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.
Guest blogger, Ron Beitler, from Friends for the Protection of Lower Macungie, will blog today and tomorrow about the Strong Towns presentation being held tonight in Easton at Lafayette College and tomorrow at Lower Macungie Township Offices. To view location details, visit http://www.strongtowns.org/pennsylvania-tour/. This is his report:
On January 9th, Charles Marohn will bring the Strongtowns.org ‘curbside chat‘ message to the Lehigh Valley. The chat is a presentation, followed by a community-specific discussion, about the financial health of our places.
The Strongtowns message is important because it transcends politics. Personally I get nervous when folks assume one particular party has ‘ownership’ over the smart growth issue. At it’s core smart growth is a fiscally conservative philosophy. Some such as Kaid Benfield have went so far as to call the Strong Towns message a conservatives manifesto against sprawl.
While many associate “sprawling growth patterns as rooted in their effect on the landscape, the environment, and severely compromised populations left behind,(All very important messages!) Marohn is all about the money. As Thoughts on Building Strong Towns (Marohns book) makes quite clear, Chuck believes that sprawl is a Ponzi scheme and we the taxpayers are the ones left holding the empty bags.” – Benfield NRDC Switchboard
The chat addresses the following fundamental issues:
- Why are our ‘places’ short on resources despite decades of robust growth? What went wrong?
- Why do we struggle at the local level just to maintain basic infrastructure?
- What do we do now that the economy has changed so dramatically?
The answer according to Marohn is in the way we’ve developed and the financial productivity of our places. The Strong Towns message takes the traditional smart growth narrative and looks at it from a fiscal sustainability standpoint. Marohn explains a growth Ponzi scheme in the following way:
Swapping long-term obligations for near-term cash works for a while, but as with any Ponzi scheme, it ultimately collapses under its own weight. We have grown in a pattern that is inefficient, making poor use of our resources and investments.
‘Friends LMT‘, an East Penn smart growth advocacy group brought Marohn to the area a few months ago via webcast. I found the presentation eye-opening. I will definitely be attending the Lower Macungie Township visit to see Chuck in person. The message is relevant to a place like Lower Macungie that may be falling into the trappings of hyper growth for two decades and only now beginning to feel the effects of the second life cycle of developments.
What: Chuck Marohn Curbside Chat
Where: Lower Macungie Municipal Building
When: January 9th 8-9:30am
Free & Open to the public
Ah yes, the old adage from the classic baseball film, “Field of Dreams.” Great movie, but the unforgettable line from that movie can be applied to a lot more than baseball diamonds. Did you ever think it could be applied to the Lehigh Valley?
According to the latest numbers from the Lehigh Valley Planning Commission, the Lehigh Valley is expected to grow by another 145,000 by 2030. The US Census projects an even larger population growth. This means another 72,000 households will be added to the Valley, not to mention probably the same number of cars added to our roads and more strain on our utilities and resources. I’m not saying that growth is a bad thing, but it can be disastrous if not planned for correctly.
The Lehigh Valley uses about 26% of its land for residential purposes, while about 56% of our land remains “green space.” But how long will this last with the guaranteed future population growth? Will we continue to sprawl outward and develop this “green space” for more houses? Some of that open land may be used for housing, but wouldn’t it be better to plan for this growth now and preserve that open space? Though some may be frightened by the term, higher density housing is not a bad thing. It is not the reincarnation of the city tenements of long ago; rather, high density housing can encourage economic recovery, ease transportation by providing options for walking and biking, and provide alternative housing choices. It also allows for the preservation of open space, rather than allowing for further sprawling development.
It is imperative that we plan for this inevitable growth now. Why not build options and provide for these higher densities now, rather than waiting for the population to increase and not knowing what to do? Why not make our communities more sustainable and preserve the valuable open space we have? I’ve heard farmers mention at our Envision Lehigh Valley meetings that this farmland is some of the most fertile land in Pennsylvania. Why not keep it that way, rather than outward sprawl that will create more traffic and more strain on utilities?
It is inevitable that they will come; so why not build a community that world-class people will want to join? Why not provide options for a diverse workforce necessary to become the livable, equitable, and economically competitive region we know we can be?
Our neighbors in New Jersey have implemented a new way to hem in urban sprawl using new municipal ordinances. Noncontiguous clustering is an innovative tool “that preserves farmland and open space with private funds by an alternative to conventional subdivisions; instead of building homes on large lots, a developer may use the developmental potential of a parcel or parcels where preservation is desired on a different, nonadjacent property.”
A recent report by the organization New Jersey Future, provides insight into the study of the nine municipalities currently utilizing the planning tool. The study, “Preserving Land Through Compact Growth: Case Studies of Noncontiguous Clustering in New Jersey,” provides a detailed description of the situation in each of the nine townships with visuals to highlight the plans in place. Read the full report here.
The nine townships featured in the report that have adopted noncontiguous clustering ordinances are Delaware, Hillsborough, Hopewell (Mercer County), Middle, Monroe, North Hanover, Ocean, Plainsboro, and Robbinsville. One of the authors did note, however, that only four projects have been completed over the 16 years that such ordinances have been available.
Still, it is encouraging to see that townships in neighboring areas have adopted ordinances to combat the spread of sprawl. Municipalities within the Lehigh Valley could learn a lot from these townships by studying what worked for them in the process and what obstacles hindered progress. Farmland and open space can be preserved. Smart planning and development can be achieved. It takes smart policies with the power of enforcement, as well as cooperation among local government and developers, in order to prevent more sprawl.
The phrase “smart growth” has a liberal connotation, but that label is unfairly given. Smart growth policies benefit everyone. It is not a partisan issue; at least it shouldn’t be a partisan issue. Conservatives often attack smart growth policies, but I think this is a result of a misunderstanding of the impact smart growth policies can have on a community.
David Goldstein wrote a blog post highlighting the reasons why conservatives should support smart growth policies, namely “economic freedom, limited government, and responsibility.” (Read the blog post here.) He brings up many good points that should appeal to both sides of the political divide. He sums up his argument perfectly when he writes:“Smart Growth looks at these issues in a holistic way. It does not advocate eliminating land use planning, nor letting anyone borrow money regardless of their ability to repay. But in many ways it does reduce the heavy hand of government and other big bureaucracies to tell you what to do.” (emphasis original)
Smart growth policies will benefit our entire community, but we must join together in the effort to establish these policies in our communities first. Liberals, conservatives, and independents alike should stand together to implement these changes to improve our communities. No matter the demographics or political affiliations, smart growth will benefit us all.
Smart growth has gotten a bad rap as a “liberal” plan that inhibits development and economic growth, while it forces people to live in overly densely populated areas through restrictive policies. Some opponents have cited the intrusive policies proposed in the United Nations Agenda 21, which was presented at the 1992 United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) and subsequently adopted by all attending nations. Agenda 21 is a lengthy document that presents many goals and strategies but was meant as a “comprehensive plan of action to be taken globally, nationally, and locally by organizations of the United Nations System, Governments, and Major Groups in every area in which human impacts the environment.” (A comprehensive look at Agenda 21 can be found at: http://www.un.org/esa/dsd/agenda21/.) Those who oppose these strategies believe the adoption of such policies would overly expand the role of government and interfere with personal choice, local flexibility, and community and economic development.
Well, Renew Lehigh Valley is here to say that this simply is not true. Smart growth is not and should not become a partisan issue. Policies utilizing smart growth planning are meant to reinvigorate a community and provide for wise and effective economic development. Rather than letting a piece of land be developed in any way, why wouldn’t a community want certain boundaries to ensure that the development enhances the economy, benefits the community, and brings jobs to the area for the long term? “Planning” shouldn’t be considered a bad word; it’s smart. And it has the community’s best interest at heart.
Smart growth does not force people to live on top of each other either. We all like a little personal space, but that doesn’t mean that we need to spread out and misuse open land for housing or development. This type of development only increases sprawl, which puts a strain on natural resources, infrastructure, local governments, and the community. Density, in itself, is not a bad thing. It’s overcrowding that should be avoided. Smart development of apartments and other dense living spaces can be functional and quite comfortable. Open space is then preserved in order to keep our natural resources pristine and to maintain the aesthetic beauty we all appreciate. Smart growth communities offer comfortable, walkable neighborhoods with plenty of green space. Sounds nice, doesn’t it?
If policy aligns with smart growth planning and development, it will only enhance the community. The government will not overstep its boundaries infringing upon personal liberties. Zoning laws aligned with smart growth policy and smart growth development are intended to preserve a community’s character while encouraging its strengths and improving its weaknesses. Communities that align their policies in such a way have proven to be revitalized and reinvigorated. Who wouldn’t want to live in a community with a thriving economy and a downtown that attracts visitors (which in turn attracts business and money!)?
Smart growth is not a nasty phrase or a terrible policy choice. It is a smart decision for our communities. This isn’t about politics; it’s about making the Lehigh Valley a successful, desirable community together.
Interested in learning more? Register for the second annual State of the Lehigh Valley event through our website: www.renewlv.org. Join in the discussion!
RenewLV is committed to promoting smart growth and smart governance to revitalize our core communities. That is our mission and that is what we hope to achieve for the Lehigh Valley. The Valley is experiencing a great deal of development, which is great news, but we want to make sure that we are developing wisely and growing in the right directions.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Smart Growth Network have compiled a list of 10 basic principles of smart growth that are proven approaches in creating successful communities:
- Mix land uses
- Take advantage of compact building design
- Create a range of housing opportunities and choices
- Create walkable neighborhoods
- Foster distinctive, attractive communities with a strong sense of place
- Preserve open space, farmland, natural beauty, and critical environmental areas
- Strengthen and direct development toward existing communities
- Provide a variety of transportation choices
- Make development decisions predictable, fair, and cost-effective
- Encourage community and stakeholder collaboration in development decisions
Numerous organizations throughout the Lehigh Valley hold these principles as main focuses of their activities. Through Renew’s partnerships with organizations like the Lehigh Valley Economic Development Corporation, the Lehigh Valley Planning Commission, LANta, the Wildlands Conservancy, and many others, RenewLV is trying to knit these principles into the culture of the Lehigh Valley. That is why we have partnered with the Lehigh Valley Sustainability Consortium to ensure these ideals are part of any development project here.
As residents of this great area, you know how unique and resilient the Lehigh Valley is. But there is always room for improvement. Through the recently awarded $3.4 million HUD grant, this area will be getting a major boost through projects and partnerships over the next three years. As part of the Lehigh Valley Sustainability Consortium overseeing this grant, RenewLV wants to hear from you, the residents of the Lehigh Valley. In the upcoming months we will be hosting events and opportunities to enable your voice and opinions to be heard in order to guide these projects. Visit our website and click the “Join Us” button to stay up-to-date on the grant projects and opportunities for the community to speak out. Bring these smart growth principles to the Lehigh Valley to make it an even better place to live.
As the new year approaches us quickly, we wanted to thank all of our supporters and community members in the Lehigh Valley. We’ve had a great year, filled with many opportunities, as well as many challenges. If you haven’t had a chance to do so yet, check out our End-of-Year Message.
As many of you know, I am leaving the Lehigh Valley and moving to warmer weather down south. Sadly, this means that today is my last day with Renew Lehigh Valley. It’s been a fantastic ride and I feel so lucky to have been part of the RenewLV team.
I will continue blogging on the Crossroads blog as much as possible. Some of these updates will be ones about smart growth in Panama. Yes, Crossroads is going international.
If you haven’t already done so, please add us to your RSS reader. By doing so, you’ll never miss any of our posts.
Happy holidays and a great New Year!
Partly because it is our neighbor to the south, partly because it is often held up as a national model, Maryland is often viewed by planners, public officials, and advocates in Pennsylvania as an example of forward-thinking state policy on smart growth. In this blog post, we look at what Pennsylvania can learn from the successes—and even the shortcomings—of the Maryland model.
Former Maryland Gov Parris Glendening’s crusade for smart growth culminated with the Smart Growth and Neighborhood Conservation Act in 1997. The crown jewel of this legislation was the Smart Growth Priority Funding Areas Act, which was greeted with critical acclaim as a breakthrough in state led development strategy. So the question is, in a state that had previously demonstrated it was adamantly opposed to land use reform (not to mention growth in general), how did Parris do it?
Carrots, not sticks
Unlike Oregon’s Urban Growth Boundaries which limit sprawl with strict regulations on where one can build and where one can not, Priority Funding Areas (PFA’s), provide state funded incentives (loans, tax credits, etc.) to encourage growth within older developed areas with pre-existing infrastructure. The previous attempts at land use reform under Glendening’s predecessor had been shot down with strong opposition by the local (county and municipal) governments in response to their perceived diminished authority.
How Law becomes Policy
Recent analysis has demonstrated the difficulty translating this significant legislation into statewide practice. A 2009 University of Maryland study on PFA’s highlights this failure: “PFA’s are not required in elements in local comprehensive plans, and in some existing comprehensive plans, PFA’s are not even mentioned.” While the tools had been put in place by the state, it did not mean everyone instantly understood how to use them. Therefore, the state has recently implemented a required a smart growth heavy education program for all members of local planning commissions/boards.
A significant, but incomplete victory
Maryland’s Smart Growth is touted as one of the nation’s “gold standards” of regional planning initiatives. However it has so far remained inadequate in completing the goals envisioned by Glendening over ten years ago. As with most examples of innovative legislation, politics interfered. The passage of the acts required compromise, limiting the role of the state to solely an advisor as well as loosening the criteria determining eligible PFAs. Finally, much of the development in Maryland is privately funded and therefore goes on outside the boundaries unabated.
Lessons for the Valley
Help from Above: Maryland’s Smart Growth Initiative rises and falls with the office of the Governor. This is clearly evidenced by the relative successes under Glendening and current governor Martin O’Malley, and the stagnation under the state’s former governor Robert Ehrlich.
Incentive over regulation: Pennsylvania municipalities don’t like being told what to do any more than do those in Maryland. The incentive approach was innovative in the way that it proposed to motivate municipalities to comply with a comprehensive plan without infringing upon their traditional powers.
Maryland’s experience brings to light why one of the main tenets of RenewLV’s mission is an emphasis on community and policymaker education. Despite headway made by Glendening’s governor’s office, the success of the smart growth initiative in Maryland and elsewhere is contingent upon the understanding and cooperation of role players in the local governments and communities.
In the Lehigh Valley, you can become part of the success by becoming more educated on these issues locally. The best way to do this is by visiting RenewLV’s website www.renewlv.org and to sign up for our e-mail list at our Join Us page.