Blog Archives

What’s An Urban Grocery Store?

Answer: Not an urban legend.

In metropolitan areas across the country, residents have been faced with fresh food deserts, or areas where one third of the population is more than a mile from a grocery store and one fifth exists below the poverty line. City dwellers are faced with carrying their groceries on long public transit rides, buying a car or relying on convenience stores to purchase their groceries.

For some lucky metro-poles, there is yet another option: visiting their local urban grocery stores. Though not exactly super markets, these small grocery stores strive to provide their cities with fresh food, meat and cooking staples within reasonable walking distance. Corner stores like these became passe after super stores like Wal-Mart, Wegmans, Weis and Giant came to suburbia. However there’s been a new push toward walkability and sustainable growth within our cities and we again need accessible food in our urban areas.

However, the confines of urban design present some challenges. These grocery stores have to use a fraction of the space that super stores have, prioritize the goods they will provide and consider parking in an area unable to accommodate a super-parking-lot. Even with these challenges in mind, many cities and entrepreneurs have taken the risk and opened such grocery stores.

In the city of Dallas, Texas, there is one such grocery store that also encompasses a delivery component. Nestled in the heart of downtown Dallas, Urbanmarket is the only full service grocery store in its area. They provide produce, meat, deli, seafood, wine & beer, health and beauty products, flowers and prepared foods. Also, if you submit your grocery list online by noon on Tuesday or Friday, your groceries will  be delivered right to you.

Washington, D.C. is getting even more use out of urban space by utilizing mixed use development. On the same property as the Urban Lifestyle Safeway grocery store, there are 441 condos, 244 apartments and 75,000 square feet of retail space. The property is only 3.2 acres. Parking for these facilities is approximately 40 percent of a standard suburban grocery store but still has maintained a successful business model through foot and bike traffic.

There are four food deserts in the Lehigh Valley right now, which (according to the USDA) means that there are four regions in which one third of the population has to travel more than a mile to reach fresh food and at least one fifth of the population exists  below the poverty line. Is an urban grocery store a potential solution to this fresh food problem? Envision Lehigh Valley has been gathering public input on fresh food access and those findings will be included in a comprehensive plan to combat food deserts in the Valley. Community involvement and ideas will be critical in this planning process.

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.

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.

New Environmental Education Center Coming to Lehigh Valley

Saucon Valley School District will soon be home to a new environmental education center. Well, not soon-soon, but plans are underway by the Saucon Valley Foundation for Education Innovation. The Express Times reports:

The nonprofit foundation, organized by parents, community and business leaders, plans to hire the LandConcepts Group to create a $8,950 master plan for the center along the creek adjacent to Polk Valley Road.

Initial lower-cost ideas being floated for the site include student-built birdhouses, tree identification markers, a garden or a weather station with a rain gauge that could be used in the school.

Exciting project and a great new addition to the Lehigh Valley.

Local Opinions on Marcellus Shale

Did you get a chance to open the Opinion section of the Morning Call today? If so, then you know that it was dominated by thoughts on the drilling for natural gas in the Marcellus Shale and other areas of the Delaware River and Lehigh River watersheds.

On the Sounding Board, today’s question was: “Should regulations come down on the side of “gas rush” economic progress, or should the moratorium be continued until the state has new laws and regulations to make drilling environmentally sound?” Surprisingly, all of the responses came down on the side of waiting longer to draft better regulations — but that’s where the agreements ended. Read the full answers at the Morning Call online.

The issue of Marcellus Shale is sure to be brought up over the next year and during the upcoming election cycle. What are your thoughts on this?

Lehigh Valley Resident Asks: What of Farmland Preservation?

At least one resident is publicly urging local officials to refocus efforts on farmland preservation. A Letter to the Editor in the Morning Call today (late yesterday? At least online) speaks to the importance of preserving our region’s precious farmland, especially in these tough economic times.

The resident, Joan from Salisbury Township, reminds us that voters overwhelmingly supported the Growing Greener campaign in 1999 and 2005. Five years later, the region is still on path to losing precious farmlands at a devestating rate yearly.

Should our legislators consider this a top priority at this time? Why or why not?

Selling Carbon Credits (Way to go, Bethlehem)

As printed in today’s Express-Times, the City of Bethlehem is looking to bring in some revenue from its open space through the sale of carbon credits. This is significant as it presents a valuable way for a municipality to reap benefits from open space that go beyond the obvious. How would this work? The paper reports:

According to Mayor John Callahan and Bethlehem Authority director Steve Repasch, the city’s water resources and surrounding lands in the Poconos hold the potential for significant revenue streams in sellable carbon credits and timber stock.

Repasch said at current rates, the lands might be worth $100,000 a year in sellable carbon credits, or offsets that businesses and other entities can buy as credit toward their own carbon footprint.

This is an exciting development, one that other local municipalities might follow (if they can).

Community Gardening in the Lehigh Valley Underway

Spring is certainly in full bloom in the Lehigh Valley and community gardening is in full swing.

The Express Times featured a story on the South Side Community Gardening Initiative that is underway within South Bethlehem. Part of Lehigh University’s SouthSide Initiative, the community gardens are yet another part of the effort to revitalize South Bethlehem.

The garden has been built at Ullman Park on Sassafras and Wyandotte streets. Plots at the garden can be purchased for a $10 upkeep fee and the gardener has a choice in what vegetables to plant.

The group’s co-founder and current director of the SouthSide Initiative John Pettegrew stated:

In the South Side, a lot of attention is drawn to steel, and rightfully so, but there is much more. We want to educate residents about native species and how to plant and work with soil so they can grow food for their own consumption.

To sign up for a plot, visit the SouthSide Community Gardens Sign-Up page, or if you would like to contact them directly, send an email at or call 570-540-0239 (after 5 p.m. if possible).

Spotlight on the Lehigh River

The Morning Call is running a series on the Lehigh River, recounting its history and the efforts toward watershed protection. Many in the Lehigh Valley consider the river to be a distinct part of their childhood. It seems that spending time by the Lehigh River was a common activity in the region. But it wasn’t always the safest river to play in — that is, until local activists got involved.

The Call reports:

It was just about 40 years ago, around the time of the first Earth Day, that environmental concerns translated into action across the country and along the Lehigh. Government and public activism, the demise of heavy industry and natural cleansing began undoing decades of abuse, and the Valley’s most significant natural resource underwent a remarkable turnaround.

Today, the Lehigh River is healthier than it’s been in any living person’s memory. Bald eagles, osprey and herons now populate its banks. Trout, bass, muskellunge and the bugs on which they feed can be found in abundance. Canoeists, kayakers and rafters routinely ply the waters.

The article also touches upon the much-debated issue of drilling for Marcellus Shale in the Commonwealth.

Proposals to extract natural gas from the Marcellus Shale formation around the Lehigh’s headwaters in Wayne County also present a serious challenge to the river. The extraction process uses huge amounts of water, and in places where wells already have been drilled, waterways have been seriously degraded.

”I never thought we’d have [a threat] up there,” said Lehigh River Stocking Association President Matt MacConnell.

But the Lehigh now has many eyes watching out for its welfare. MacConnell’s organization has a water quality monitor that provides real-time data posted on the Internet. The conservancy works with an alphabet soup of state and federal agencies to protect the watershed. Water-dependent commercial businesses and environmental groups hold the Army corps accountable for long-term water flow, which is important for fishing, rafting and the river’s overall health.

Do you have fond memories of the Lehigh River? If so, share them below.

(Relatedly, if you’re interested in learning about RenewLV’s Regional Water Initiative, visit our website and sign up as a supporter on our Join Us page.)