Author Archives: Caroline Aiken

High Speed Rail Still on Obama’s Agenda

Recently, Transportation Weekly acquired a draft of President Obama’s transportation bill. Streetsblog comments on the bill’s focus on high speed rail:

Although high-speed rail was completely de-funded in the last budget battle, the president’s bill still provides $53 billion over six years to the program, with $37.6 billion of it for network development and the rest for system preservation and renewal.

RenewLV is a partner in the Transportation for America coalition and supports investing in public transit, high-speed trains, places to bike and walk, and green innovation.

Urban Design that Fights Obesity and Promotes Physical Activity

Sure, we all know that regular exercise and eating well are essential components of a healthy lifestyle and are important in fighting obesity. But rather than just telling people to go to the gym, how can we make physical activity a more realistic (and exciting!) option that will encourage people to abandon their sedentary lifestyles?  

The authors and collaborators of the NYC Active City Guidelines propose active urban design as the key to promoting more physical activity and fighting the obesity epidemic. The Guidelines are the product of a collaborative effort between NYC public health professionals, architects, urban designers, and urban planners.

 The Guidelines are grounded in the idea that the design of the built environment can have a crucial and positive influence on improving public health.

They propose interesting strategies as to how planners can transform the built environment to encourage more active lifestyles for its residents and visitors through stair climbing, walking, bicycling, transit use, active recreation, and healthy eating.

While they focus ostensibly on New York City, the Guidelines can also be applied to other cities and communities.

These are my ten favorite suggestions, and perhaps the ones most pertinent to communities in the LehighValley:

1. Consider shared-use paths in areas with viewing attractions.

  • Check out Allentown’s plans to encourage active transportation: This Morning Call article discusses the plan to connect local bicycle and walking trails.

2. Explore bicycle share programs to increase access to bicycles for both city residents and visitors. 

3. When designing sites that include parking, consider how the provision of parking can affect the use of more active modes of travel such as walking, bicycling, and public transit. In general, when parking is available, people use it. Research in California indicates that increased parking supply may result in reduced active transportation and public transit use. Design car parking so as to reduce unnecessary automobile travel, particularly when walking, bicycling, and public transit are convenient alternatives.

4. Locate new projects near existing public and private recreational facilities and encourage development of new facilities, including indoor activity spaces.

5. In the design of parks and playgrounds, create a variety of climate environments to facilitate activity in different seasons and weather conditions. For example, include sunny, wind-protected areas for use in the winter and shaded zones for use in the summer.

6. Design plazas that allow for diverse functions. Plazas can accommodate physical activities like dance and volleyball, passive activities like sitting and chess, and cultural events such as concerts, exhibits, and historical celebrations. Plazas can also provide space for café style seating and farmers’ markets. When programming plazas, consider the needs of users with varying mobility levels. Seek partnerships with community groups to maintain and program plazas.

7. Incorporate temporary and permanent public art installations into the streetscape to provide a more attractive and engaging environment. Seek collaborations with local arts organizations, philanthropic institutions, or other nongovernmental groups to create and help maintain the artwork.

8. Provide safe walking and bicycle paths between densely populated areas and grocery stores and farmers’ market sites.

9. Further develop Greenways—alternative routes that are integrated into the regional park system. Greenways feature relatively few intersections, many plantings, and a dedicated bicycle right of way. These routes can serve as commuter corridors during the week and recreational paths on the weekend. Connect Greenways to street bikeways.

10. Design stairs to be more visible, in order to encourage their everyday use.

Biking Towards Social Integration

The essential elements of livable cities can be boiled down into just three central characteristics, according to ThisBigCity:

1) Resilience is about the ability of a city to ‘invent’ or ‘re-invent’ itself through shocks and stresses, to harmoniously accommodate old a new values, and to adapt the functions and requirements of the city.
2) Inclusiveness is about creating social integration and cohesion.
3) Authenticity is the ability to maintain the local character of the city, the local heritage, culture and environment.

Want a visual for this? This creative infographic from Phillips Livable Cities illustrates these concepts well.

Enhancing Inclusiveness in Bogota, Colombia

If you haven’t seen it already, check out these three elements in action in this amazing Streetfilms video that focuses on innovative ciclovías (bike paths) that have been instrumental in making Bogota, Colombia a more livable — and integrated — city. One of the interviewers, Karla Quintero, sums up well the role of these bike lanes in improving social integration:

Every time we referred to it as a large scale street closure event, they would always correct me and say that, no, it’s totally more than that. It’s about social integration. It’s about giving people an opportunity to see their city, to know their city, and to connect with parts of their city that they would otherwise be isolated from because of the streets.

Connecting the Allentown Community Through Bike and Pedestrian Paths

Adopted by the Allentown City Council, the Connecting Our Community plan will connect Allentown’s parks and people through a network of bicycle and pedestrian trails, both on and off street. From allentownpa.gov:

The first phase of implementation will include improvements along Linden and Turner streets – a priority corridor linking Center City and Cedar Creek Parkway with the neighborhoods, schools, parks, businesses, and cultural institutions in between. All other on-street projects will stem from this important corridor.

Want to make Allentown a safer place to for pedestrians and bicyclists? Share your opinion at the Connecting Our Community meeting on April 27th. It will be held at Central Elementary School on 829 Turner St (in the Cafeteria) from 7pm-8:30pm.

Proposal to Weaken EPA and What It Means for Latinos

A new report released by The Center for American Progress reveals that Latino communities will be severely impacted by the proposal to weaken the EPA.  Adrianna Quintero over at NRDC Switchboard provides further insight into the potential harm that limits to the EPA would pose. The report shows the reality that many Latinos currently live and work in areas with very poor air quality.

Latino families are disproportionately exposed to some of the most dangerous environmental hazards—and often in their own backyards. Fully 66 percent of U.S. Latinos—25.6 million people—live in areas that do not meet the federal government’s safe air quality standards. This translates into shorter life spans: Latinos are three times as likely as whites to die from asthma. Latino children are also 60 percent more at risk than white children to have asthma attacks.

As the following chart from the report indicates, Allentown-Bethlehem-Easton Latino population of 11.30% made it on the list of one of the 25 most polluted cities in the US.  It is clear that the proposal to weaken the EPA will negatively impact millions of people, especially vulnerable populations.

The report comes to the conclusion that Latinos should support a strong EPA that protects their health to avoid further damage:

Latinos will pay the price for cuts to the EPA. They and their children will be exposed to elevated levels of risk and harm. Dirty air and water mean more visits to the emergency room, more missed days of work and school, and more cases of dangerous and expensive health issues.

Get on Board with High Speed Rail

Secretary LaHood sums up well the reason why high speed rail is key to staying on the track to economic development:

“People often ask, ‘Why are President Obama and Vice President Joe Biden so devoted to high-speed rail?’ I have a simple answer: Jobs, jobs, and jobs.”

In his op-ed article, Sec LaHood explains that high speed rail will generate over 85,000 manufacturing and construction jobs, stimulate economic development on new corridors, and increase the US’s competitiveness in the long run.

As I mentioned in one of my last posts, traffic volumes have increased significantly since 2007, showing that people continue to rely heavily on our roadways. Sec LaHood suggests that we start taking action now on high speed rail to both create jobs and avoid problems later: “Jobs today, more convenient transportation tomorrow.”

Just a few days ago, Sec LaHood wrote to Senator Lautenberg (D-N.J) that he designated the Northeast Corridor as the 11th and final High-Speed rail corridor, which will include the existing Northeast Corridor main line and any alternative routings for trains between metropolitan areas of Washington, D.C.; Philadelphia, PA; New York, NY; and Boston, MA. This means that Amtrak’s NEC can apply for $2.4 billion in federal funding that Florida bypassed.

2011 County Health Rankings Report to be Released March 30th

The 2011 County Health Rankings are scheduled for release on March 30th. These rankings show that where we live matters to our health; they are based upon the idea that a community’s health depends on factors such as individual health behaviors, educations, jobs, quality of health care, and the environment.

You probably recall that last year’s county health ranking report outlined the disparity between mortality and morbidity rankings in the Lehigh Valley. While the Lehigh Valley ranked well on mortality (people lived relatively long lives), it ranked less well on morbidity (people were not as healthy as they could be).

In particular, the report revealed a significant county-level discrepancy in morbidity rankings in Northampton and Lehigh Counties. While the Lehigh County ranked 32 out of 67 on morbidity, the Northampton county ranked 59 out of 67.

At RenewLV, we will look at and use the data from this year’s report when considering the benefits a regional health department would provide for the Lehigh Valley.

Smart Growth Round-Up: Livable Cities and Transportation

Here’s a quick recap of what’s trending in regard to livable cities and transportation:

Livable cities:

Vancouver, Canada is the most livable city in the world (according to The Economist, at least). The Canadian city ranked highest on stability, health care, culture and environment, education, and infrastructure. In contrast, Harare in Zimbabwe ranked the worst city based on these same five indicators.

Tao Rugkhapan over at ThisBigCity, however, makes a valuable critique about the Economist’s assessment of the “most livable cities”:

“Rather than account for progress in policy change, the ranking considers instead some indicators that are of a nearly static, absolute nature. For developed countries, such indicators as ‘quality of road network’ or ‘quality of water provision’ although a necessary benchmark for a city’s infrastructure, are unlikely to significantly change from one year to the next. Like their temperate, thus ‘tolerable’ weather, the mature infrastructure makes Vancouver, Melbourne, and the other chart-toppers, natural winners who will continue to occupy this rank’s top spots for years to come. Cities with a long-established tradition of sound fiscal health and sizable capital are clearly at an advantage in providing development of corresponding proportions.”

Transportation:

As a nation, are we still too car-dependent? TransportationNation provides data from US DOT’s monthly “Traffic Volume Trends” report revealing that Americans drove three trillion miles in 2010, the most vehicle miles traveled since 2007 and the third-highest ever recorded.

Secretary LaHood says, “This new data further demonstrates why we need to repair the roads and bridges that are the lifeblood of our economy.”

The proposition to fix roads first goes hand-in-hand with this recent Brookings Institution report advocating for road repair and maintenance. Authors Kahn and Levinson explain the need to fix existing infrastructure first:

“Fix it first, expand it second, and reward it third. By focusing on fixing existing infrastructure before creating new, the report explains, states can boost their economy and maximize the number of jobs created…[This approach will allow] states to more with the money they already have and meet transportation challenges while catalyzing economic growth at the same time.”

But where is the funding for new transit projects that would both reduce car-dependence and create more jobs?

The House passed a spending bill last week indicating cuts to transit, smart growth and rail. In addition, the cuts will eliminate funds for High Speed Rail projects.

Angie Schmitt over at Streetblogs.net explains that these cuts are  detrimental to economic recovery:

“But one thing is clear: with global unrest sending gas prices skyrocketing and threatening the economic recovery, it’s exactly the wrong time to cut back on transit, rail, and active transportation.”

LV and Beyond: Regionalizing Public Health in Other States

Just last month, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation released this short report summarizing the overall challenges to improving public health capacity through cross-jurisdictional relationships, conditions for successful relationships, and moving forward with regionalization.

Information was gathered through in-person interviews and site visits with executive leadership and important staff at organizations such as CDC, NACCHO, PHAB, and HRSA.  Researchers interviewed various local public health leaders and policymakers either interested or currently involved in regionalization in Colorado, Wyoming, South Carolina, Connecticut, New Hampshire, Nebraska, and Illinois.

Although these efforts are specific to location, the report provides insightful generalizations about regionalizing public health. Here’s a short outline of its key points:

Key barriers to improving cross-jurisdictional relationships:

  • A gap exists between elected officials and public health leaders in understanding population health.
  • There are differences in understanding, appreciating, and operationalizing cross-jurisdictional relationships within the public health practice community.
  • No common language or frame of reference exists for discussing cross-jurisdictional sharing.
  • Cross-jurisdictional sharing and regionalization are occurring in a range of ways.
  • Regionalization does not necessarily result in improved public health capacity or performance, but cross-jurisdictional sharing often does.

Conditions for successful cross-jurisdictional relationships:

  • Clarity of purpose (Policy makers and public health leaders must be clear about their purpose)
  • Incentives, especially financial, are helpful
  • Willingness on both sides—public health leaders and elected policymakers
  • Attention to environment, culture, and history (interplay of history, culture, and relationships must be addressed)
  • Role in governance (all parties should feel that they have sufficient voice and control)

So, how should we move forward with collaboration?

  • Elected state and local policymakers need to be involved in national public health systems development work.
  • Understanding of the local environment is essential to successful public health endeavors.
  • Cross-jurisdictional relationships vary greatly in their details and address a wide variety of needs, but they do not have to develop further beyond their original purpose.

The conclusion?:

Public health leaders and policymakers found that cross-jurisdictional relationships improve local public health. Although accreditation was not a central focus of the report, the public health leaders acknowledged that cross-jurisdictional sharing will likely be necessary for health departments applying for national accreditation.


Visit RenewLV’s Regional Health Department page for information about local efforts in the Lehigh Valley.

OpenCities: Culturally Diverse Cities Are at a Competitive Advantage

Today’s post draws on the work of Nina Izábal over at ThisBigCity. OpenCities, an innovative project presented at the UNESCO/UN-HABITAT seminar focused on enhancing inclusiveness for international migrants in cities, acts on the idea that migrants are important contributors to city development and enrichment. After analyzing various indicators (such as perception and inflow of international population), areas, and policy ideologies in 26 different cities, OpenCities reached the conclusion that cities that attract new populations are more competitive than those that do not.

Thus, the project revealed an important implication: migrants enhance cities by adding cultural enrichment, which in turn puts these cities at a competitive advantage. Not only do migrants bring cultural diversity, but they also make necessary contributions to business and innovation that encourage city growth and progress.  “Cities are dynamic by definition and new residents change the urban landscape,” Ismael Fernandez Mejía from ISOCARP points out in the seminar.

How is this relevant to the Lehigh Valley? You may have found 2010’s State of the Lehigh Valley report particularly revealing in terms of the trends in population demographics. While in 2009 and 2010 the Lehigh Valley had a lower percentage of Black residents than in the rest of Pennsylvania, the US Census Bureau data in the report indicates a greater percentage of the Lehigh Valley reported being Hispanic than in the rest of the state.

The Lehigh Valley has steadily attracted more residents; from 2000-2009, the population in both Northampton and Lehigh Counties grew significantly. According to this report, recent population growth in the Lehigh Valley has been primarily due to the influx of foreign immigrants:  “The principal component of population change in the last decade has been in-migration from other countries, not other states.”

Given the population trends in Lehigh Valley, the OpenCities’ approach will help to identify ways to make our cities more open and integrated.  What exactly does “open” mean in this context? As defined on their website, openness is “the capacity of a city to attract international populations and to enable them to contribute to the future success of the city.”

What are organizations in the Lehigh Valley already doing to allow for more “openness”? To name a few, AEDC has a strong focus on fostering urban manufacturing and entrepreneurship, and is working to engage the diverse communities of Allentown. In addition, LVEDC provides business assistance for minority-owned businesses. Among other initiatives, CACLV provides individualized assistance and entrepreneurial training to new and existing business owners through their Start Your Business course.

I’ll leave you with some food for thought: What can we do to make cities in the Lehigh Valley more “open”? And what are some practical ways we can better foster inclusiveness to encourage smart growth?

Board of Health Meeting this Monday

This upcoming Monday, January 31, at 6:00 pm., The Board of Health will be holding a meeting at the American Red Cross Building (Room 103) located on 2200 Avenue A in Bethlehem. At this meeting, The Board of Health will discuss available funding and staff to support its work, and confirm the next steps for 2011.

Despite the January 10th vote from the Health Commission against approving a planning budget for the Board of Health, the Board still remains committed to continuing its work to create a services and business plan for the regional health department.

For additional information, visit our Regional Health Initiative page or contact Steven Bliss at 484-893-1060 or sbliss@renewlv.org.