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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.

How to Make a Great Place– Top 26

Being the tech-savvy Millennials that we are here at RenewLV, I happened upon a tweet from our friends at Sustainable Cities that I felt I had to share with you to get your input.  The folks at Project for Public Spaces authored the initial post, who also happen to have a connection to the Eastern Gateway project in Bethlehem after doing some work here a few years ago.  After taking Rep. Bob Freeman’s class at Lehigh University about growth management and what “place” really means (and passing with high marks, I might add), I found this particular list intriguing.  Put these 26 items into play in your life, and you will have designed a “great place.”

The following list is excerpted from the new e-book How to Design Our World for Happiness, edited by Jay Walljasper and the ace team at On the Commons.

  1. Challenge the prevailing myth that all problems have private, individualized solutions.
  2. Notice how many of life’s pleasures exist outside the marketplace—gardening, fishing, conversing, playing music, playing ball, enjoying nature, and more.
  3. Take time to enjoy what your corner of the world offers (As the Brazilian educator Paulo Freire once declared, “We are bigger than our schedules.”)
  4. Have some fun. The best reason for making great places is that it will enliven all of our lives.
  5. Offer a smile or greeting to people you pass. Community begins with connecting—even in brief, spontaneous ways.
  6. Walk, bike, or take transit whenever you can. It’s good for the environment, but also for you. You make very few friends behind the wheel of your car.
  7. Treat common spaces as if you own them (which, actually, you do). Pick up litter. Keep an eye on the place. Tidy things up. Report problems or repair things yourself. Initiate improvements.
  8. Pull together a potluck. Throw a block party. Form a community choir, slow food club, Friday night poker game, seasonal festival, or any other excuse for socializing.
  9. Get out of the house and spend some time on the stoop, the front yard, the street—anywhere you can be a part of the river of life that flows past.
  10. Create or designate a “town square” for your neighborhood where folks naturally want to gather—a park, playground, vacant lot, community center, coffee shop, or even a street corner.
  11. Lobby for more public benches, water fountains, plazas, parks, sidewalks, bike trails, playgrounds, and other crucial commons infrastructure.
  12. Take matters into your own hands and add a bench to your front yard or transform a vacant lot into a playground.
  13. Conduct an inventory of local commons. Publicize your findings, and offer suggestions for celebrating and improving these community assets.
  14. Organize your neighbors to prevent crime and to defuse the fear of crime, which often dampens a community’s spirits even more than crime itself.
  15. Remember streets belong to everyone, not just automobiles. Drive cautiously and push for traffic calming and other improvements that remind motorists they are not kings of the road.
  16. Buy from local, independent businesses whenever possible.
  17. Form a neighborhood exchange to share everything from lawn mowers to childcare to vehicles.
  18. Barter. Trade your skill in baking pies with someone who will fix your computer.
  19. Join campaigns opposing cutbacks in public assets like transit, schools, libraries, parks, social services, police and fire protection, arts programs, and more.
  20. Write letters to the editor about the importance of community commons, post on local websites, call into talk radio, tell your friends.
  21. Learn from everywhere. What can Copenhagen teach us about bicycles? India about wellness? Africa about community solidarity? Indigenous nations about the commons itself? What bright ideas could be borrowed from a nearby neighborhood or town?
  22. Become a guerrilla gardener, planting flowers and vegetables on neglected land in your neighborhood.
  23. Organize a community garden or local farmer’s market.
  24. Roll up your sleeves to restore a creek, wetland, woods, or grasslands.
  25. Form a study group to explore what can be done to improve your community.
  26. Think yourself as a local patriot and share your enthusiasm.

To be honest, I think some residents of the Lehigh Valley already do many of these, which is why the Lehigh Valley is such a wonderful place!  But we want to know what you think.  Anything you would add to the list or take off?  What would you recommend we focus on first and foremost to make the Lehigh Valley an even better place?

You can also share your thoughts for the future of this great “place” by visiting www.envisionlehighvalley.com

The Future of Cars

Owning and driving a car, once deemed a core aspect of any American’s life, is now on the decline in this country.

A recent New York Times article titled, “The End of Car Culture” examines how Americans are “buying fewer cars, driving less and getting fewer licenses.” The hypothesis is that the country has passed its peak driving period and that different modes of transportation are now edging their way into the transportation market that had previously been inundated with personal cars. Even the percentage of individuals that have a drivers license in their teens, 20s and 30s has declined significantly since 1983.

The data that the article used was adjusted for population and found that the quantity of miles driven by Americans peaked in 2005 and has declined since. While some have speculated that the decline in cars purchased and miles driven was a cause of the recession, those declines actually began two to three years prior. There are also other theories to the cause of this trend.

“Different things are converging which suggest that we are witnessing a long-term cultural shift,” said Mimi Sheller, a sociology professor at Drexel University and director of its Mobilities Research and Policy Center. She cites various factors: the Internet makes telecommuting possible and allows people to feel more connected without driving to meet friends. The renewal of center cities has made the suburbs less appealing and has drawn empty nesters back in. Likewise the rise in cellphones and car-pooling apps has facilitated more flexible commuting arrangements, including the evolution of shared van services for getting to work.

Reduced use of personal vehicles has positive results for the environment and carbon emissions. Transportation is the second leading source of carbon emissions (power plants are first). New York’s bike sharing program is growing in popularity as tolls increase and funding that promotes car ownership decreases.

To further support the idea that this trend is more than economic, the age group of those most likely to purchase a car and to have a license is increasingly the elderly. The youth are expressing less interest in cars and more interest in living in communities where a car is unnecessary and the public transit is satisfactory.

The article mentions Bay Area Rapid Transit, a transportation system in San Francisco that optimizes bus routes by looking at frequency of use and land use in the area. Our very own LANta is in the process of studying Bus Rapid Transit for the Lehigh Valley. Their report is part of the Envision Lehigh Valley project and will be released soon. The trend across the country points to the need for multimodal transportation options and this is an important step by LANta. As our population increases in city centers, there is less need for a personal car but short bus routes and safe biking paths are still important transit developments. All of these options are environmentally promising and are sustainable alternatives to individuals relying solely on their personal car.

Envision Lehigh Valley’s Virtual Town Hall Review

Did you catch Envision Lehigh Valley’s virtual town hall meeting this week? If so, you were one of 99 viewers who tuned in to hear planners for Bethlehem, Easton, Allentown and the Lehigh Valley Planning Commission discuss growth projections and planning in the cities.

Particpants learned about the timeline for the catalytic projects in each of the three cities and how each city went about choosing the specific project that they undertook as part of the Envision Lehigh Valley grant. In addition to working on the rewrite of their city’s comprehensive plan, Becky Bradley a planner for Easton, discussed the 13th Street Corridor project that will begin soon in Easton. Darlene Heller, a planner for Bethlehem, discussed the planning and progress being made on the Eastern Gateway project in Bethlehem and Mike Hefele talked about all of the exciting development happening in Allentown as well as the Little Lehigh Industrial Corridor that he is working on as a planner for Allentown. Mike Kaiser, retiring executive director of the Lehigh Valley Planning Commission, shared information and maps showing the expected growth in population for the next thirty years in the Lehigh Valley. He broke it down by municipality and demographics, as well as discussing the implications for employment and transit.

After briefly presenting their projects, the panel took questions from participants in the live chat and from those e-mailed prior to the live feed. Planners were asked about transportation and fresh food access and explained the process of comprehensive planning as a city and as a region.

Despite a brief blip with the audio in the beginning of the meeting, viewers tweeted and chatted excitedly about the discussion the planners were having, as well as the idea of a virtual town hall to discuss other Envision initiatives. It was especially convenient for those who couldn’t make it to a public meeting in person this past fall; anyone who was interested could watch the meeting right from home and still participate!

If you’re kicking yourself for missing the meeting, or want to catch the audio from the introduction that we missed – don’t fret! The full video, with the full 60 minutes of audio is going up on Envision Lehigh Valley’s YouTube channel and you can watch the whole thing, advertisement free!

Based on all of the positive feedback that we got for this meeting, we hope to hold another one soon! Stay tuned!

Envision Lehigh Valley’s Public Meeting Results Are In!

Through their website, Envision Lehigh Valley received a total of 1,118 completed surveys as well as feedback from 47 public meetings that were held through the fall. The breakdown of the participants represented an  accurate cross section of our regional population on the   characteristics of race, age,   income and location.

In the 47 focus groups that were held during the public meetings, Lehigh Valley residents appeared to be most interested in discussing economic development, which they saw as a positive thing for the region.

They mentioned large projects currently being undertaken across the Lehigh Valley. Participants discussed projects such as the hockey arena, casino, and ArtsQuest. Projects involving specific companies, including Ocean Spray, and the Lehigh Valley Hospital Expansion, were mentioned as well as more   generic business expansions like the Allentown waterfront      project, the P&P Mill, and new hotels and retail space in various locations.

Focus group participants were generally dissatisfied with the types of jobs available to Lehigh Valley workers and didn’t believe the job market matched the qualifications most workers have.

The groups also examined other topics; citizens talked 652 times about housing, 549 times about fresh food access, and 378 times about climate and energy.

One of the most interesting findings to come out of the focus group analysis is that the overall interests and topics of discussion varied very little in the different cities, boroughs, and townships where they were held.  These  commonalities suggest that quality of life factors in the Lehigh Valley are important across the valley, not just in one or two communities.

Read the full report, including  survey results and focus group discussions, right here!

Lehigh Valley Planning Commission Predicts Huge Growth

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.

You can read the full report by clicking here!

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.

Building Communities, Creatively

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

Are We There Yet?

Sitting at home last night watching the Phillies I saw a commercial that got me thinking, not about the car they were trying to sell, but rather about the state of the our community.  It was that commercial with the little kids all asking the age-old question, “Are we there yet?”  Of course, you think they are asking about the end of a trip, but in reality they’re asking about the automobile technology.  And that’s the part that got me thinking– are we really “there” yet in terms of planning the future of the Lehigh Valley?

I would have to say no, we’re not “there” yet.  Certainly we’re doing great work among the many organizations involved in economic development, city planning, open space preservation, provision of affordable housing, assisting people in finding jobs or starting their own businesses.  But are we really “there” yet?  No, we still have quite a ways to go before we can confidently say we have a solid plan in place to handle the inevitable population growth that will hit in the next 20 years– more than 144,000 according to the Lehigh Valley Planning Commission.  With the increased number of people comes increased demand for housing, increased traffic, increased demand for jobs.  Not all of this is bad, don’t get me wrong, but we absolutely must plan for a sustainable future for this community.  Otherwise, we’ll drown in the overwhelming needs and lack of resources to provide for those needs.

That is why the Envision Lehigh Valley project is so timely and so necessary.  We have been given an opportunity to create a regional sustainability plan for the entire Lehigh Valley.  And the best part is that everything is driven by public input.  Any regional plan or update to the Comprehensive Plan… The Lehigh Valley 2030 that will come out of the Envision Lehigh Valley project by 2014 will be generated based upon input gathered from those who experience the Lehigh Valley daily.

So, are we “there” yet?  No, not yet.  But the key word is yet.  We can get “there” and we must do it together as a region.

Want to get involved?  Visit www.envisionlehighvalley.com to find out how

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!

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