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!
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.
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.
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
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 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!