When Renew Lehigh Valley was launched in 2005 by community leaders, the major concerns for Pennsylvania and the Lehigh Valley were twofold: (1) the “hollowing out” of core communities, resulting in disinvestment in cities and boroughs and the loss of precious farmland and open space; and (2) a highly fragmented system of municipal governance, which severely impedes planning for growth in a proactive, coordinated way.
Eight years later the need for smart growth planning and development is still immense. With the Lehigh Valley anticipating an addition of at least 145,000 new residents by 2030, according to the Lehigh Valley Planning Commission's estimates, smart planning is imperative.
Renew Lehigh Valley is acting to meet that need in 2013 and advocating for our core beliefs: that regional thinking can foster more effective planning and public investment that, in turn, lead to strong core communities and preserve the natural and historical assets that make the Lehigh Valley such a special place.
Renew LV has refocused its initiatives to include:
• Leading the public outreach efforts for Envision Lehigh Valley aimed at furthering the current Comprehensive Plan and establishing a regional sustainability plan
• Advocating for a regional water authority to offer a fair price to the City of Allentown and for the City to favor proposals that maintain local, public control of water and wastewater operations
• Advancing a police regionalization plan within the Slate Belt
• Exploring inter-governmental cooperation that could lead to more efficient delivery of services, such as multi-municipal land use planning and permitting
• Supporting the Lehigh Valley Regional Intelligence and Investigation Center and expanding its reach into Northampton County
• Engaging in state policy discussions to advocate for state-level policy changes that enable effective regional governance
Each of these initiatives reinforces the positive implications of smart growth policy in the Lehigh Valley. Regional collaboration can go a long way to not only make governance and the delivery of services more efficient and effective, but also to improve the local economy.
In December 2012, Lehigh County was ranked among the top 10 counties nationally to attract growth and investment by 4th Economy. What was the overarching theme among these top counties? Regionalism.
Regional collaboration requires cooperation among all sectors. Organizations cannot work in silos.
For this reason, Renew Lehigh Valley reaches out across the nonprofit, private and public sectors to establish alliances that encourage such collaboration and joint advocacy for smart growth planning. Establishing relationships with business leaders is vital, as their reach is wide and varied.
Renew Lehigh Valley works in partnership with other nonprofit organizations in the area to pool resources, while also reaching out to policymakers, without whom many of these solutions could not be implemented.
Envision Lehigh Valley is a perfect example of such cooperation in action.
Renew Lehigh Valley is one of 13 partners that have come together to form a Sustainability Consortium, which advises the distribution of a three-year, $3.4 million grant from the U.S. Housing and Urban Development Department. The overall goal of Envision Lehigh Valley is to further the Lehigh Valley Planning Commission's current Comprehensive Plan…the Lehigh Valley 2030 through the creation of a regional sustainability plan.
With a focus on affordable housing, fresh food access, jobs/housing balance, regional economic development, and climate and energy efficiency, Envision Lehigh Valley is asking all residents of the region to come together to create a smart plan for the Lehigh Valley's future, given the inevitable growth. (To view all partners and the full scope of the project, visit www.envisionlehighvalley.com)
There is still a great deal of work to be done in the Lehigh Valley in order to preserve the valuable resources here in the region; however, preservation cannot occur without considering the long-term sustainability of the region and anticipating growth with smart planning.
But such work cannot be accomplished without key alliances with community and business leaders like you. Join us in our commitment to promote smart growth and smart governance in order to revitalize our core communities, preserve open space, and establish an economically and environmentally sustainable foundation for our region's future growth.
Learn more about Renew Lehigh Valley by visiting www.renewlv.org and join us today.
Rachel Bradshaw is the director of Renew Lehigh Valley.