Category Archives: About RenewLV

Crossroads 2012 in Review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2012 annual report for Crossroads.

Here’s an excerpt:

600 people reached the top of Mt. Everest in 2012. This blog got about 8,300 views in 2012. If every person who reached the top of Mt. Everest viewed this blog, it would have taken 14 years to get that many views.

Click here to see the complete report.

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You’re Invited!

RenewLV and the Lehigh Valley Research Consortium announce the second-annual State of the Lehigh Valley community indicators report release event!  Join us on Wednesday, February 15 from 11:30am to 1:30pm in Iacocca Hall at Lehigh University for a luncheon and report on the findings of the State of the Lehigh Valley 2011 study.

This year’s report focuses on the economy and employment, housing affordability, median household income, quality of life, and transportation.  A special section has been added to highlight community health and health indicators.  This year’s report also compares the Lehigh Valley to similarly sized metropolitan areas to get a sense of how our community measures up to others in the Northeast.

The event will feature a review of the report’s findings, a luncheon buffet, and discussion among community members and experts in the particular focus areas to encourage dialogue toward developing community solutions.   Join us to work as a community toward a healthier, more successful, and more vibrant Lehigh Valley!

Last year’s event sold out and we have a 250-seat capacity, so register quickly!  The registration fee of $25 includes your luncheon buffet.  Details for registration and sponsorship opportunities can be found by clicking this link to our registration page.  We look forward to seeing you there!

Presenting sponsors:

Bringing Smart Growth Principles to the Lehigh Valley

RenewLV is committed to promoting smart growth and smart governance to revitalize our core communities.  That is our mission and that is what we hope to achieve for the Lehigh Valley.  The Valley is experiencing a great deal of development, which is great news, but we want to make sure that we are developing wisely and growing in the right directions.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Smart Growth Network have compiled a list of 10 basic principles of smart growth that are proven approaches in creating successful communities:

  1. Mix land uses
  2. Take advantage of compact building design
  3. Create a range of housing opportunities and choices
  4. Create walkable neighborhoods
  5. Foster distinctive, attractive communities with a strong sense of place
  6. Preserve open space, farmland, natural beauty, and critical environmental areas
  7. Strengthen and direct development toward existing communities
  8. Provide a variety of transportation choices
  9. Make development decisions predictable, fair, and cost-effective
  10. Encourage community and stakeholder collaboration in development decisions

Numerous organizations throughout the Lehigh Valley hold these principles as main focuses of their activities.  Through Renew’s partnerships with organizations like the Lehigh Valley Economic Development Corporation, the Lehigh Valley Planning Commission, LANta, the Wildlands Conservancy, and many others, RenewLV is trying to knit these principles into the culture of the Lehigh Valley.  That is why we have partnered with the Lehigh Valley Sustainability Consortium to ensure these ideals are part of any development project here.

As residents of this great area, you know how unique and resilient the Lehigh Valley is.  But there is always room for improvement.  Through the recently awarded $3.4 million HUD grant, this area will be getting a major boost through projects and partnerships over the next three years.  As part of the Lehigh Valley Sustainability Consortium overseeing this grant, RenewLV wants to hear from you, the residents of the Lehigh Valley.  In the upcoming months we will be hosting events and opportunities to enable your voice and opinions to be heard in order to guide these projects.  Visit our website and click the “Join Us” button to stay up-to-date on the grant projects and opportunities for the community to speak out.  Bring these smart growth principles to the Lehigh Valley to make it an even better place to live.

The New Faces of RenewLV

RenewLV welcomes two new members to our team this fall– Pam Colton, Executive Director, and Rachel Bradshaw!

Pam Colton comes to Renew Lehigh Valley after 24 years of service in the US   Government’s Open Source Center where she spent time as a document analyst, an editor, a “Daily Report” manager, and an overseas chief editor, working in places like Nicosia, Cyprus, Abidjan, Ivory Coast, Reston, Virginia, and her home in Washington Township, PA. Before taking her position in the federal employee ranks, Pam graduated with a degree in Political Science and Russian/East European Studies from the University of Pittsburgh.

Upon returning to the Slate Belt where she grew up, Pam made a successful run for the Bangor School Board, where she was just re-elected for her fourth term. As school board vice president, she has negotiated two successful five-year teacher contracts and numerous other Act 93 contracts. She represents the board as its legislative liaison and is also its representative on the board of the Colonial Intermediate Unit #20.

Pam was also instrumental in starting the Slater Family Network Foundation, Inc (SFN), a family center based in the Bangor Area School District. SFN is a joint venture with the school district, the United Way of the Greater Lehigh Valley, Two Rivers Health and Wellness Foundation, Northampton County Children & Youth, the 21st Century Community Learning Center, and other donors and is currently beginning its 12th year of assisting families in the Bangor School District with resources, referrals to programs throughout the Lehigh Valley, and advocacy on an as needed basis. Pam served as the organization’s president for 11 years before stepping down to pursue the position at RenewLV.

Rachel Bradshaw is a Community Fellow from Lehigh University. She will be serving as the Community Coordinator for the next year as she pursues her M.A. in Political Science. Rachel graduated from Western New England College with a B.A. in History.

While attending Western New England, Rachel was extremely active in the First Year Students & Students in Transition Program. She mentored a cohort of 20 first year students for three years as a Peer Advisor and led the Peer Advisor group her senior year as a member of the Steering Committee. Rachel also assisted in reinstating the Sexual Misconduct Advocate Response Team (SMART) at Western New England, while serving as the Community Coordinator of the peer education and support group. She facilitated peer educational events and workshops in partnership with the Springfield YWCA. While at Western New England College, Rachel was also a member of the Historical Society, Class Council, Omicron Delta Kappa Honor Society, Mortarboard Honor Society, and Alpha Lambda Delta Honor Society.

Rachel has worked at the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania as the Education Assistant for the past three summers planning and executing educator workshops and week-long institutes. Her previous work experience at the National Constitution Center and her thesis work at Western New England encouraged her interest in both the nonprofit sector and public policy. The fellowship at RenewLV offers a unique opportunity to combine her two interests while she gains practical experience coordinating events and collaborating on initiatives. Rachel resides in her hometown of Perkasie, Pennsylvania.

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.

Making “Smart Growth” Mainstream

Unless this is the first Crossroads article that you have read (in which case, welcome!), I assume that you’ve noticed a trend throughout many of our posts on smart growth: studies show that average people want it, local mayors and town boards aim for it, small businesses benefit from it, and neighborhoods thrive on it. We’ve written about studies that demonstrate how various principles of smart growth benefit the economy, the environment, and public and private health. Lately, we’ve been able to blog about how the nation is seeing more and more of it.

But all too often, the overwhelming evidence of local and nonpartisan support for smart growth feels a bit…lacking. Sure, a survey of 2,071 people from the United States shows that 77% of them support smart design programs. Yeah, an analysis of how local transportation money has been spent proves that complete streets are spreading both in major cities like New York and San Francisco and in small towns in Idaho. But what does that mean for us? These are local efforts, and while they demonstrate a trend, we have yet to feel that “woah…Smart Growth is awesome” moment for ourselves in the Lehigh Valley.

But let’s say that this is your first visit to Crossroads. Have you ever heard of “smart growth” before?

Even if you do not know the term, chances are pretty good that you are familiar with the principles it represents. You wish it was easier to use mass transit, you’ve heard of “urban revitalization,” and you’ve noticed at some point in your life that it feels safer to walk on a sidewalk than on a poorly lit street on which cars routinely try to shatter the sound barrier. You want to feel safe letting your kids ride their bikes to friends’ houses, and you wish you could walk around the corner when you need one or two things for dinner, instead of having to jump in the car.

The guiding phrase itself is far less important than the practices it stands for. While the common word is a useful way to connect with like-minded groups and succinctly refer to a varying collection of thoughts, to the average person “smart growth” changes nothing — but the installation of sidewalks does.

Using and spreading the obscure phrase will not help us promote “smart growth” among the average people (all of us) who stand to benefit from it. Only two things that can do that. One, as I mentioned before, is the “woah” moment. Imagine, after having lived in Allentown for the past 10, 20, or 30 years, leaving. Imagine returning five years later. Imagine coming back to find a thriving downtown. Fantastic, affordable, safe places to live, just blocks from restaurants, bars, and your office. Drastically less traffic on the streets. Unobtrusive bike racks on curbs, for you, your neighbors, and your coworkers. A healthy, vibrant, safe, happy community.

If we continue to move forward, that’s coming. But it might take a bit of time, and it will definitely take a bit of work.

Until that moment, we rely on the second thing to promote the movement: the making mainstream of principles included in “smart growth.” While we try to work towards that through Crossroads, Facebook, and Twitter, we are clearly biased. What we need is institutional acknowledgment of Smart Growth.

Fortunately, we have lately begun to see this on the federal level. The EPA supports sustainable development. The President and the Department of Transportation and the continue to push for mass transit and alternative transportation, and the Department of Housing and Urban Development sponsors many programs consistent with Smart Growth.

There’s also the Centers for Disease Control.

While economic and environmental benefits are frequently touted by the smart growth community, public health benefits are sometimes mentioned as an afterthought. They’re just as important, just as easy to prove, but somehow, they tend to take a backseat. RenewLV has made an effort over the past year or so to bring public health to the forefront of our push for smart growth in the Valley, both through the inevitable health benefits that come from other policies (such as walkability and mass transit), and through the establishment of a Regional Health Department (see here for more information about this campaign).

The federal government appears to see the health benefits of smart growth, as well. The CDC has a page dedicated to “community design.” It echos the public health arguments that RenewLV has made:

Community design refers to all the elements of a community that are human-made and form the physical characteristics of that community. It includes:

  • buildings, such as schools, workplaces, and homes,
  • roads,
  • parks and recreation areas,
  • transportation systems, and
  • places to buy food.

Well-designed communities can improve public health. The design and maintenance of our communities may be related to:

  • chronic diseases,
  • obesity,
  • injury rates,
  • mental health, and
  • the effects of climate change.

Through design, communities can attempt to offer residents:

  • opportunities to incorporate routine physical activity into our everyday lives,
  • cleaner air,
  • lower risk of injury from vehicle accidents, and
  • decreased effects of climate change.

According to the page, the CDC actively tracks data on community design as it relates to public health concerns including “types of transportation to work, air quality (ozone and PM 2.5), childhood lead poisoning, and motor vehicle-related fatalities.”

The page is not promoting anything specific, nor does it represent the transformation of the CDC into a leading “smart growth” advocacy group. It simply represents an acknowledgment that Smart Growth has real effects: this is not some crazy scheme based on theory and fantasy. Smart Growth is real, it benefits everyone in many different ways, and it can be successful in any urban community.

Like what you see? Join the effort to make Smart Growth work for us! Sign up for e-mail updates and visit our homepage to learn how you can get involved!

County Health Rankings Across Pennsylvania

When the annual County Health Rankings were released late last month, the Morning Call, Express Times and Patch reported on the very high morbidity numbers in Northampton County and Lehigh County. Meanwhile, these county rankings received coverage that looked at how other parts of the state were faring as well. Union County was ranked the highest [Check out WNEP news for more info] and Philadelphia was ranked the least in regards to health outcomes and health factors [Here’s the link]. Closer to home, both Montgomery and Bucks Counties ranked in the top 10 of Pennsylvania counties in terms of overall health [Here’s the link here for phillyburbs.com article].

Generally, the rankings showed that counties located in south and central Pennsylvania performed better than did counties in the northeast and northwest. Also, more of the urban counties are ranked in top half than the rural counties — this using the definitions of “urban” and “rural” developed by the Center for Rural Pennsylvania (The Center defines rural vs. urban Pennsylvania based on population density).

Amid these overall regional trends, in some cases the rankings show significant differences even among neighboring counties. Consider the area to the north of Harrisburg, where Union and Snyder Counties both are amongst the top five counties statewide in overall health, while adjacent Northumberland County is ranked in lower one-third. The factors that contribute to such great disparities among neighboring counties would lend itself to further analysis that could shed light on the local conditions that contribute to – or stand in the way of – good health. (As a side note: For an interesting resource on county-level conditions across economics, demographics, and other areas, check out Patchwork Nation – an interactive data site.)

While considering how Pennsylvania counties fare among themselves, it is important to look at where Pennsylvania stands nationally on support for public health. Public health infrastructure in Pennsylvania clearly lags that in others. For its population size, Pennsylvania has the lowest number of public health professionals. Also, according to a study released last month, public health spending in Pennsylvania is very low itself. Here’s the link.

Ultimately, failing to adequate support public health is a short-sighted policy and an unwise investment of public dollars. As noted in the local coverage of the county health rankings [Patch article], we either invest upfront in public health and prevention or we spend far more on what it takes to address illness and injury after they occur.

What is impressive and valuable about the County Health Rankings is not only the numbers themselves, but the huge potential to use these data to improve the health of our communities. Look here to see how people can take action. Patrick Remington, who is the University of Wisconsin Professor and has lead the County Health Rankings report, remarks that the County Health Rankings report is a teaser to catch interest. The point is get people to take some action towards the health of their community.

The current work on establishing a regional health department for the Lehigh Valley represents an important step toward building a strong system of prevention and health promotion for our region. For more information on this effort, visit RenewLV’s Regional Health Initiative page.

Buena Suerte en Panama, Beata!

For regular readers of Crossroads — not to mention friends, followers and allies of RenewLV in general — this week brings some sad news. As she noted here yesterday, Beata Bujalska has wrapped up her time as our Campaign Coordinator. She is relocating to Panama City, Panama, along with her boyfriend Jorge, who will be heading up a sales team there for Lutron. We’re very sorry to see Beata go, but thrilled for her as she begins this exciting new chapter.

Beata has been with RenewLV since June 2009, and there’s no way a single blog post can do justice to what she has meant to RenewLV over the past year and a half. She was central to developing and putting in place campaign strategies across all of RenewLV’s initiatives, and was especially key to the organizing effort of our Regional Health Initiative.

Beyond the work on our individual initiatives, Beata helped RenewLV make major strides in general outreach and community education. The success of RenewLV’s brown-bag series is due in large part to Beata’s efforts, both in coming up with topics for the sessions and facilitating strong turnout. And of course, Beata led RenewLV’s use of online tools and social media, boosting our presence through Facebook, Twitter, our blog and website, and iTunes.

Personally speaking, I’ve learned a great from having a Beata as a colleague. This has been mostly about social media, campaign strategy, and outreach, but about other topics, too. For instance, I’ve learned that a band like Duran Duran, which I found pretty difficult to listen to in my younger days and figured had disappeared by now, still has something of a following among Gen Y. (Actually, I never verified that one, but I’m taking Beata’s word for it). I also learned from her about the magic of Groupon.

If I have one regret about Beata’s tenure with RenewLV, it is this: It really should have been me who happened to be in San Francisco the night my Giants wrapped up the World Series title. I’m just saying.

In any case, Beata, here’s wishing you much happiness and continued success in Panama. You added so much to RenewLV and the Lehigh Valley in the time you were here. We’ll all look forward to keeping up with what you do next.

Happy Holidays (and Farewell Lehigh Valley)

As the new year approaches us quickly, we wanted to thank all of our supporters and community members in the Lehigh Valley. We’ve had a great year, filled with many opportunities, as well as many challenges. If you haven’t had a chance to do so yet, check out our End-of-Year Message.

As many of you know, I am leaving the Lehigh Valley and moving to warmer weather down south. Sadly, this means that today is my last day with Renew Lehigh Valley. It’s been a fantastic ride and I feel so lucky to have been part of the RenewLV team.

I will continue blogging on the Crossroads blog as much as possible. Some of these updates will be ones about smart growth in Panama. Yes, Crossroads is going international.

If you haven’t already done so, please add us to your RSS reader. By doing so, you’ll never miss any of our posts.

Happy holidays and a great New Year!

Next RenewLV Brown-Bag Session: Municipal Finance in PA, Fri. 8/27 in Easton

It is my pleasure to announce that the next Renew Lehigh Valley brown-bag session will be held on Friday, August 27th from 12pm (noon) to 1:15 at the Sigal Museum, new home of the Northampton County Historical & Genealogical Society [342 Northampton Street in Easton, map].

The topic for this session is Municipal Finance. Gerald Cross, Executive Director of the  Pennsylvania Economy League, Central Division, will be discussing Pennsylvania’s current system of municipal finance and the major structural challenges that this system poses for older core communities, especially cities and boroughs. As this was a central topic of focus at the recent Building One PA Summit in Lancaster, we will make sure to provide a report from that event at this brown-bag session.

The session is FREE and OPEN TO THE PUBLIC. There will be NO FEE to enter the museum. It will be held in the 2nd Floor Conference Room at the museum. Upon checking in at the admissions desk, you will be directed upstairs. Metered street parking is available throughout Easton. A public parking garage is located on 27 South Third St. [map]

Bring a lunch (perhaps from one of the downtown dining establishments), come check out the Sigal Museum and join us for a lively discussion on the 27th. RenewLV will be recording this session and making the podcast available to listen on our website and on iTunes. Check out past brown-bag session recordings on RenewLV’s Multimedia page.

If you would like additional information, or have any questions about the event, feel free to contact me at bbujalska@renewlv.org or 484.893.1062.

Hope to see you on the 27th.