Blog Archives

Lehigh Valley residents urged to attend ‘virtual town hall’ meeting

Lehigh Valley residents are being urged to take part in a “virtual town hall meeting” that’s slated for 8 p.m. Monday, Sept. 16th. The location: wherever you use your personal computer or tablet device.

Attendees will simply have to log in and make their way to a YouTube video presentation on economic development and the future of the Lehigh Valley. The program is set up to allow input from viewers.

This cutting-edge event is being coordinated by Lehigh Valley Economic Development Corporation (LVEDC) in conjunction with Envision Lehigh Valley.

The entities are attempting to compile a regional approach to development and growth in the Lehigh Valley. During the planning stage, the goal is to engage the organizations, municipalities and individuals who have a stake in future development of the region.

The virtual town hall premise removes all obstacles for interested parties who cannot make their way to a brick-and-mortar meeting location.

The video will feature Jay Garner of Garner Economics, LLC, of Atlanta, Ga. Garner, who has been contracted to conduct this important study, is a nationally-recognized site selector and economic development consultant.

Garner’s work, which is being paid for with a grant from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, is a key initiative of Envision Lehigh Valley – a public outreach effort designed to engage the citizens of Northampton and Lehigh Counties to create a truly sustainable Lehigh Valley.

“We need to take a hard look at ourselves in comparison to other regions and understand our strengths, weaknesses and opportunities and to develop our plans and strategies from an informed and realistic perspective,” said Don Cunningham, president and CEO of LVEDC.

“We can’t afford to guess at things. We need to understand our own backyard fully, how we compare in the marketplace, and our unique assets to market. This will make our strategies and efforts informed and cost-effective.”

Once the program is set up, it can be accessed at http://www.youtube.com/user/EnvisionLehighValley. The virtual town hall will not get underway until 8 p.m. Monday.

For more information, contact Holly Edinger, director of Envision Lehigh Valley, at (610) 266-6775.

Envision Lehigh Valley’s Public Meeting Results Are In!

Through their website, Envision Lehigh Valley received a total of 1,118 completed surveys as well as feedback from 47 public meetings that were held through the fall. The breakdown of the participants represented an  accurate cross section of our regional population on the   characteristics of race, age,   income and location.

In the 47 focus groups that were held during the public meetings, Lehigh Valley residents appeared to be most interested in discussing economic development, which they saw as a positive thing for the region.

They mentioned large projects currently being undertaken across the Lehigh Valley. Participants discussed projects such as the hockey arena, casino, and ArtsQuest. Projects involving specific companies, including Ocean Spray, and the Lehigh Valley Hospital Expansion, were mentioned as well as more   generic business expansions like the Allentown waterfront      project, the P&P Mill, and new hotels and retail space in various locations.

Focus group participants were generally dissatisfied with the types of jobs available to Lehigh Valley workers and didn’t believe the job market matched the qualifications most workers have.

The groups also examined other topics; citizens talked 652 times about housing, 549 times about fresh food access, and 378 times about climate and energy.

One of the most interesting findings to come out of the focus group analysis is that the overall interests and topics of discussion varied very little in the different cities, boroughs, and townships where they were held.  These  commonalities suggest that quality of life factors in the Lehigh Valley are important across the valley, not just in one or two communities.

Read the full report, including  survey results and focus group discussions, right here!

What Is Your Vision for the Valley?

What will the Lehigh Valley be like in 5, 10, or 20 years?  Whether your live or work in the Lehigh Valley, the answer will directly affect you.  Join Envision Lehigh Valley, a three year visioning project, and help us plan the future for the Valley!

Envision Lehigh Valley is a public outreach effort designed to engage the residents of Northampton and Lehigh Counties to create a truly sustainable Lehigh Valley.  More than ever, the residents of the Lehigh Valley need to work together to create a shared vision for our community.  This three year project was made possible by a Sustainable Communities Grant from the US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) .

The Lehigh Valley is comprised of 62 municipalities, each with its own governmental authority. However, if you ask anyone who lives in the Lehigh Valley you will quickly learn that we live “regionally.” Many of us live in one town, work in another town, and have dinner in yet a third. The municipal boundaries that are crossed to reach a desired destination are usually invisible. In order to be a sustainable community, the Lehigh Valley should consider the value of all our communities, how we can enhance our economic competitiveness, and perhaps most importantly how we can coordinate policy and leverage investment within our community.

Over the course of the next three years, Envision Lehigh Valley will be gathering input from ALL residents of the Lehigh Valley in order to create a vision for the future of the region.  The project will focus on the main areas of economic development, fresh food access, transportation choices, housing choices, jobs/housing balance, and climate and energy.  All the input from social media, public meetings, surveys, and individual conversations will be used in the “Comprehensive Plan the Lehigh Valley…2030.”

Please join us to kick off this effort at our first meeting on Wednesday, July 11th at ArtsQuest at SteelStacks.  Two sessions are being offered– 4:00 to 6:00pm and 6:30 to 8:00pm.  The next three years promise to be exciting and innovative.  Join us as we work together– as a region– to create a shared vision for our community.

Visit www.envisionlehighvalley.com for more information! Follow us on Twitter and friend us on Facebook too!

Smart Growth is Good Sense, Not Partisan Politics

Smart growth has gotten a bad rap as a “liberal” plan that inhibits development and economic growth, while it forces people to live in overly densely populated areas through restrictive policies.  Some opponents have cited the intrusive policies proposed in the United Nations Agenda 21, which was presented at the 1992 United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) and subsequently adopted by all attending nations.  Agenda 21 is a lengthy document that presents many goals and strategies but was meant as a “comprehensive plan of action to be taken globally, nationally, and locally by organizations of the United Nations System, Governments, and Major Groups in every area in which human impacts the environment.”  (A comprehensive look at Agenda 21 can be found at: http://www.un.org/esa/dsd/agenda21/.) Those who oppose these strategies believe the adoption of such policies would overly expand the role of government and interfere with personal choice, local flexibility, and community and economic development.

Well, Renew Lehigh Valley is here to say that this simply is not true.  Smart growth is not and should not become a partisan issue.  Policies utilizing smart growth planning are meant to reinvigorate a community and provide for wise and effective economic development.  Rather than letting a piece of land be developed in any way, why wouldn’t a community want certain boundaries to ensure that the development enhances the economy, benefits the community, and brings jobs to the area for the long term?  “Planning” shouldn’t be considered a bad word; it’s smart.  And it has the community’s best interest at heart.

Smart growth does not force people to live on top of each other either.  We all like a little personal space, but that doesn’t mean that we need to spread out and misuse open land for housing or development.  This type of development only increases sprawl, which puts a strain on natural resources, infrastructure, local governments, and the community.  Density, in itself, is not a bad thing.  It’s overcrowding that should be avoided.  Smart development of apartments and other dense living spaces can be functional and quite comfortable.  Open space is then preserved in order to keep our natural resources pristine and to maintain the aesthetic beauty we all appreciate.  Smart growth communities offer comfortable, walkable neighborhoods with plenty of green space.  Sounds nice, doesn’t it?

If policy aligns with smart growth planning and development, it will only enhance the community.  The government will not overstep its boundaries infringing upon personal liberties.  Zoning laws aligned with smart growth policy and smart growth development are intended to preserve a community’s character while encouraging its strengths and improving its weaknesses.  Communities that align their policies in such a way have proven to be revitalized and reinvigorated.  Who wouldn’t want to live in a community with a thriving economy and a downtown that attracts visitors (which in turn attracts business and money!)?

Smart growth is not a nasty phrase or a terrible policy choice.  It is a smart decision for our communities.  This isn’t about politics; it’s about making the Lehigh Valley a successful, desirable community together.

Interested in learning more?  Register for the second annual State of the Lehigh Valley event through our website: www.renewlv.org.  Join in the discussion!

A Financial Case for Public Health

Pay now or pay later. States face this choice every day, particularly with how and when they invest in clinical preventive health services leading to prevention and reduced economic burden in terms of length of hospital stay and general health care costs.

The rewards of paying now are better known than ever before. Research has demonstrated that supporting healthy early childhood development–from before through age 5–generates substantial educational, social and financial benefits for individuals, families and communities.

A major study, The High Costs of Failing to Invest in Young Children produced by Partnership for America’s Economic Successhighlighted that the price society pays when a single person experiences child abuse, drops out of high school, or abuses alcohol can range up to tens to thousand dollars over that person’s lifetime. The study’s purpose was to help policy makers and the public fully evaluate the consequences of their present funding decisions.

The latest RWJ/University of Wisconsin County Health Ranking (CHR) revealed that morbidity numbers are rather low in Lehigh County (37 out of 67 counties) and Northampton County (a shocking 60 out of 67). Morbidity is a term that refers how healthy people feel in the community while alive and it captures the Birth Outcomes along with Health-related quality of life (HRQoL) within the community. Birth Outcomes are measured using low birth weight (LBW) that represents child’s current and future morbidity. Low birth weight is reported to be higher in both Lehigh Valley (8.3%) and Northampton County (8.7%) as compared to the State average of 8.2% and way higher than the national average of 6.0%, according to CHR report.

It was mentioned in the blog on County Health Ranking Across Pennsylvania that the public health spending in Pennsylvania is extremely low as compared to other states in U.S. In this context of scarce resources, the advantage of economic analysis is that helps substantiate present action in terms of investing in prevention and public health. Such an analysis helps providers in managing an individual’s health and administrators in appropriately focusing resources, and — moreover — illustrates the return on investment (ROI) for public health initiatives. According to a study in Western New York, a positive ROI was demonstrated for a prenatal program developed at the Managed Care Organization using a model of economic analysis.

In general clinical preventive services are cost-effective; some are cost-saving. Some clinical preventive services prevent disease or injury (e.g. cervical cancer screening); some preventive services catch disease in early stages when treatment is most effective and least expensive (e.g. STI screening). Because clinical preventive services can prevent or reduce the need for treatment, they provide a cost-offset. Lehigh County has the highest number of sexually transmitted infection rates as compared to state or national average, according to CHR report. Key studies have been done that support the cost-offset value of prevention.

Below are the examples of cost-offset of clinical preventive services recommended in the Plan Benefit Model conducted as part of study that provides rationale to our current work on establishing a regional health department for Lehigh Valley. Of particular note is the cost offset by screening for Chlamydia and Sexually Transmitted Diseases (STDs). Screening for gonorrhea and Chlamydia allows for early recognition of diseases that could prevent the costly implications of late stage complication such as Pelvic Inflammatory Disease (PID). The average life-time cost of PID and its major complications for women have been estimated to be in the range of 1,060-6,840 US dollars. Check out the image below for details on how investment in prevention saves financial resources over the long term.

Special State Tax District To Aid Allentown’s Riverfront Development

Allentown’s Riverfront development plans are coming along, as a special tax district designation will allow for the money collected from taxes to stay local. This is good news for Allentown’s mayor, Ed Pawlowski, and other city leaders, all who have been working on generating the revenue for various aspects of the development plan – including a hockey arena. The arena, which will house minor league hockey team, the Phantoms, is to be built in the district, and city officials are hopeful that other businesses will open up along the Riverfront over the course of the next few years.

The development is also aided by a grant from the Department of Transportation, as part of its Pennsylvania Community Transportation Initiative this past year. Joyce Marin, Allentown’s Director of Community and Economic Development at the time, spoke to the scope of this project at RenewLV’s brown-bag session in November. Check out our Multimedia page for the full recording of that session (along with great photos).

What sort of businesses would you like to see on the Allentown Riverfront? Personally, I’m hoping an Ethiopian restaurant opens in the area.

Pennsylvania Budget in Place, But How Did the Lehigh Valley Fare?

With the budget impasse finally over, many residents of Pennsylvania let out a collective sigh of relief over the weekend. We were tracking this 102-day journey since it began in the summer, and, just like other Commonwealth residents, were very relieved to hear that the General Assembly had come to an agreement.

With the budget in place, several news sources have been reporting on the severe cuts that some state departments received. Back in August, I mentioned that the Department of Community and Economic Development (DCED) was receiving the most serious threats of budget cuts, and, indeed, the department that powers economic growth programs saw over 50% of its funding chopped. In a recent Morning Call article, Mark Shade, spokesman for the DCED, stated that the slashed budget will limit the department’s ability to do its work, though it will continue its programs and progress. It’s unknown at this time how the Lehigh Valley and the region’s cities will be directly affected through the smaller DCED budget.

Unfortunately, public television subsidies were entirely cut from the Pennsylvania budget, resulting in the cancellation of a local PBS-39 classic show, Tempo! The weekly documentary series focused on, among other topics, revitalization of the region’s cities and community development efforts in the Lehigh Valley. Sadly, the channel could no longer sustain production costs without the government’s help, despite the popularity of the program.

Residents of Pennsylvania: How do you feel now that the budget has passed?

Showcasing Easton’s Urban Revitalization Agenda

Easton City Center

The Lehigh Valley’s cities have made significant strides in the urban revitalization effort. To highlight Easton’s achievements on this front, the Philadelphia Chapter of the Urban Land Institute has scheduled a half-day conference and walking tour of Easton for Thursday, October 8th. The event, titled The Ultimate Green Choice: Urban Revitalization, will focus on traditional urban development and the investment incentives in establishing business within the city. Easton officials have advocated strongly for brownfield redevelopment within the city center, and the ULI conference will bring greater attention to this effort, while also highlighting the sustainability features that come with building and rehabilitating buildings within the urban core.

Urban Revitalization – City of Easton Case Study will begin with a panel of speakers at 2:00 p.m on Thursday, October 8th, at the Grand Eastonian Hotel and Condos at 40 Northampton St in Easton. Registration for the event is encouraged before October 2nd (registration cost covers program, tour, reception and food). For more information (including schedule and list of panel speakers) or to register for the event, visit the Philadelphia ULI Events page.

PA Passenger and Freight Rail Plan

Yesterday, I had a chance to attend the Harrisburg Open House meeting for PennDOT’s Intercity Passenger and Freight Rail Plan. The event presented the vision and goals for the rail plan in Pennsylvania for the next 25 years. In this draft plan, PennDOT put forward an ambitious vision for rail, stating that “by 2035, the intercity passenger and freight rail system [will] provide seamless transportation for residents, visitors and businesses between the various cities of Pennsylvania with convenient connections to the national transportation network.” The presentation at the open house included maps for proposed rail corridors, in addition to the criteria list that is being used to determine the corridors. The open house was part of a series of public meetings that PennDOT and the project’s consultants are holding across the state, as a means of receiving input on the draft plan. That is, the presentations at these meetings were not THE finalized plan, but were meant as an opportunity to provide feedback and potential revisions. (Attendees were even given a chance to actually draw corridors onto a map).

On the big picture scale, the plan aims to identify possible service enhancements, priority investments, performance measures, and funding mechanisms. One of the striking features (at least for me) of the plan elements and proposed criteria was the connection that was made between rail and land use planning. The project consultants seemed especially sensitive to those issues often addressed on this blog: transportation-oriented development, increased multi-modal access, greater mobility for all people, environmental sustainability, and land use implications. Moreover, the goals outlined in the plan touched upon the crucial link of transportation investment to economic development, in regard to both passenger rail (cost-effective access to jobs and resources) and freight rail (cost-effective transport of goods). As mentioned above, the proposed corridor maps for freight and passenger rail were still in their draft versions, but, nonetheless, a Lehigh Valley corridor was included in these preliminary plans.

Because the plan is still being revised, it has not been posted online yet, but RenewLV staff is following up with the project planners and consultants to see if we can obtain electronic versions of the documents presented at the meetings. Make sure to subscribe to the Crossroads RSS feed to receive updates on this project.

Widening Sidewalks, Creating Neighborhoods

The South Side Vision 2014 program, which focuses on redeveloping South Bethlehem, has initiated a study that will examine the feasibility of widening portions of the sidewalk in the Four Blocks International section of East Fourth Street. The broad vision behind this project is the effort to establish an identity for the neighborhood. The Community Action Development Corporation of Bethlehem has identified the Four Blocks neighborhood as a high-priority region, describing it as “a prime location for commercial establishments to meet the residents’ needs.” The diverse culture of this location has already spawned such businesses as Borinquen restaurant which serves up delicious Puerto Rican cuisine, and the Southside Soul and Caribbean Food restaurant, with a menu that includes Jamaican fare, a treat for those in a mood for more exotic tastes.

Several studies examining city planning patterns have suggested that narrower streets and wider sidewalks bring a variety of economic and social benefits. One of these benefits is increased pedestrian access, which often creates more consumer choices and destinations. Additionally, widening the sidewalk can better accommodate busier sections of a neighborhood, especially pertinent for this section of South Bethlehem which already experiences a steady flow of pedestrian traffic from established businesses. Finally, local restaurants will have the opportunity to add outdoor dining, and public transit users will benefit from new bus shelters.

Such projects always involve a great deal of challenges, and this one is without exception. East Fourth Street is currently only two lanes wide, with parking meters lining the street. If widening the sidewalk will mean narrowing the street, parking revenues and/or car traffic could be adversely affected. Local business owners cited these issues as most worrisome, though optimism for increased opportunities remains high. The $10,000 study hopes to address both the positives and the negatives. Keep checking the Crossroads blog for updates on this project and others in the Lehigh Valley.

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