Friday, December 7, 2012

Envision Lehigh Valley Meeting in Easton Draws a Crowd

Holly Edinger, director of sustainable development
 for the Lehigh Valley Economic Development Corporation,
 talks to a crowd of about 50 Easton residents gathered
at the Easton Area Community Center  Thursday evening.
By Christina Georgiou

The Lehigh Valley is the third largest metro area in Pennsylvania, and its population is growing.
But without a vision and planning for that growth, the full potential prosperity that could come with it isn't so likely to happen.
"We really need to set the structure for the future," Holly Edinger, director of sustainable development for the Lehigh Valley Economic Development Corporation, told a crowd of about 50 Easton residents gathered at the Easton Area Community Center  Thursday evening. "We really need to set the structure for the future."

Click on any image for a better view

The Lehigh Valley was one of only 47 communities nationally to receive a federal planning  grant, and it was among the largest--$8.4 million. That money will be used to gather input from citizens and to create and implement a vision for the region's future, she said.
"Hopefully, if we do our job well, it will put us on the national stage and help with things like job creation," Edinger said.
Citizen engagement and input is key to any comprehensive plan to be a sucess, she said.
"Plans are not good unless they have buy-in and commitment," Edinger said. "They become doorstops otherwise."
The planning project, Envision Lehigh Valley, is conducting numerous public input meetings across the Valley, gathering ideas and hearing citizens' thoughts on what works and what doesn't, what their concerns and experiences are, and what they'd like to see for the future.
Thursday evening's meeting is the first of a total of four planned in the city, and others in the greater Easton area, as well as in and around Bethlehem and Allentown,  have happened and are planned for the coming months.
The project will study everything from housing to jobs to transportation, as well as other quality of life matters, such as food access and environmental issues, she said.
Defined by the criteria of low- to moderate-income neighborhoods being more than one mile away from a grocery store, Envision Lehigh Valley has identified "food deserts" in the region.
"There are four 'food deserts' in the Lehigh Valley, but none of them are in Easton," Edinger said, though she added that the city could use a second grocery store to be ideal.
As the region grows from being home to nearly 650,000 today to a projected 800,000+ population in 2030, based on its current demographic profile, the area will "age" too, she said.
"And that means more LANTA riders and less drivers," Edinger added.

Mayor Sal Panto said he supports the goals of Envision LV, particularly since he thinks the initiative will help with job creation.
"The Lehigh Valley really is one community. Maybe not one neighborhood, but one community," Panto said. "Unfortunately, sometimes we don't work (together) as a valley. That wasn't the case 20 years ago, and I think we need to get back to that."
However, both Panto and Edinger, along with Easton Planning Director Becky Bradley, said what really matters when it comes to the city's future and its role in the region is what its residents think.
"What do you really want your community to be?" Panto asked. "Not me, you, as a stakeholder."
Bradley said she thinks Easton's future is a bright one, and the city has a lot of the elements of a successful future already in place.
"Even though Easton is a (population) dense place, you don't have to choose between growth and sustainability," she said. "Actually, it already (has both)."
The city's transportation infrastructure is also a plus, she added.
"Another wonderful thing about Easton is we have a wonderful grid system and sidewalks, which give a lot of ways to get around," she said.
While some of the meeting presented facts, most of it was spent with local residents from all four city neighborhoods discussing their ideas and sharing observations about the city's strengths and weaknesses, while facilitators from the Envision LV project recorded their discussions.
Quality of life issues, such as neighborhood environment, transportation and walkability of the area, traffic, and job availability seemed to dominate a number of discussions.
Future meetings to gather public input will follow a similar format, Edinger said.
Three more public input gathering sessions are planned:
  • Monday, January 7, from 6 to 8 p.m., at St. John's Lutheran Church, 330 Ferry St.
  • Thursday, January 10, from 6 to 8 p.m., at Shiloh Baptist church, 403 Davis St.
  • Thursday, January 17, from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m., at College Hill Presbyterian Church, 501 Brodhead St.
Participants don't have to be from the neighborhood the meeting is held in to attend, officials noted--all are open to all local residents.
Those that cannot attend the meetings or missed the ones in other communities in the greater Easton area are still encouraged to participate by completing Envision LV online surveys and communicating ideas though the project's website, Edinger added.
To learn more about the Envision Lehigh Valley project, visit

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