The Latest News from PA Chapter of APA…
In planning, its people who really make a difference, whether it’s professional planners advocating for good policies, citizens participating in a planning process, or civic-minded leaders like Frank Buhl. In 2021, many of our news items will emphasize personal and professional resiliency and adaptation to rapid change of the people who make good planning happen. This month, these priorities are highlighted in articles about advocacy and community engagement. Enjoy!
The next Webinar Wednesday, Planning with a Purpose…and Need: Connecting with PennDot and FHWA to Build the Foundation for Sound Transportation Projects… is scheduled for March 3, 2021 from 12:00 p.m. to 1:00 p.m. Sound transportation projects start with sound planning! Properly identifying and documenting transportation problems early in a project’s life cycle are key to developing a project’s purpose and need for NEPA documentation and analyses. During this session, PennDOT and FHWA specialists will share valuable tips and methods showing how planners can collaborate with them to better identify and document transportation problems and needs early during project planning. Deadline to register is Tuesday, March 2.
If you are interested in sponsoring a Webinar Wednesday session or have a session for Webinar Wednesday, please contact us. Send your request to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Community engagement is a critical element of any planning effort, but it can be very difficult to reach everyone, particularly those who have felt bypassed by traditional planning efforts and government outreach. Planners need to always seek new ways to engage the public so that everyone has a voice, and it’s always helpful to see what has worked in other communities.
During the development of its new comprehensive plan, Allentown Vision 2030, the City of Allentown successfully conducted extensive outreach. Their robust community engagement included a survey, public meetings, focus groups, social media marketing, a retail storefront in downtown Allentown, community ambassadors, a meeting in the box toolkit, and a diverse and fully-engaged steering committee.
The process was driven by an “Allentown for All” mission, and the final product reflects this inclusive outlook. The plan has a strong emphasis on meeting the needs of everyone in the city, which is reflected in the four primary vision areas: economic inclusivity, city as steward, diversity and inclusion, and community empowerment and collaboration. To learn more about Allentown’s plan and ongoing efforts, go to https://allentownvision2030.org/.
At the 2020 Annual APA PA Awards ceremony this year, the Association honored John Theilacker, AICP with the Award for a Leader – Professional Planner, celebrating his 37 years of dedication to the field of planning. As Associate Director for Municipal Assistance at the Brandywine Conservancy in Chadd’s Ford, Pennsylvania, Theilacker advocated for conservation in Pennsylvania by helping local governments protect natural resources and plan for the land’s responsible use. For over two decades with the agency, he worked diligently to help communities in Pennsylvania develop realistic, creative ways to balance conservation and enhance natural resources while fostering community resilience.
Theilacker co-authored 12 planning guides for WeConservePA (formerly known as the Pennsylvania Land Trust Association). These guides are for municipal use on riparian buffers, zoning for solar and wind energy, and traditional neighborhood development). He is also recognized as an expert in the transfer of development rights (TDR) and was one of the primary creators of the Brandywine Conservancy’s Transfer of Development Rights (TDR) Manual (2003) and the 2008 Lancaster County TDR Practitioner’s Handbook.
While an active planner, John focused on training municipal officials and presented at multiple conferences at the state and national levels. He volunteered his time for numerous years as a member of the West Chester Borough Planning Commission, including serving as the commission chair.
“We are truly thrilled for John and the well-deserved recognition he has received for his decades of expertise, service, and leadership in this field,” said Ellen Ferretti, Director of the Brandywine Conservancy. Carol J Stauffer, AICP, Assistant Director of the Chester County Planning Commission, agreed. “John is greatly deserving of this recognition for his dedication to protecting the environment, natural resources, and open space through excellent planning in Chester County and all of Pennsylvania.
The Great Places in Pennsylvania program began in 2014. This program highlights places in the Commonwealth that are prime examples of good planning and are centerpieces of their communities highlighting connectivity, community engagement, and economic opportunity. Each month, we will highlight a recent Great Places award winner.
In 2018, Buhl Park in Hermitage, Mercer County was designated as a Great Place in the Great Public Space category. Buhl Park was established in 1911 when Frank Buhl planned and acquired land to build the park as a place of recreation for the residents. In 1915, Buhl donated the land, facilities and improvements to the Buhl Park Trustees. The Trustees, with help from the Buhl Park Corporation, donors and volunteers, continue to maintain and improve the park.
Today, Buhl Park is over 300 acres and is home to a free 9-hole golf course, 18-hole disk golf course, swimming pool, 9-acre lake, tennis courts and six playgrounds, including an inclusive playground. Buhl Park is a gathering place for the community with four picnic pavilions and a gazebo with views of the park. The park hosts annual events including Winter Fest, free summer concerts, July 4th fireworks, and Buhl Day celebrating Frank Buhl’s legacy.
Buhl Park is visited by more than 400,000 people annually and is host to weddings, engagements, showers, reunions and more. In 2020, Buhl Park saw a record number of park visitors as people sought safe recreation outdoors. To learn more about Buhl Park.
Laura Ludwig, AICP is a Community Planner with Herbert, Rowland & Grubic (HRG) where she works with a wide-range of clients including local governments, redevelopment authorities, and non-profit organizations. Prior to her time at HRG, she was the Community Development Director for North Fayette Township, Allegheny County. Her passion for planning, like most planners, comes from a desire to make a difference and to make our communities a better place to live, work, play, and explore. Laura is also the Section Chair of the Southwest Section of the Pennsylvania Chapter. She graduated from the University of Pittsburgh – Graduate School of Public and International Affairs with a focus in Urban and Regional Affairs.
- What is your favorite part about working in the planning field?
One of my favorite parts of working as a planner is getting to meet people from all different backgrounds and places. Each community that I’ve had the opportunity to work in, I’ve met and gotten the opportunity to get to know so many different people from all different walks of life. Also, spending time in the different communities I have worked in, getting to know the people, feeling the sense of community and place there, eating at the local diner, having a beer at the brewery, and seeing the potential for progress, advancement, and change, is always exciting and fun. I have a tendency to develop an affinity and connection to the communities I work in and end up going back to visit them on my own with my family, even after my planning projects are done.
- In the era of COVID-19, how have you been able to adapt your community engagement efforts?
COVID-19 has certainly made planners think outside of the box in terms of community engagement efforts. Even though we are all pretty “Zoomed out,” Zoom really has been a great tool for keeping in touch with my colleagues at HRG as we continue to work remotely. Zoom has also been crucial for hosting Steering Committee meetings for various projects. Thankfully, with tools such as project websites, online community surveys, and meeting platforms like Zoom or Microsoft Teams, we have still been able to keep our planning processes as transparent as possible and to solicit feedback from the public and various stakeholders. And, in the warmer months, hosting events outdoors at parks and pavilions was great. In August, my colleague Chris and I hosted a public outreach meeting at a park in Tionesta Borough, Forest County. The pavilion had electricity and we were able to host a meeting in-person, all while social distancing. I think most planners would certainly prefer to meet people in person, as there is more opportunity for interaction and it’s more personal. But, with these various tools, we’ve been able to get it done.
- Where would we find you after work?
I am a planner by day and a mom, wife, and household manager by night! Usually after work, you will find me scrambling to make dinner before heading out to one of my kid’s sporting events or shuffling my son or daughter from practice to practice. If I am not busy with my kids’ sports teams, then you’ll most likely find me on my Peloton, either riding the bike or doing a strength class. I am obsessed!
- As the current Southwest Section President, what has it been like?
It has been a ton of fun to serve as Chair of the Southwest Section Council. I’ve enjoyed the time spent with my fellow Council members and they have all helped to make it a fun and enjoyable experience. We were all new to Section Council when we took over two years ago. We had some great ideas and high hopes to grow the Chapter, plan fun social events, host interactive and fun educational workshops, etc. and then COVID hit and put a big dent in our plans. I am hopeful we will get back on track this year and will plan events that are rewarding both educationally and socially for our members in 2021.
- The annual conference is being held in Pittsburgh and by the Southwest Section, how can members become involved with the conference?
The Southwest Section is very excited to showcase and highlight Pittsburgh and the Western PA region as a whole in October at the annual planning conference. There are several ways people can get involved. One option is to serve on the Conference Planning Committee. We are currently soliciting volunteers and need folks to help with the four subcommittees – speakers, fundraising, special events, and programming. If someone does not have the time to commit to serve on the committee but has ideas to share, they can always reach out to us at email@example.com. Closer to the conference, we will likely need some additional help with set up and other conference related items throughout the conference. We may also need donations of masks and hand sanitizer. Hosting a conference in person during COVID will present some challenges, but we’re determined to make it happen!