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Smart Growth Book Discussion Club 6 pm Monday

Come to the Allentown Brew Works at 6:00 Monday, March 31, when we’ll begin discussing Suburban Nation: The Rise of Sprawl and the Decline of the American Dream by Andres Duany and Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk. If you’ve no time to read, please come anyway to listen and share about ways to make the Lehigh Valley more walkable, sustainable…doable!

RSVP here.

Smart Growth Book Club 5:30 this evening

Come tonight to the Veteran’s Sanctuary, 24 S. 5th Street, Allentown, to share your ideas about how we can make the Lehigh Valley more liveable and walkable for ourselves, our children, and our grandchildren. No need to read! Click here for more info and to register (optional).
Smart Growth is the best framework to contain almost every area of life:  housing, food, community, families, work, the economy, entertainment, transportation, conservation, education, art, public safety, social equity, worship, health care, fitness, even time management. During the last 69 years, we have forgotten a fact that mankind knew for millennia – that our built environment deeply affects our psyche in many ways.

Smart Growth Saves Municipal Dollars

A recent report by Smart Growth America, “Building Better Budgets,” says that, “Many municipalities have found that a smart growth approach would improve their financial bottom line. Whether by saving money on upfront infrastructure; reducing the cost of ongoing services like fire, police and ambulance; or by generating greater tax revenues in years to come, community after community has found that smart growth development would benefit their overall financial health. Many of these findings have been made publicly available.
No national survey has examined these savings as a whole until now. This report is the first to aggregate those comparisons and determine a national average of how much other communities can expect to save by using smart growth strategies.
Building Better Budgets: A National Examination of the Fiscal Benefits of Smart Growth Development surveys 17 studies that compare different development scenarios, including a brand- new study of Nashville-Davidson County, TN, commissioned specifically for this report.
The development scenarios included in our analysis are separated into two categories: “Smart growth development” is characterized by more efficient use of land; a mixture of homes, businesses and services located closer together; and better connections between streets and neighborhoods. “Conventional suburban development” is characterized by less efficient use of land with homes, schools and businesses separated and areas designed primarily for driving. While not all studies use these terms, the scenarios in each category share many of these defining traits. A detailed discussion of individual studies is included in the appendices of this report.
The report looks at the costs associated with each development strategy as well as its revenue potential. When compared to one another, we find:
1. In general, smart growth development costs one-third less for upfront infrastructure.
Our survey concluded that smart growth development saves an average of 38 percent on upfront costs for new construction of roads, sewers, water lines and other infrastructure. Many studies have concluded that this number is as high as 50 percent.
Smart growth development patterns require less infrastructure, meaning upfront capital costs, long-term operations and maintenance costs, and, presumably, cost for eventual replacement are all lower. Smart growth development also often uses existing infrastructure, lowering upfront capital costs even more.

2. Smart growth development saves an average of 10 percent on ongoing delivery of services.
Our survey concluded that smart growth development saves municipalities an average of 10 percent on police, ambulance and fire service costs.
The geographical configuration of a community and the way streets are connected significantly affect public service delivery. Smart growth patterns can reduce costs simply by reducing the distances service vehicles must drive. In some cases, the actual number of vehicles and facilities can also be reduced along with the personnel required.

3. Smart growth development generates 10 times more tax revenue per acre than conventional suburban development.
Our survey concluded that, on an average per-acre basis, smart growth development produces 10 times more tax revenue than conventional suburban development.
An opportunity for municipal leaders
Local leaders everywhere can use this information to make better fiscal decisions about development in their region.
The evidence presented in this report suggests improved strategies for land use and development can help local governments maintain and improve their fiscal solvency. As this report shows, smart growth development can reduce costs and in many cases increase tax revenue. This combination means that in some cases smart growth development can generate more revenue than it costs to operate.
These findings are true for any rural, suburban or urban community, anywhere in the country. Local governments throughout the United States are already facing unprecedented challenges in providing high-quality infrastructure and adequate public services to their residents on a tight budget. Choosing financially responsible development patterns can help communities across the country protect their fiscal health for generations to come.”

That’s a compelling argument for smart growth.

Why Should We Have a Smart Growth Book Club?

1. Some people have never heard of smart growth. What a pity it is to be unaware that we’ve been sold an inefficient way of life, and that there’s a beautiful, simpler, less expensive way to live. This book club is a vehicle to raise awareness and do our part to build a critical mass in society that will effect change that will improve air quality, our health and create stronger communities.
2. It’s a forum for smart growth devotees to network and share information. Meeting together is an enjoyable and easy way to learn. We blog face-to-face, if you will, and get to know who else is out there striving for common sense in our communities. Smart growth is about community, right?
3. Together, we may brainstorm ways to practically make the Lehigh Valley a better place to live, work, play, and worship.
4. We can make ourselves available to help one another recalibrate our own communities. For example, we may share ordinances and codes which have worked, or even attend each others’ township meetings.
5. It is hoped that this will lead to local, bi-partisan community support, and commonsense behavior. Smart growth is a broad-based cause that I believe is supported by everyone who understands it. Conservatives ought to be behind it because it aids families and the economy and saves money. Liberals should back it since it is a framework for better social parity and environmental sustainability. The need for it reaches every person’s life.
6. And of course, the book club is an excuse to better educate ourselves and thus make better choices.

To date we have held two meetings, and the conversation has been enjoyable, enlightening, and encouraging. We’re still working through James Howard Kunstler’s Home from Nowhere, an engaging book that will draw in the novice as well as give talking points to the experienced. Our December meeting “covered” only the book’s first half, so in order to do it justice, let’s discuss the second half in January. As always, if you can’t read the book, you won’t be left out in the cold; your presence is important. We hope to see you at The Allentown Brew Works at 6 pm on Tuesday, Jan. 21! Please spread the word.
If possible, sign up on Facebook, or email Joanne Guth at joguth@live.com to let me know you’re going.

Smart Growth Book Discussion Club tomorrow – You’re invited!

We look forward to seeing more of you at our second meeting at 6:30 pm on Tuesday, December 17 in the mezzanine at the Allentown Brew Works, 812 Hamilton St. You can use the parking garage behind the Holiday Inn where the Smart Growth Summit was held, or there is a lot behind the building across Hamilton St. from the Brew Works for no charge.

The discussion between the four of us at the first meeting was lively and promising. This time the plan is to actually discuss Kunstler’s ideas in Home from Nowhere. Click here for his article (excerpted from the book) in The Atlantic Monthly.

Again, if you can’t read the book, come anyway with your ideas, or to network, listen, or learn. We need you!

If possible, sign up on Facebook, or email Joanne Guth at joguth@live.com to let me know you’re going.

Spread the word!

Lehigh Valley Planning Commission Predicts Huge Growth

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.

You can read the full report by clicking here!

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.

What’s An Urban Grocery Store?

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.

Strongtowns.org Message Coming to the Lehigh Valley

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

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If You Build It, They Will Come

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?

Neighboring New Jersey Preserving Land Through Compact Growth

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.

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