Coalition for Appropriate Transportation.

Be sure to tune in to 88.1 FM WDIY tonight at 6! This segment will address many of the issues and questions that will be the focus at the Regional Transportation Forum on April 19th, 6:30-8:30 pm, at the Historic Hotel Bethlehem. Find out more about the event at our event page, and sign up online!

Even More on Walkability and Real Estate Values

The NY Times examined the aspect of “walkability” in real estate values in a recent article, even highlighting the role that Walk Score is taking on in the market. Allegedly, residences in a neighborhood with an above-average walk score are able to sell at a higher price than those with a lower score. With the cost of living skyrocketing, I’m sure many families are looking for alternatives to using a car daily – and living in a walkable neighborhood can help with saving money in the long run.

Data collection on real estate values used to only be available through government sources and the National Association of Realtors, but now, more companies are beginning to compile this useful information (even Google is now accumulating such data).

Interested in checking out home values by zip code? Visit Zillow.com to check out a comparison of different areas and market prices. It looks like the ‘Allentown Metro’ area is boasting housing prices that are higher than the average US market values right now. Very interesting. What are your thoughts on why this may be so?

T4A on Federal Transportation Funding News

Following the big announcement from Ray LaHood yesterday about important changes in transportation funding, which Alex blogged about, I had a chance to hop on a Transportation for America partner call today to hear their perspective on the issue (as many of you are aware, RenewLV is the regional lead on the Transportation for America campaign).

As expected, the news was incredibly well-received. With livability being a key component of the new formula, it will allow for greater spending for public transportation projects (which, under the former funding formula were restricted to projects that would directly show they would reduce traffic congestion) and give way to more sustainable development. T4A is rightfully thrilled about the integration of the livability component, but warned that it does not mean that the New Starts program will see an increase in funds nor will the program see a decrease in demand. New Starts provides funding for many new light and rapid rail projects, or larger public transportation projects (for example, facilities for bus vehicles, among other examples).

Still, the change goes a long way in the fight to keep communities at the forefront in transportation funding. On the T4A call, it was mentioned that Sec. LaHood acknowledged the strain on New Starts funds, calling on the need for more investment dollars. With a change in priorities within the administration (focused on more public transit funding) comes the hope that more funding might come.

What are your thoughts on this matter? Post your comments below.

Special State Tax District To Aid Allentown’s Riverfront Development

Allentown’s Riverfront development plans are coming along, as a special tax district designation will allow for the money collected from taxes to stay local. This is good news for Allentown’s mayor, Ed Pawlowski, and other city leaders, all who have been working on generating the revenue for various aspects of the development plan – including a hockey arena. The arena, which will house minor league hockey team, the Phantoms, is to be built in the district, and city officials are hopeful that other businesses will open up along the Riverfront over the course of the next few years.

The development is also aided by a grant from the Department of Transportation, as part of its Pennsylvania Community Transportation Initiative this past year. Joyce Marin, Allentown’s Director of Community and Economic Development at the time, spoke to the scope of this project at RenewLV’s brown-bag session in November. Check out our Multimedia page for the full recording of that session (along with great photos).

What sort of businesses would you like to see on the Allentown Riverfront? Personally, I’m hoping an Ethiopian restaurant opens in the area.

Transit Oriented Development (TOD): Weathering the Economic Storm

Transit oriented development is great for all sorts of reasons. It fosters community, efficiency, conservation, walkability, and mobility, while still promoting development. Two recent news stories help to articulate another valuable component. Transit oriented development is also becoming more recognized as a strategy for weathering economic downturns, even when they come in the form of a severe recession.

The first is an article in the New York Times from October 6th, highlighting the economic success of the Rosslyn-Ballston corridor, a great example of transit oriented, mixed-use development in the Northern Virginia suburbs of Washington. The article discusses the astonishingly low vacancy rates in the corridor despite increases in vacancy rates across the country.

Tying together this 3.3 mile corridor of what Terry Holzheimer, Arlington County’s director of economic development calls, “urban villages,” is the metro system which runs from one end of the corridor all the way into D.C. The result is a corridor which attracts residents, businesses, and consumers with all projections pointing towards continued development and success.

For more information on the history of the Rosslyn-Ballston corridor, including a link to the Rosslyn-Ballston corridor video, visit this Smart Growth America blog post.

The second story, aired on NPR’s Morning Edition last week, is about a developer in Phoenix, Arizona, who is buying up foreclosed properties near mass transit lines. Phillip Beere, of Green Street Developers, buys foreclosed properties and then remodels, modernizes, and makes those properties more energy efficient. The idea is to sell the properties to people, young professionals and others, who want to avoid the costs of suburban living, including energy efficiency and the Phoenix commute, which averages one hour roundtrip. Because the properties were foreclosures, they can be resold at a reasonable price, even after the remodeling. Beere’s claims that the properties will offer a walkable community where people can live comfortably, and walk just a short-distance to catch the light rail to work each day.

Although Pheonix is well-known as a “sprawling metropolitan area,” Philip Beere’s sees this project as an investment. Another developer interviewed in the segment discusses the shift in focus from living spaces that “impress” with size and amenities, to living spaces that are functional, efficient, and that meet a person’s budget. In a time when people are learning the value of efficiency and the risks of budget-stretching, many believe that there will be a real market for the project despite the Phoenix development paradigm.

Check out Ryan Champlin’s blog post for commentary about funding problems common to transit oriented development initiatives.

RenewLV Brown-Bag Session on Community and Transportation, November 6th, in Easton

RenewLV is pleased to announce the second session in our series of “brown-bag” discussions that touch on a variety of topics related to urban development and revitalization, smart growth, and regional collaboration. This series aims to provide an informal setting in which community members can discuss where the Lehigh Valley is making progress on these fronts, and examine the key challenges and opportunities.

This session will be Friday, November 6th, from noon to 1:30 p.m. in the Gold Room at the Grand Eastonian Suites and Hotel, 140 Northampton St in Easton. The topic for this session will be community and transportation, focusing on the Pennsylvania Community Transportation Initiative (PCTI) projects underway in Allentown, Bethlehem, Easton, and Hellertown. Our panel includes:

  • Becky Bradley, Director, Department of Planning & Codes, City of Easton
  • Darlene Heller, Director of Planning and Zoning, City of Bethlehem
  • Charlie Luthar, Hellertown Borough Manager
  • Joyce Marin, Director of City of Allentown Department of Community & Economic Development
  • Ronald Young, District Press Officer for PennDOT, District 5-0
  • The session is free and open to the public. We hope you’ll consider bringing a lunch and joining us (perhaps grabbing a take-out lunch from one of Easton’s dining establishments). If you’d like additional information or have any questions, email us or call 484-893-1062. Also, we’d be interested in hearing any ideas for future topics for these sessions–leave a comment here or email them to us. We hope to see you on the 6th!

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