Author Archives: mainstreetlehighvalley

Urban Revitalization Blogs

Hi everyone – this is Mike Schlossberg.  I’m privileged to be involved in the ongoing urban revitalization of the Lehigh Valley on a variety of fronts.  First, in November, I was elected to serve as a member of Allentown City Council; I take office on January 4.  As an employee of the Greater Lehigh Valley Chamber of Commerce, I’ve also served as a coordinator for and supervised the Borough Business Revitalization Program, a regional Main Street Program designed to revitalize smaller urban cores throughout the Lehigh Valley.  Last, I was recently appointed to serve as a member of the RenewLV Leadership Council.

I am a huge believer in technology as being a critical component to revitalizing our cities and Boroughs.  This can happen in a variety of ways, including through the exchange of information and ideas.  As I prepare to take office in Allentown City Council, I sent out a tweet (for those of you who don’t know, tweet is the latest verb to enter our lexicon as a result of emerging Social Media tools – “tweet” is used with Twitter) asking for blogs and databases that would have policy solutions, information and ideas for cities.  The response was very positive and Steve actually asked me to share my results with you.  Here are the three best.

· Planetizen:  The urban planning news website, featuring articles, op-eds, jobs, courses and information for the urban planning, design and development community.

· Governing:  Coverage of politics, policy, management, technology, environment and other topics for and about state and local governments.

· Next American City:  A national magazine created for and by a new generation of urban thinkers and leaders.

I know there are more out there – please leave your own in the comments below, and feel free to E-mail me at MikeS@lehighvalleychamber.org.

Why we need light rail in the Lehigh Valley

Yesterday, I had the privilege of appearing as a guest on Business Matters, arguing in favor of bringing rail to the Lehigh Valley. It was an incredibly lively show that will air on November 24, 7:30 on WFMZ-TV.

I do strongly favor light rail, as long as its light rail done right. Right now, a transportation study is in the works to determine the feasibility of linking the NJ-Transit line to the Lehigh Valley and how much that would cost to construct. As proposed, the study would cost $250,000 – Lehigh and Northampton Counties are budgeting $75,000 each, with LVEDC picking up the remaining $100,000. Thus far, the study has been endorsed by Renew Lehigh Valley and the Lehigh Valley Association of Realtors, among others.

There are many reasons as to why we need rail. First, it will control development and reduce (if not eliminate) the need to widen Route 22. Where roads go, development and suburban sprawl follows. If you reduce the amount of roads built, you reduce the amount of suburban sprawl. This will create more incentives to redevelop our urban cores, not further develop and destroy our greenspace. Further, if rail stations are placed throughout a city (not just in the affluent areas, but downtown near office, retail and major tourist attractions like Coca Cola Stadium), you create more incentive for offices, retail and restaurants to move near those stations. If you do rail the right way, you can create major incentives for businesses to move to cities.

Philadelphia, Harrisburg and Lancaster are just some of the major regional areas that already have rail networks in the area. The United States is the only major developed country that does not have a rail system, and we are at risk of being left behind. The national average for gas is currently just under $3.00 per gallon, and that is going to rise once this economic crises ends. The cost of building new roads and the materials related to those roads has skyrocketed, with the cost of some items (such as asphalt) doubling. Pennsylvania is one of the national leaders in structurally deficient bridges. Pennsylvania needs an estimated $1.6 billion to repair our roads and bridges. Nationwide, that need is over $1.6 trillion in the next five years. We can, quite literally, no longer afford our current transportation system.

Rail will help more than just urban residents. Ron Angle asked a very good question on our show: what will this do for the retired couple that lives in Pen Argyl, Hellertown or Lower Macungie? How will rail help them?

Well, does this retired couple pay taxes? Because they will benefit from reduced taxes thanks to controlled sprawl and less funding for road and bridge construction and maintenance. They will benefit from the improved quality of life that comes with more open space. And they will be able to travel anywhere in the East Coast via rail, thanks to being connected to the regional rail network.

As far as I can tell, rail is the future of the Lehigh Valley. It is best for our cities, suburbs and the entire region. Of course, what we need more than anything else is the data to back up the theory. I am eagerly awaiting the results of the upcoming transportation study.

For more information on bringing rail to the Valley, visit Lehigh Valley Trains.

PLEASE NOTE: I am speaking here only in my capacity as someone who works with urban communities, not on behalf of the Greater Lehigh Valley Chamber of Commerce. The GLVCC has not taken an official position on bringing rail to the Valley.

Regionalization – The Future of Urban Areas?

Pennsylvania has a rather dubious distinction: it has the third most governments in the entire United States. When you factor in governments at every level (state, county, municipality & school district), Pennsylvania has 3,135 governments. That is the 2nd highest rate of governments per capita in the entire United States, behind only Illinois. Wow.

So why is this a bad thing? Don’t small governments ensure that elected officials are close to their citizens and government is responsive? Of course. That is absolutely an outstanding benefit of living in Pennsylvania. By living in this Commonwealth, you are virtually guaranteed that an elected official lives somewhere nearby. This gives the average resident access to their governments at all time.

The problem, unfortunately, is that this massive level of governments creates an environment whereby tax payer money is often wasted. This occurs in many ways. Separate municipalities make separate purchases, thereby denying them the opportunity to make larger purchases together at lower prices. Staff in separate municipalities could easily be merged at a savings to tax payers. A lack of regionalization at a zoning and planning level often leads to inefficient use of land, damaging the wallets of residents, the urban areas that we many call home and the environment that we all share. A lack of regionalization also prevents government from acting in regards to areas of vital importance, including public safety and health.

Why is regionalization such a good thing for urban areas? Urban areas (cities and boroughs alike) often have very similar functions – police, fire, community & economic development, maintenance, etc. – that townships and rural areas don’t have. Given their comparatively condensed nature, urban areas can have a much easier time meshing departments (like police and fire) together. State policy specifically encourages this type of regionalization through grants, like with the Regional Police Assistance Grant Program and Shared Municipal Services Program. Furthermore, urban areas are often in tougher financial positions than their rural/suburban counterparts. Accordingly, the need to save money is particularly important.

One important caveat: no one is talking about merging two municipalities together. Such a proposal is usually overly ambitious and will go against the will of the people that elected officials have to represent. What is talked about more often is a regionalization of services, like police and fire. Doing so will likely save taxpayers money, while still allowing each municipality to maintain a joint identity.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 183 other followers