Blog Archives

The Link Between Poverty and Urban Policy

Willy Staley of Next American City comments on (Slate writer) Timothy Noah’s articles on the topic of income inequality in America, specifically focusing on the the connection between income patterns and urban policy throughout the last century. This connection was discussed at the Building One PA summit in Lancaster and was integral to Myron Orfield’s framework of a policy agenda.

Staley writes:

When people think of redistributive wealth policies in the Postwar years, they likely think of Great Society programs, but it was actually the subsidization of suburbia that coincided with the Great Compression of the 50’s and 60’s, and redistributed wealth more effectively, actually helping whole classes of people attain prosperity considered previously unattainable.

Though his post has many controversial points, I can’t help but wholeheartedly agree with many of his claims. He states:

Look to where union labor and manufacturing used to exist: Detroit, Youngstown, Cleveland, etc. These cities, instead of tearing down old buildings to put up condominiums, are tearing down old buildings to prevent blight, and to relieve city services of their duties in the face of a constantly declining tax base. Is Detroit’s abandonment the inverse of Williamsburg’s gentrification?

Staley correctly points out that, at its core, this problem is structural. This is an issue that is dependent on the policies that are in place that are either encouraging disinvestment in our older communities or providing incentives for rebuilding and renewing.

I encourage you to read the full article and post your comments below.


New Skatepark in Bethlehem

If you follow the news in the Lehigh Valley closely, you’re aware of the uphill battle that has been the Bethlehem Skate Park. The project has hit so many snags along the way — including a possible cut in funding by the Bethlehem City Council, a move that didn’t happen thanks to the successful rallying of local skateboarders via social media (what a great organizing tool, no?) — but all of that is in the past as opening day of the park draws near.

The blog for Homebase, a local skateboard shop, has pictures of the park, as well as some details regarding the grand opening on July 16th. Here are some teaser pictures:

This park has tremendous potential for attracting tourism into the region and the city. And it will be a great recreational area for the young people in the region. Visit their blog to see the rest of the pictures and get full details on opening day.

Sadly, I will be out of town at the Building One Pennsylvania summit on the 16th and will have to miss the grand opening, but if any of you are unable to attend the summit in Lancaster, I suggest you head over to this event at 4pm.

Building One PA event: Regional Solutions Key to Urban Revitalization

The mood at last night’s Building One PA event in Allentown was hopeful. Community members gathered to watch “The New Metropolis” documentary, which, among other things, highlighted the crucial link between urban revitalization and comprehensive regional planning. The discussion that followed also focused on the need to plan better on a regional level.

The documentary recounted the history of urban sprawl, starting with government policies put into place after World War II. These policies encouraged new developments on cheap farmlands with the aid of state and federal subsidies. Now, many decades later, these original communities are struggling with keeping up with finances, as new developments keep popping up in the outlying areas. Urban planning leaders in the film called for a better, more coordinated approach to planning, with Myron Orefield stating that “regional land-use policies–tied to infrastructure planning– are the key to smart growth.”

The discussion that followed among the panelists and audience members brought out some good commentary about what needs to be done to encourage reinvestment in our older communities. Mayor Pawlowski of Allentown stressed that policy changes have to be implemented on the statewide level. Current policies tend to favor new developments over efforts to rebuild aging infrastructure in older communities, which places an unfair burden on these communities. The panel encouraged community members to organize in their respective municipalities and keep working with RenewLV to find effective solutions to these issues.

This discussion will continue at the greater Building One Pennsylvania summit, taking place in Lancaster on July 16th. We encourage any interested residents and workers of the Lehigh Valley to attend this event on the 16th. Click here to register. To keep up to date on matters related to regional collaboration and urban revitalization, make sure to sign up for RenewLV’s e-mail list on our Join Us page.

Are We Past the Suburban Century?

A colleague recently sent me an interesting article and I wanted to make sure to share it with our readers. John McIlwain, Senior Fellow at the Urban Land Institute (ULI), claimed that the “suburban century is over” when he made his remarks at a meeting of ULI: Minnesota recently. McIlwain gave his take on the recent housing and real estate market, predicting that difficult economic times will encourage more individuals and families to move closer to work, resources, and amenities.

This is good news to hear for advocates of urban revitalization and redevelopment. The claim is not entirely unexpected, as economic pressures will be pushing more people toward efficient living situations: housing close to work and recreation. There is a hope that some of these pressures will give way to better state and federal policy that favor revitalizing older communities (and make it easier for developers to build more housing in the urban cores).

This is surely a topic that will be covered during the Building One PA event in Allentown this upcoming Monday. The event starts at 6 p.m. at Allentown Symphony Hall (23 N. 6th St.). After a film viewing the documentary “New Metropolis,” community leaders will participate on the panel immediately following the film, and will answer questions and discuss ways in which we can address problems facing our inner cities. View the event flyer for additional information. Hope to see you there!

Improving Streetscape

With the City of Allentown considering a Complete Streets policy and RenewLV’s Regional Transportation Forum drawing near, I thought it would be interesting to highlight some innovations in urban corridor planning. The National Complete Streets Coalition reported that the American Society of Landscape Architects helped draft a resolution to designate the fourth week in April as “National Streetscaping Week.” Supported in part by the Transportation for America coalition (of which RenewLV is a regional partner), the resolution would “promote the development of safe, attractive, and environmentally sustainable communities by urging federal, state, regional, and local policy-makers to fund and support streetscape improvement projects.”

Streetscape improvements go a long way in the implementation of complete streets policies. Physical improvements can change the overall feeling of a neighborhood and encourage alternative modes of transportation. Looking at the renderings below (drawn for the city of Houston, TX), you can see how a street can go from being merely auto-friendly, to being people-friendly.

Some Lehigh Valley communities have already changed the landscape of their streets to increase livability (even without an on-the-books Complete Streets policy). Walk around in the downtowns of Allentown, Bethlehem, and Easton, and you’ll see what I mean.

This topic is sure to come up at RenewLV’s upcoming Regional Transportation Forum on the evening of April 19th. Hope to see you all at Hotel Bethlehem for a lively discussion!

SUN*LV Tool Drive, March 29-May15

Through May 15th, SUN*LV is collecting used and new tools to benefit community gardens across the Lehigh Valley. Some of the most needed items are shovels, rakes, hoes, spades, hand tools, and gloves. Drop-off sites are below.

Sustainable Urban Neighborhoods of the Lehigh Valley (SUN*LV) is a project of the Community Action Committee of the Lehigh Valley. The initiative was originally formed by the Leadership Lehigh Valley Class of 2009 as a response to a broad range of issues which face the region. SUN*LV works with organizations and residents to help support existing community gardens and to assist in the creation of new community gardens in neighborhoods across the Lehigh Valley.

With the weather warming up, the timing is perfect for getting involved in community gardening in the Lehigh Valley. If you would like to support SUN*LV’s efforts or join the group, visit or email at

Urban Redevelopment Booming

Gabriel Nelson of Greenwire reported last week on an EPA study suggesting that redevelopment in the urban core continues steadily, while development in the suburbs has stalled. Of course, the booming redevelopment movement has been strongest in areas with strict regional land-use policies – but the pattern is also evident in areas known for sprawl, like Chicago and Los Angeles.

The report states:

This acceleration of residential construction in urban neighborhoods reflects a fundamental shift in the real estate market. The market fundamentals are shifting toward redevelopment even in the absence of formal policies and programs at the regional level.

Having the full support of the White House administration for transit-oriented, dense urban development has helped, but Nelson suggests that the market was already heading in this direction (with the government support one step ahead). It seems that more and more people are inclined to live in urban areas (partly for improved quality of life that comes from not being stuck in a car all the time, and partly for environmental concerns).

Is smart growth taking hold in U.S. cities, as the report suggests?

Back from Panama

I had the pleasure of spending the last two weeks in Panama, the majority of that time in the city of Panama. Panama City has not only established itself as a financial powerhouse within Latin America (and the Western Hemisphere for that matter), but is currently going through a large urban development boom, with tall skyscrapers lining the skyline. While driving into the city from the airport, one can get overwhelmed by the amount of construction that is visible in the urban core. Of course, being a city enthusiast, I was completely in my element. It did make me think about the extent to which the development is affecting the residents of the city, as well as the residents in the outlying areas.

A few months back, I came across a brief story by the Lincoln Institute of Land Policy highlighting Panama’s development patterns, which, up to this point, have been a bit uncoordinated. Alvaro Uribe of Panama’s International Center for Sustainable Development was cited in this story, stating “The city is going everywhere…it’s completely horizontal, formal and informal, with very low densities. Barbed wire has become the boundary of the neighborhood, and down the middle, a road.” Anyone driving near Punta Paitilla will see that this is the case.

But a planning movement is emerging, with a new Urban Law going into affect in 2006 and some new regulations will be able to better justify some of the massing and height, and allow for the creation of new boulevards (one of which is a new oceanfront boulevard that just opened. Yep, it is incredibly beautiful). I also heard some rumors through the grapevine that a more robust public transportation system will be put into place in the upcoming years. Progress indeed. Currently, the only mode of public transportation within the urban core is the system of painted school buses, endearingly called diablos rojos – red devils. With congestion levels becoming almost unbearable during rush hour, new solutions will need to be looked at, hopefully with the goal of taking some cars off the road.

I hope to have some pictures to share with the blog’s readers soon. Stay tuned…

Better TOD: Focusing on Transit

The Sustainable Cities Collective often publishes ridiculously insightful and on-point pieces and yesterday’s post by Ariel is no exception. The article points out that, often, Transit Oriented Development (TOD) is too focused on the Development aspect and not as much on the Transit portion. Any project within 1/4 mile of transit is classified as TOD, even if the transit is not completely reliable or frequent.

An Econsult report is cited: “The value of any development is contingent upon the value of the transit service provided.” How true. And here comes the vital point (often made by RenewLV, 10,000 Friends of PA, Transportation for America, and countless other organizations working on transit and smart growth issues) that transportation and development are intricately tied to each other, and better land use planning is needed to make sure that regions grow in a smarter and more coordinated manner. We, as a society, are learning that not all development is good development. And while transit oriented development goes a long way in promoting better long-term visions, it still needs to be mindful of coordinated planning – one that promotes urban revitalization and redevelopment of the core communities.

But what are your thoughts on this?

Local Code Project

Look how far technology is taking us: the Local Code project is the effort to use digital mapping tools and open data to address neglected and vacant areas within the urban cores. Landscape and Urbanism blog posted a great brief video yesterday about the concept. The project wishes to examine the impacts that neglected areas have on other parts of a city (often negative impacts), and possibly come to solutions for redevelopment.

Because municipalities’ financial situations are forcing cuts within many departments, this project might become a great (and possibly affordable?) tool in planning. Design New Haven examines the Local Code project as it might apply to New Haven, as well as explains some of the features.

Check it out, and post your thoughts below.