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Next RenewLV Brown-Bag Session: Municipal Finance in PA, Fri. 8/27 in Easton

It is my pleasure to announce that the next Renew Lehigh Valley brown-bag session will be held on Friday, August 27th from 12pm (noon) to 1:15 at the Sigal Museum, new home of the Northampton County Historical & Genealogical Society [342 Northampton Street in Easton, map].

The topic for this session is Municipal Finance. Gerald Cross, Executive Director of the  Pennsylvania Economy League, Central Division, will be discussing Pennsylvania’s current system of municipal finance and the major structural challenges that this system poses for older core communities, especially cities and boroughs. As this was a central topic of focus at the recent Building One PA Summit in Lancaster, we will make sure to provide a report from that event at this brown-bag session.

The session is FREE and OPEN TO THE PUBLIC. There will be NO FEE to enter the museum. It will be held in the 2nd Floor Conference Room at the museum. Upon checking in at the admissions desk, you will be directed upstairs. Metered street parking is available throughout Easton. A public parking garage is located on 27 South Third St. [map]

Bring a lunch (perhaps from one of the downtown dining establishments), come check out the Sigal Museum and join us for a lively discussion on the 27th. RenewLV will be recording this session and making the podcast available to listen on our website and on iTunes. Check out past brown-bag session recordings on RenewLV’s Multimedia page.

If you would like additional information, or have any questions about the event, feel free to contact me at bbujalska@renewlv.org or 484.893.1062.

Hope to see you on the 27th.

Regional Governance Bill Gaining Attention

The Patriot News reported yesterday on a bill introduced by State Rep. Thomas Caltagirone that proposes to merge many of Pennsylvania’s municipalities together — essentially moving the system of governance from the municipal level to the county level. While many are saying that the bill will not stand a chance in passing through the legislature (it barely had any co-sponsors when the story broke yesterday), some are calling it a much-overdue piece of legislation.

The bill is certainly in favor of regional collaboration. The counties would absorb all municipal governance — meaning there would only be a countywide-structure of governance. While the bill may not seem popular within Harrisburg, many commentators at the Patriot News lauded it as a good idea, stating that the current system is “making the residents of the Commonwealth go broke.” One commentator stated: “The model is right next door in Maryland. They have county centered government, and they seem to do very well in managing their affairs.”

The Express Times editorial staff came out in support of the bill in today’s paper, stating:

The first step is to admit local government has a problem in structure. Then begin tying like-minded communities together, to see how government can work without giving up local voices. It’s not as if we’re rebuilding a society, as in Iraq or Afghanistan, where sectarian violence is the norm. Our system already works, just in a grossly inefficient way.

Personally, I become overwhelmed just looking at a map of Pennsylvania’s municipalities. The map below is featured in the Brookings report Back to Prosperity, A Competitive Agenda for Renewing Pennsylvania (which, as some of you know, was the impetus for RenewLV).

Is this really efficient?

Of course, convincing municipalities to give up local control will be difficult. But this bill takes a step in the right direction by creating a dialogue about this important matter. And the legislation does not call for municipalities to give up their local culture and charm. It merely examines an antiquated system of governance and asks “Can’t we do better?”

If you’re interested in the topic of municipal governance and would like to stay up to date on this matter, please take a second to sign up for RenewLV’s E-mail list by visiting our Join Us page. And please post your thoughts on this matter below. I would love to hear what the community has to say about this legislation.

Showcasing Easton’s Urban Revitalization Agenda

Easton City Center

The Lehigh Valley’s cities have made significant strides in the urban revitalization effort. To highlight Easton’s achievements on this front, the Philadelphia Chapter of the Urban Land Institute has scheduled a half-day conference and walking tour of Easton for Thursday, October 8th. The event, titled The Ultimate Green Choice: Urban Revitalization, will focus on traditional urban development and the investment incentives in establishing business within the city. Easton officials have advocated strongly for brownfield redevelopment within the city center, and the ULI conference will bring greater attention to this effort, while also highlighting the sustainability features that come with building and rehabilitating buildings within the urban core.

Urban Revitalization – City of Easton Case Study will begin with a panel of speakers at 2:00 p.m on Thursday, October 8th, at the Grand Eastonian Hotel and Condos at 40 Northampton St in Easton. Registration for the event is encouraged before October 2nd (registration cost covers program, tour, reception and food). For more information (including schedule and list of panel speakers) or to register for the event, visit the Philadelphia ULI Events page.

Visualizing Revitalization

Browsing through some urban planning websites brought me to the Urban Advantage, an organization that creates realistic computer images of smart urban redesign. Each project starts with a snapshot of a current development, and the image is subsequently altered to include elements of walkable, livable communities – sidewalks, multi-modal access, downtown retail, and even green spaces.

This is just one example of the type of computer imaging that the web designers work on:

image1

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The first image shows the current condition – an office park in Columbia, Maryland. The next two pictures show the inclusion of a new sidewalk, buildings that are close to the street, and storefronts. These public space features help shape a corporate parking lot into a community, as characterized by the pedestrians in the third picture.

The Urban Advantage perspective is that a good vision leads to smarter investments and planning choices . According to the website, “seeing is key to understanding.” If a realistic visualization of a community is presented, then it becomes much easier to make decisions that will lead to that vision. The mission of the organization is to promote a new urbanism, “the revitalization of vital public space—streets, squares, and neighborhood centers—where people can see each other and meet.” Unequivocally, the interpretations provided by the Urban Advantage provide a useful tool for municipalities in making planning decisions.

To keep up to date on the latest in development and planning news, visit RenewLV’s Join Us page to become a supporter.

Creating Healthier Communities

Easton City Center

Yesterday’s interview with Gerald Barron touched upon an important role of a public health department – the shaping of a community’s physical design with the goal of promoting healthier lifestyles. One example that was mentioned by Gerry was that of neighborhood designs that encourage exercise. This point – the link between public health and development – is directly related to the final piece of the Revitalizing Older Cities Initiative, launched by the Northeast Midwest Institute (NMWI).

The leaders at NMWI realized that urban vitality depends heavily on the health of the citizens living in the older communities. The planning of a community involves looking into factors such as walkability, access to a variety of transit options, and environmental design. A public health department can serve as a bridge between the health of the citizens and new developments.

Yesterday’s interview highlighted the many essential roles of a public health department. And it seems that another reason exists that will have a direct impact on this region. The establishment of a Lehigh Valley Health Department will be an important piece of the effort to revitalize the older communities here in the Lehigh Valley.

To join the effort to revitalize the Lehigh Valley’s core communities, visit RenewLV’s Join Us page to become a supporter.

Revitalizing Older Communities in the Lehigh Valley

Allentown City Center

The Northeast-Midwest Congressional Coalition, formed in 1976 to unite legislators on the complex issues particular to the states within the Northeast and Midwest region of the United States, established the Revitalizing Older Cities (ROC) Congressional Task Force in the last year. Spawned from an initiative that focuses on older declining communities, the task force shares a strong interest in revitalizing the centers that were affiliated historically with manufacturing and transportation. Several legislators realized that the campaign to renew older cities hinged on the incorporation of several key policy areas. Cross-sector collaboration, among a broad range of fields, was the appropriate catalyst for significant change. Thus, the ROC Task Force was born, with bi-partisan membership composed of legislators with different concerns and different specialities.

Recently, the ROC Task Force drafted a letter to the House Financial Services Committe, requesting a hearing for the Community Regeneration, Sustainability, and Innovation Act of 2009, which would create a new grant program to assist metropolitan areas experiencing property vacancy due to population losses. The bill will address the problems of cities such as Allentown and Bethlehem – communities that have seen a major change in their workforce over the last ten years and are now struggling to retain residents.

Over the next few weeks, I will focus on the specific policy areas of the Revitalizing Older Cities Initative and relate each policy to the Lehigh Valley’ s cities. The six areas are:

  • Transportation and Infrastructure
  • Housing
  • Energy and Environment
  • Brownfields
  • Economic and Workforce Development
  • Healthy Livable Communities

My hope with this ROC series is to highlight some of the pertinent issues affecting our local communities and connect these issues to the broader national discussion. More importantly, it will draw attention to our region’s valuable assets, and the preservation of these assets as crucial to the Lehigh Valley. The first part of this series will focus on transportation and infrastructure within the Valley’s cities. Stay tuned.

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