5 Things We Learned at the Summit for Smart Growth
Last Friday, the Summit for Smart Growth and Sustainable Communities brought together almost 200 regional experts, community leaders, and interested citizens for a day of action-packed and collaborative discussion to move from ideas to action on issues related to the region’s growth. Thank you to everyone who helped make the day a booming success! We learned a lot and were inspired.
The top five things we learned are:
- Passenger Rail from the Lehigh Valley to New York City area is possible by 2020
In the afternoon table talk sessions, we heard how roadblocks for smart transportation can be removed. Joe McHugh, senior vice president of government affairs and corporate communications with Amtrak, said a Lehigh Valley passenger rail service was something the region could make happen if it were to unite behind such a goal and “push it” through friends in high places. He alluded to Gov. Wolfe’s “pro-rail” sentiment as an asset in addressing the issue today.
McHugh suggested starting with a Lehigh Valley to New York City area route, citing the high number of bus trips between the areas daily.
Rail service in the Lehigh Valley isn’t something that is just on McHugh’s radar screen. He cited a 2010 PA State Rail Plan that identified the Lehigh Valley as a strategic freight corridor and the fact passenger rail in the eastern corridor of the state is thought of at Amtrak as a “Vision Project,” meaning it’s thought to have good potential but isn’t funded.
Speaking to the benefits of rail, McHugh stated, “Everywhere we go, economic development follows. If you are looking for a different way to revitalize a downtown, rail service brings it.”
- Smart growth can generate more income for a municipality than conventional suburban development
Dense, mixed-use development generates more sustainable tax revenue for municipalities than large, single-use suburban developments, like warehouses and big-box stores.
Keynote Speaker Chuck Marohn, founder and president of Strong Towns, calls the tendency for municipalities to keep expanding from their traditional downtown footprints using a conventional suburban development style, the Growth Ponzi Scheme.
Marohn told Summit attendees that our ever-increasing rate of growth is unproductive and has buried us in financial liabilities. He said this “post World War II type of growth does not create real wealth – rather the illusion of wealth.” He recommends returning to a traditional pattern of development – the downtown cityscape that formed when long ago people started to build and populate communities.
RenewLV Board member and Lower Macungie Township Commissioner, Ron Beitler, used a local example to describe the development “scheme.” He referenced an historic home, located in Lower Macungie Township, that was renovated into office space and he compared it to a warehouse on the same amount of township land. The home, located in the center of the township at a busy intersection, generates more income per acre than does the large warehouse. The lesson – investing in existing infrastructure generates more money for municipalities.
- Farming is business and supporting and preserving it promotes economic development
Keynote speaker Judy Wicks, author, activist and entrepreneur and local economy pioneer, illustrated how using locally produced products that are high quality, healthy and responsibly produced, can sustain a successful business and preserve farmland.
In a socially responsible model, businesses are more than just ways to generate profit. Profits can also improve employees’ standard of living and be directed toward community building activities.
Gary Smith, CEO of Chester County Economic Development Corporation, described the benefits of looking at farms as business. In Chester County he directs economic development incentives and financing to farm business. This creates jobs for Chester County while preserving farmland.
4. New Urbanist/Smart Growth developments are being built in the Lehigh Valley
Andy Twiggar, co-founder and principal of Dunn Twiggar Company, LLC, described their plans for the Waterfront project along the banks of the Lehigh Valley River. He showed the drone masterplan of the neighborhood and 200 Summit attendees joined him on a “magic carpet ride” through the streets of Allentown’s newest neighborhood. If you want to take the ride yourself, and we highly recommend it, click here.
This brand new Main Street – with retail, office, residential and recreation space – will be built along the Lehigh River in Allentown just south of the new American Parkway Bridge near the America on Wheels Museum.
The finished project will include 12 new buildings constructed so that they create a dynamic, urban, mixed-use landscape for tenants (retail and restaurants), residents and visitors. The main street, Waterfront Drive, will run parallel to the new River Walk and be near two existing city streets – Allen and Furnace.
- Sustaining our local food economy requires creation of one or more local food hubs
Jon Middleton of Sodexo and the Lehigh Valley Food Policy Council’s Founders Team, shared his wisdom and big vision for expanding the local food economy through the creation of local food hub. His vision includes five functions:
- Aggregation – a place, partially refrigerated, where local farmers can bring their produce
- Distribution – a central procurement officer for institutional purchasers to contact regarding the availability of local product and trucks and drivers available to deliver those products in the Lehigh Valley
- Shared use commercial kitchen incubator – a legal space for cooking and cleanup that food and beverage entrepreneurs can rent by the hour as they grow their businesses
- Manufacturing – a place to scale-up food and beverage production with support such as marketing and packaging
- Restaurant and retail – a place that allows the public to taste and purchase local products
The creation of a food hub will help us grow our local food economy and preserve farms in the process. Middleton projects that if his company sourced all of its product locally, doing so would infuse 200 million dollars into Lehigh Valley’s economy.
To capitalize on the momentum of the day and execute these great ideas, we need you. Attendees participated in the creation of action plans on these and related ideas. It’s not too late for you to be involved. If you are interested in seeing these ideas happen, we would love to get you involved. Please contact us and we will connect you to the right people, committee, or resource.
If these ideas excite you, you can donate to our organization at renewlv.org. Thank you to our sponsors who made the Summit possible:
Questions? Call us at 484-893-1060 or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org