What is our vision of the Lehigh Valley?
I spoke with a group of citizens last Sunday morning at the Unitarian Universalist Church in Bethlehem. In that relatively small forum (40 people) folks expressed clearly to me that they are not happy with the growth the valley has seen in in the last 20 years. On Monday, I met with a business leader, a government leader and a citizen who wanted to make the point that “Open space is economic development,” that people move to the Lehigh Valley for quality of life. They asked how we could be smarter about assembling all of the tools that elected and appointed officials and land owners need in order to do a better job of preserving and protecting open space from the type of development that deteriorates our environment and our quality of life.
But what is that? I have personally been intrigued by the principles of New Urbanism. I know that development will take place, but wish that we could see new neighborhoods being built as mixed use, beautiful, walkable, functional places with a strong sense of place. Why can they do it in Gaithersburg, MD in the Kentlands, and we cannot do it in the Lehigh Valley? What New Urbanist developers tell me is that they make more money with TND (traditional neighborhood development) than CSD (conventional suburban development).
So why have we not seen it here? Zoning codes that don’t permit it. We need more people who understand what it is (check out the checklist at the end of the book Suburban Nation). We need township planning commissions and township councils who support TND and will hire the appropriate planners to help them put the zoning in place for TND to be built. And, we need citizens who cry out for it.
Which gets me to the host of meetings the Lehigh Valley Planning Commission has scheduled as a part of the Envision Lehigh Valley process to develop its new housing plan. The next one is next Monday, Jan. 27th in Old Zionsville, but there are another seven more scheduled for all over the Lehigh Valley through the middle of February. For other dates and locations, go to envisionlehighvalley.com/events. The Kentlands proves that “density” can be a gracious, civilized way to live — and an efficient use of our land.
Upper Milford Municipal Building, 5671 Chestnut St., Old Zionsville, PA