Monthly Archives: October 2012

A Placemaker’s Seven Keys to Stronger Community

Everyone has different ideas about what makes a community.  Eric Jacobsen, author and pastor, noted that “even if you get the physical elements right, there’s no guarantee that a place will function as a true community, as more than just a place.”  That really struck me.  Even if we create an aesthetically-pleasing facade for our streets, it doesn’t mean we will have a functioning and cohesive community.

The article I read this morning reviewed a fellow planner’s short list for keys to a stronger community. (You can read the full article here.)  The planner, Scott Doyon, compiled the following list:

  1. Good governance
  2. Walkable, connected, mixed-use character
  3. Parks and gardens
  4. Partnerships
  5. Programming
  6. Neighborhood-responsive schools
  7. Tree culture

I must agree with Kaid Benfield, the blogger also commenting on Doyon’s short list, that I’m generally pleased with the list.  I think it’s great to combine physical features with less tangible elements to create a sense of community.  I also agree with Benfield when he notes that he would alter the list to include a point about controlling sprawl.

Here in the Lehigh Valley we certainly know about the sprawling development.  But have we ever stopped to think about its effect on the sense of community?  As development sprawls outward, we lose many of these elements that create a close and cohesive community. The neighborhoods aren’t walkable.  It’s difficult to develop programming and events for people that don’t feel connected to one another.  And I certainly agree that good governance is key; however, RenewLV would argue that this “good governance” should also be characterized by reduction of redundancy in the government.  “Good governance” should be efficient and effective stewards of its resources, working through partnerships within the community and region.

Overall, I think Doyon and Benfield have the right ideas.  Here in the Lehigh Valley we have such unique communities.  But maybe it’s time we stop to think if we have all the proper components to be a truly cohesive and effective community.  We must work together, and I think that means working beyond the municipal boundaries and extending to others.  The Lehigh Valley has unique communities, but as a region I think we can work together to preserve and enhance these areas in order to become a regional community.

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?