Monthly Archives: May 2012

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:

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.

Lehigh Valley Named to 20 Weakest Metro Areas

The Brookings Institution compiled data for the nation’s 100 largest metro areas to track the economic recession and recovery.  Guess what they found?  According to their indicators, the Allentown-Bethlehem-Easton area is in the 20 weakest metro areas based on economic performance!  The data tracked the metro areas across 4 indicators: employment change, unemployment rate change, gross metropolitan product (GMP) change, housing price index (HPI) change.  Let’s break it down by the numbers.

Overall Performance Recovery

Allentown-Bethlehem-Easton ranked 94/100

Employment Change (during the recovery)

Allentown-Bethlehem-Easton ranked 79/100. With a 0.8% change in employment, the area was placed in the Second-weakest 20 Metro Areas.

Unemployment Rate (during the recovery)

Allentown-Bethlehem-Easton ranked 53/100. With a 7.9% change in unemployment rates, the area was placed in the Middle 20 Metro Areas.

Gross Metropolitan Product Change (during the recovery)

Allentown-Bethlehem-Easton ranked 43/100. With a 5.94% change in GMP, the area was placed in the Middle 20 Metro Areas.

Change in Housing Prices (during the recovery)

Allentown-Bethlehem-Easton ranked ranked 94/100. With a 0.17% change in housing prices, the area was placed in the 20 Weakest Metro Areas.

So what can we do about it?  We need to come together as a community to plan for a better, stronger, more revitalized future for the Valley.  The Lehigh Valley’s economy may be slowly recovering, but we still have a long way to go.  And our local and state governments can’t do it alone.  They need your input.  Add your thoughts here, contact your local officials, or voice your opinion at local meetings.  Do you want the future of the Lehigh Valley to be determined by chance or by choice?