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Municipal Incentives Encourage Green Building & Sustainability

The American Institute of Architects and the National Association of Counties recently released a report analyzing “green incentives” best practices.  Many incentives have been used by municipalities over the years, but this report compiles case studies from across the country to highlight some of the best uses of green incentives to encourage sustainable development.

Green Building Incentive Trends: Strengthening Communities, Building Green Economies is meant to be a guidebook for municipal leaders to learn from national case studies in order to decide what green incentive program would work best in their communities.  Obviously, every community is unique with different characteristics and challenges that may not work with certain practices.  The AIA and NACo seek to provide a menu of options to municipalities through the handbook.

The report found the “most attractive incentives to the private sector were tax incentives, density bonuses, and expedited permitting.”  The incentives were not successful alone, however.  According to the report, green incentives are most successful and effective “when combined with robust advocacy efforts and strong support from the public.”  It takes an entire community embracing the effort through a multi-sector approach to be successful.  But it is important to note that such public support requires public engagement, two-way conversations, and community input that is taken into account during the planning process.

Replicable and transferable best practices are so important to collaboration and cooperation among regional partners, especially when things like green incentives are implemented on the local government level.  Doesn’t it make sense for us to learn from other successful municipalities nationwide and then work with our regional partners to implement successful practices?  Isn’t it logical for us to collaborate as a region to implement plans for a better community when we live and work beyond the confines of our municipal boundaries, yet within the larger Lehigh Valley?  It seems like a no-brainer to replicate something that has been proven to better the community elsewhere and implement similar policies here in the Lehigh Valley for a greener, healthier, and happier region.

The report can be found at: http://admin.naco.org/programs/csd/Documents/Green%20Government/GB%20Issue%20Brief-Green%20Building%20Incentive%20Trends.pdf

You’re Invited!

RenewLV and the Lehigh Valley Research Consortium announce the second-annual State of the Lehigh Valley community indicators report release event!  Join us on Wednesday, February 15 from 11:30am to 1:30pm in Iacocca Hall at Lehigh University for a luncheon and report on the findings of the State of the Lehigh Valley 2011 study.

This year’s report focuses on the economy and employment, housing affordability, median household income, quality of life, and transportation.  A special section has been added to highlight community health and health indicators.  This year’s report also compares the Lehigh Valley to similarly sized metropolitan areas to get a sense of how our community measures up to others in the Northeast.

The event will feature a review of the report’s findings, a luncheon buffet, and discussion among community members and experts in the particular focus areas to encourage dialogue toward developing community solutions.   Join us to work as a community toward a healthier, more successful, and more vibrant Lehigh Valley!

Last year’s event sold out and we have a 250-seat capacity, so register quickly!  The registration fee of $25 includes your luncheon buffet.  Details for registration and sponsorship opportunities can be found by clicking this link to our registration page.  We look forward to seeing you there!

Presenting sponsors:

A Financial Case for Public Health

Pay now or pay later. States face this choice every day, particularly with how and when they invest in clinical preventive health services leading to prevention and reduced economic burden in terms of length of hospital stay and general health care costs.

The rewards of paying now are better known than ever before. Research has demonstrated that supporting healthy early childhood development–from before through age 5–generates substantial educational, social and financial benefits for individuals, families and communities.

A major study, The High Costs of Failing to Invest in Young Children produced by Partnership for America’s Economic Successhighlighted that the price society pays when a single person experiences child abuse, drops out of high school, or abuses alcohol can range up to tens to thousand dollars over that person’s lifetime. The study’s purpose was to help policy makers and the public fully evaluate the consequences of their present funding decisions.

The latest RWJ/University of Wisconsin County Health Ranking (CHR) revealed that morbidity numbers are rather low in Lehigh County (37 out of 67 counties) and Northampton County (a shocking 60 out of 67). Morbidity is a term that refers how healthy people feel in the community while alive and it captures the Birth Outcomes along with Health-related quality of life (HRQoL) within the community. Birth Outcomes are measured using low birth weight (LBW) that represents child’s current and future morbidity. Low birth weight is reported to be higher in both Lehigh Valley (8.3%) and Northampton County (8.7%) as compared to the State average of 8.2% and way higher than the national average of 6.0%, according to CHR report.

It was mentioned in the blog on County Health Ranking Across Pennsylvania that the public health spending in Pennsylvania is extremely low as compared to other states in U.S. In this context of scarce resources, the advantage of economic analysis is that helps substantiate present action in terms of investing in prevention and public health. Such an analysis helps providers in managing an individual’s health and administrators in appropriately focusing resources, and — moreover — illustrates the return on investment (ROI) for public health initiatives. According to a study in Western New York, a positive ROI was demonstrated for a prenatal program developed at the Managed Care Organization using a model of economic analysis.

In general clinical preventive services are cost-effective; some are cost-saving. Some clinical preventive services prevent disease or injury (e.g. cervical cancer screening); some preventive services catch disease in early stages when treatment is most effective and least expensive (e.g. STI screening). Because clinical preventive services can prevent or reduce the need for treatment, they provide a cost-offset. Lehigh County has the highest number of sexually transmitted infection rates as compared to state or national average, according to CHR report. Key studies have been done that support the cost-offset value of prevention.

Below are the examples of cost-offset of clinical preventive services recommended in the Plan Benefit Model conducted as part of study that provides rationale to our current work on establishing a regional health department for Lehigh Valley. Of particular note is the cost offset by screening for Chlamydia and Sexually Transmitted Diseases (STDs). Screening for gonorrhea and Chlamydia allows for early recognition of diseases that could prevent the costly implications of late stage complication such as Pelvic Inflammatory Disease (PID). The average life-time cost of PID and its major complications for women have been estimated to be in the range of 1,060-6,840 US dollars. Check out the image below for details on how investment in prevention saves financial resources over the long term.

Leaders Discuss the Future of Infrastructure at PA Event

At yesterday’s American Infrastructure at a Crossroads event, held at Central Pennsylvania College, the discussion focused not only on the kind of infrastructure we typically think of — roads and bridges, rail, water/wastewater — but also on the slightly atypical — web infrastructure. It was all with an eye toward encouraging state and federal legislators to prioritize infrastructure spending. The panel was made up of experts from various fields, including engineering, labor, and environment. And — surprise, surprise — the Director of Google Pittburgh was there representing the web infrastructure perspective.

US Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood delivered his message via satellite, as he had a meeting in Washington that day also on the topic of infrastructure.  Sec. LaHood stressed that the American public’s desire to see high-speed rail lines established across the nation will be fueling the administration’s agenda to bring rail to all major cities over the next decade. When the discussion turned to the establishement of regional passenger rail networks within Pennsylvania, Sec. LaHood stressed the public to keep contacting their legislators in order to encourage them to make passenger rail a top priority.

Though a majority of the discussion centered on transportation infrastructure, some mention was made on the importance of upgrading our nation’s water and wastewater infrastructure. Dick Gephardt, speaking on the panel, acknowledged that much of our water infrastructure had not been upgraded for decades and that the systems are reaching the end of, or are exceeding, their life expectancy. This is not new information to those that have been working on this issue or following it closely in the news. It is almost on a weekly basis now that we hear about a pipe bursting or about contamination of a local stream by wastewater overflow.

Overall, the mood was hopeful, with leaders and experts encouraging the audience to continue contacting state and federal legislators and telling them that infrastructure spending should be a priority. This is especially important in Pennsylvania, as we are looking at a significant gap in our transportation funding (as part of Act 44). Governor Rendell warned that the funding gap would have a crippling effect on the Commonwealth’s essential transportation network, and that the state’s economy depended on this network.

The only disappointment I took away from the event was the insufficient coverage that sustainable design received in the discussions. Livable communities were briefly mentioned by Sec. LaHood at the beginning, but there was little or no talk of walking or bicycling infrastructure throughout the entire session. As Matt Zieger poignantly stated on his Twitter, “It’s a simple equation…if people live more closely together, infrastructure costs are lower! (less miles of road/pipe/wire/fiber).”

Make sure to follow us on Twitter @renewlv to catch up on all of our coverage of yesterday’s event.

Moving Forward on Regional Collaboration

At last week’s Building One Pennsylvania summit in Lancaster, many organizations — both large and small — came out and preached the message of regionalism. As numerous older communities across Pennsylvania are struggling, newer developments are receiving federal and state subsidies and focus government assistance away from the urban cores.

Leaders from Pennsylvania’s communities, advocacy groups, and the urban planning field discussed the need to change state and federal policies that encourage cheap developments in greenfields. If history has anything to teach us, it is that such developments are unsustainable in the long-term. Many of our older communities were also the recipients of such government assistance many decades ago — and now these municipalities are struggling to keep up with rising costs of fixing crumbling infrastructure and taking care of students in the school districts.

What can we do moving forward? The message I took away from the summit was to keep working on regional collaboration and keep spreading the message of regionalism within our respective communities. With enough outreach, legislation and policies will begin to materialize that promote better and more coordinated planning that encourages new development in places that already have existing infrastructure (preferably, in brownfields).

RenewLV will keep working on regional collaboration issues within the Lehigh Valley. While the Lehigh Valley Health Department did not pass the Health Commission meeting last night, there are still many opportunities for moving forward with regionalism here within the Lehigh Valley and we will continue partnering with regional entities on various initiatives.

Come Show Support for Regional Health Tonight, 6:30pm in Easton

This is a reminder that the important meeting of the Lehigh Valley Health Commission — at which county legislators from Lehigh and Northampton Counties will be voting to move forward on the bi-county health department — is TONIGHT (July 19) at 6:30 p.m. in County Council Chambers at the Northampton County Courthouse, 669 Washington Street in Easton [map].

Community support for this effort is strong, as evidenced by the recently-approved $500,000 grant from the Two Rivers Health & Wellness Foundation for the proposed regional health department. This grant is contingent on the approval of the plan and budget for the department by the counties’ legislators. A Morning Call op-ed by Dr. David Lyon and Ilene Prokup of the Lehigh Valley Board of Health focuses on the details of the proposed budget, including the fact that, as it stands, the counties’ investment will be only 10% of the full health department budget, with private grants and state funds leveraged for the remaining 90%.

It is important for community members to attend and show their support. Show up tonight to offer brief remarks (during Public Comment) as to why the elected officials should approve the Lehigh Valley Health Department.

If you are unable to attend, we ask that you contact your county representatives to urge them to support the Lehigh Valley Health Department. Visit our Contact Your Elected Official page.

This department will provide many essential services that are not available uniformly throughout the Lehigh Valley — services such as timely and frequent restaurant inspections, access to flu vaccines, inspections of public pools and child-care facilities, and education regarding nutrition and exercise. For more information, visit RenewLV’s Regional Health Initiative page.

Resource for Understanding Regional Collaboration (Summit on July 16)

The Building One Pennsylvania summit is only days away (it’s not too late to register!) and in preparation of this event, I wanted to share with you a great resource related to the July 16th summit.

As many of you know, the summit will focus on regional opportunities — how to foster them and how to make them available. The Lincoln Institute of Land Policy has a number of resources on its Regional Collaboration page — including charts that clarify concepts related to regional collaboration (such as land-use planning, sprawl, and conservation), tools for applying regional collaboration principles, and even case studies (salient examples are always most effective).

Hope to see Lehigh Valley community members at the July 16th summit in Lancaster! We’ll be discussing policies, challenges, and brainstorming way to work together across the state.

Regional Planning in Rural Living

Mark Muro at the New Republic reports on the Rural Innovation Initiative, “a plan to increase the economic viability of rural communities by promoting a regional outlook in the planning and coordination of rural development programs at USDA.”

The initiative intends to make regional planning — which has traditionally been considered a tool for more metropolitan areas — more attractive for rural communities. Muro writes about the incentives of the program:

[T]he initiative provides additional money for staff to provide technical assistance and support for rural communities developing Regional strategic plans. That way, rural communities will receive useful help as more and more of them realize they are better off working regionally to compete globally, especially by leveraging regional assets and creating win-win partnerships with nearby metropolitan and micropolitan hubs.

It looks as though both rural and more metropolitan areas can benefit equally from a more regional approach to planning.

Thoughts?

Five Reasons for Why We Need a Regional Health Department

The Lehigh Valley Health Commission meeting is exactly a week away. At this meeting, county legislators from Lehigh and Northampton Counties will be voting on the future of the bi-county health department. We are encouraging all community members to attend this important meeting next Monday, July 19th at 6:30 pm at the County Council Chambers, Northampton County Courthouse in Easton.To learn more about the effort to establish a regional health department, visit RenewLV’s Regional Health page.

But why do we need a regional health department? Here are a few reasons:

1) It will provide essential services uniformly to all residents of the Lehigh Valley. Right now, services such as timely restaurant inspections, access to immunizations, cancer prevention services, and screening for communicable disease are ensured within the cities of Allentown and Bethlehem (which have excellent health bureaus), but are not so readily available outside of these cities.

2) Let us not forget about those spotty restaurant services that the Morning Call reported on back in 2005. This would not be a worry if we had a regional health department. [Morning Call Editorial, 8.7.2005]

3) The region is missing out on millions of dollars in state funding for public health services — money that the Valley’s residents are paying in taxes but are currently not getting back.

4) The health department will serve as a single point of contact for regional public health emergencies — including emergencies brought on by a natural disaster or an epidemic/pandemic.

5) If you live outside of Allentown or Bethlehem, you will no longer have to wonder: Where do I go to get my flu vaccine? Recall the scramble of the region’s school districts during the H1N1 scare.

Some have argued that many of the services that the Lehigh Valley Health Department would provide are already being provided by the state Department of Health (PADOH). While this is true in some cases, we must ask ourselves how effectively these services are provided. There are currently two PADOH offices in the region that are only staffed part-time. This places our region’s population at a risk — and this is unacceptable.

Since both counties in the Lehigh Valley work under a home-rule charter, it would seem that our leadership would prefer to have our public health services under local control. After all, one of the key roles of local government is ensuring the health and safety of its residents.

To receive updates about this effort, sign up for our supporter list by visiting our Join Us page and clicking the box next to ‘Health’ when sending your information.

Have You Checked Out Our Regional Health Page?

With the upcoming meeting of the Lehigh Valley Health Commission (at which members of the county legislatures will be reviewing the plan and budget for the Lehigh Valley Health Department), I wanted to make sure our readers were familiar with RenewLV’s Regional Health Initiative page.

On our website, you’ll find useful resources, including our fact sheet about the regional health department, a list of organizations that have endorsed the department, and — most importantly — a Contact Your Elected Official page that facilitates communication with your elected county legislator.

We’ve mentioned all the various ways that a regional health department will benefit our community. Now we need the community to come out in support of this at the upcoming Health Commission meeting on July 19. The meeting is set for 6:30 pm in County Council Chambers at the Northampton County Courthouse, 669 Washington Street in Easton [map]. County officials need to hear that the Lehigh Valley cannot afford to go without a regional health department any longer.

For more information, e-mail us at health@renewlv.org or call us at 484-893-1062.

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