Spotlight on Sustainability: Envision Lehigh Valley, PA

Easton, PA
Easton, PA in the Lehigh Valley. Photo by Lehigh Valley, PA via Flickr.

A 2011 Regional Planning Grant from the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) is helping Lehigh Valley, PA plan for a vibrant future.

Located conveniently between the Philadelphia and New York City metropolitan areas, the Lehigh Valley is currently home to approximately 650,000 people. The region’s population is projected to grow over the next 20 years by as much as 145,000 people, and the region wants to make sure it’s prepared for the demands such growth will bring.

Envision Lehigh Valley is doing just that. The three-year effort promoting a vibrant future for the region was made possible by a 2011 Regional Planning Grant from HUD. The project officially launched in July 2012 with a broad consortium of partners and five focus areas: affordable housing, regional economic development, access to fresh food, transportation, and climate and energy efficiency. The five focus areas will help inform a new comprehensive plan for the region.

“We don’t want this plan to sit on the shelf and collect dust,” said Rachel Bradshaw, Director of RenewLV, a member of the Envision Lehigh Valley consortium. “We’re empowering community members to speak on their own behalf, because the plans that are put in place should be beneficial to the entire community.”

Envision Lehigh Valley is working hard to make sure that happens. Since its launch the project has held 30 public meetings and surveyed over 1,100 people who live in the region. The project even created an onlne version of the survey to reach residents too busy to attend public sessions or who feel more comfortable discussing regional issues one-on-one. These outreach efforts have found commonalities across the Valley’s 62 municipalities.

Envision Lehigh Valley is helping several communities turn these plans into action. Allentown is working to redevelop its Little Lehigh Industrial Corridor, once a strip of businesses, into apartments and a new brewery. Bethlehem’s Eastern Gateway, historically a neighborhood for Bethlehem Steel workers, holds tremendous potential to become a restored businesses center with parks and a skating rink. And the City of Easton is redeveloping its 13th Street Corridor into a desirable location for businesses and retailers. Using the old Simon Silk Mill as a historic anchor, Envision Lehigh Valley and Easton hope to encourage all types of transportation along the corridor.

“The Lehigh Valley really is one community. Maybe not one neighborhood, but one community,” said Easton Mayor Sal Panto at an Envision Lehigh Valley meeting in December. “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.”

That community is reflected in wide range of organizations and municipalities participating in the project. “It’s great that we have a catalyst and a reason to get everyone in the same room,” said Bradshaw. “Envision Lehigh Valley is a great opportunity to get out of our silos, talk to one another, and create a collaborative plan. We are becoming a region of our own.”

Support projects like Envision Lehigh Valley

Envision Lehigh Valley is working to make lasting, positive change in Pennsylvania’s communities and it is made possible by HUD’s Regional Planning Grants program. HUD is part of the Partnership for Sustainable Communities, which helps communities across the country grow in economically vibrant ways. If you want to see more projects like this happen, speak out to support the Partnership today.