College and University Smart Growth Practices

Muhlenberg College Allentown by Kyle MillerGiven that the Lehigh Valley is home to many higher-education institutions, it’s important to consider the role that these schools have in the broad effort to promote better development practices in this region. This connection is one that has been considered in other regions and states, including Maryland, where public universities have to update their master plan every six years – and it is one that Richard Layman,  an urban design consultant based out of Washington, D.C, is examining in-depth. While his latest blog post focuses on public universities, it made me wonder how private institutions can fit into local land design and planning practices.

Here in the Valley, most of the private, four-year universities and colleges are located within the cities, providing the urban revitalization component of sustainable development. Moreover, the city locations allow for a close proximity to local businesses, adding to economic growth within the region (particularly, in the areas that need it the most).  And, of course, there is the aspect of greater mobility; because the schools are located in busy corridors, pedestrian access and public transportation are readily available.

The question that remains, then, is: How can the local private universities and colleges have a stronger (and more direct) role in shaping growth patterns in the Lehigh Valley? Should they be required to draft master plans, like some public universities? How else could the local schools contribute to the smart growth movement here in the Lehigh Valley? Post your comments, questions, and thoughts below or shoot us an e-mail.

About Beata Bujalska

Beata Bujalska is the former Campaign Coordinator for Renew Lehigh Valley. She currently lives in Panama, a place that fascinates her due to (among other reasons) its recent development boom.

Posted on October 2, 2009, in Neighborhoods, Public Infrastructure, Regions, Transportation, Trends, Urbanism and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. I think the requirement of master plans would be a good step. But another part of it is the problem of how to retain young professionals in the Lehigh Valley. I’m persuaded that Richard Florida’s creative class theories are applicable to the problem. Two necessary changes immediately jump out. There needs to be more professional and knowledge-based employment available here, preferably located downtown and not in industrial parks. I would happily move back from NYC because I love this area, but I won’t until I know that I can get a decent paying job doing something creative, knowledge-based, or that is otherwise fulfilling. There isn’t enough employment for the general liberal-arts degree holder. The other issue is entertainment – there need to be more bars and restaurants and music venues that cater to younger mid-20s demographics that compare to similar establishments in Philly and NYC that are drawing graduates away from the Lehigh Valley. Those grads are leaving for better employment options, but they’re also leaving because of the exciting draw of the night life and lifestyles of the big cities. What can be done from a policy angle, for instance, to reward Lehigh graduates for starting web and tech and other creative start-up companies in Bethlehem? to encourage professional companies to choose downtown office locations? Most importantly, is there something that can be done to encourage businesses downtown to stay open later? There need to be some compelling nightlife options. After 9 pm, North side Bethlehem is a ghost town except for Wired and the Brew Works. The fact that there are like 10 grandmother craft stores selling the exact same dusty crap in prime retail locations on Main Street makes me want to pull my hair out. South Side has a few bars that stay open late, but for the most part they’re kind of seedy. Surely I’m missing more angles here, but the question is the same – how to retain a young professional workforce and create the amenities that are attractive to these demographics?

  2. In DC, universities are required to produce master plans every 10 years. Now, I don’t know if UDC is supposed to, the public university, but the private ones do.

    OTOH, these are only wrt zoning, the plans aren’t so much about educational issues and policy.

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