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.
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.
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.
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
The Health Care Council of the Lehigh Valley has taken an excellent approach to Community Health. Their recently released “The Road to Health” evaluates the health of the Lehigh Valley community. If you haven’t read through it yet, definitely read through it now.
This new report gives an excellent overview of the state of health in the Lehigh Valley, something Renew Lehigh Valley and the Lehigh Valley Research Consortium touched upon at the State of the Lehigh Valley luncheon in February 2012. But this report follows up on the call to action issued at the end of our luncheon; it shows where we are and where we have to go in order to be healthy.
A healthy community is a sustainable community. And it’s one reason why I wanted to highlight the Health Care Council’s work. When organizations like Renew Lehigh Valley and outreach efforts like Envision Lehigh Valley seek to plan for the future in a smarter and more efficient way, we often get into our silos. Yet, why can’t we see the larger picture? Envision Lehigh Valley may be one effort to plan for a sustainable future for the Lehigh Valley to ensure a high quality of life, but “The Road to Health” is doing the same thing just in a different arena. We all are working for the same goal.
It’s like a Venn Diagram. One outreach effort in the Valley is focused on land use and economic development, another is focused on community health, and yet another is focused on education and the connection to the neighborhoods. They all have the same goal, and that center area where all the circles overlap is where we must focus our efforts. If we are to make the Lehigh Valley a sustainable community, we must all work together and support our various efforts.
So, I encourage you to join us at one of the Health Care Council’s two health forums being held in our area. All those efforts in the Venn Diagram are seeking public input, as they should in order to truly have community support. So come out Wednesday, November 28th to the Fowler Family Center at Northampton Community College (511 E. 3rd St, Bethlehem) from 7-9pm OR join them Thursday, November 29th at the Salvation Army (144 N. 8th St, Allentown) from 7-9pm.
We’re all seeking to ensure a high quality, sustainable life in the Lehigh Valley. Let’s all work together to see the bigger picture, rather than individual puzzle pieces.
Everyone has different ideas about what makes a community. Eric Jacobsen, author and pastor, noted that “even if you get the physical elements right, there’s no guarantee that a place will function as a true community, as more than just a place.” That really struck me. Even if we create an aesthetically-pleasing facade for our streets, it doesn’t mean we will have a functioning and cohesive community.
The article I read this morning reviewed a fellow planner’s short list for keys to a stronger community. (You can read the full article here.) The planner, Scott Doyon, compiled the following list:
- Good governance
- Walkable, connected, mixed-use character
- Parks and gardens
- Neighborhood-responsive schools
- Tree culture
I must agree with Kaid Benfield, the blogger also commenting on Doyon’s short list, that I’m generally pleased with the list. I think it’s great to combine physical features with less tangible elements to create a sense of community. I also agree with Benfield when he notes that he would alter the list to include a point about controlling sprawl.
Here in the Lehigh Valley we certainly know about the sprawling development. But have we ever stopped to think about its effect on the sense of community? As development sprawls outward, we lose many of these elements that create a close and cohesive community. The neighborhoods aren’t walkable. It’s difficult to develop programming and events for people that don’t feel connected to one another. And I certainly agree that good governance is key; however, RenewLV would argue that this “good governance” should also be characterized by reduction of redundancy in the government. “Good governance” should be efficient and effective stewards of its resources, working through partnerships within the community and region.
Overall, I think Doyon and Benfield have the right ideas. Here in the Lehigh Valley we have such unique communities. But maybe it’s time we stop to think if we have all the proper components to be a truly cohesive and effective community. We must work together, and I think that means working beyond the municipal boundaries and extending to others. The Lehigh Valley has unique communities, but as a region I think we can work together to preserve and enhance these areas in order to become a regional community.