In the nine counties of southwestern Pennsylvania, the population will grow by about 430,000 residents by 2024, and leaders will have to make decisions for generations ahead, planners said Friday.
“We have to decide what kind of region we want. … either a trend-based scenario of unconstrained growth, or a focused, fully controlled growth scenario,” said Donald K. Carter, managing principal of Urban Design Associates.
Carter spoke at the third-annual Westmoreland County Smart Growth Summit at the University of Pittsburgh at Greensburg. The conference was designed to raise awareness about the need for comprehensive planning to avoid sprawling development. The sponsor, the Smart Growth Partnership of Westmoreland County, is a private, community land-use advocacy group that deals with growth and quality-of-life issues.
A panel of planners, developers and government officials in attendance were in agreement that regionalism in southwestern Pennsylvania is occurring through work force investment, pubic safety and lobbying efforts in Harrisburg.
Carter highlighted portions of a study, “A Strategic Vision for Public Transportation in Southwestern Pennsylvania,” a document that was finished last fall but has not been adopted by any government body. Principal funding for the study came from The Heinz Endowments and the Port Authority of Allegheny County.
He said the region is truly in “revolutionary times,” coping with demographic population shifts and migrations back to urban centers.
Carter said key themes of the study show that transit should connect people to jobs. “It should be frequent, reliable and safe. There should be a regional transit system,” said Carter.
He said the implications for public transportation could include the creation or expansion of “feeder” transportation systems from the outlying areas in the nine-county region. Other strategies could include regional fare integration, alternate fuel vehicles, transit priority measures and use of computer or digital-based transportation systems.
“The perception of regionalism is crucial. If it’s perceived as mergers and consolidations, we’re in trouble. No matter what we do in Harrisburg, the key is local planning,” said state Sen. Allen Kukovich, a Manor Democrat.
Most individuals don’t realize how cooperative regionalism works, said John A. Skiavo, president and CEO of the Economic Growth Connection of Westmoreland.
“The key is how we grow. Smart growth is not anti-growth. Business will follow people. Because we concentrate on common needs, we have an opportunity to grow in a much smarter fashion. We need to create a system for municipalities to work together,” said Skiavo.
Panelists also agreed that citizens have to become more involved and articulate their positions of how they want their communities identified.
Another key to smart growth is building consensus on the local and state level — and keeping it for a sustained period.
One question from the audience asked whether consensus was reached on having several big retailers locate along the already-congested Route 30 corridor.
Thomas Balya, Westmoreland County commissioner, said the alternative was to spread retailers haphazardly. “The market drives a lot of investment. We can’t have it both ways. The inconvenience of sitting at a few red lights on Route 30 isn’t the worst thing that could happen,” said Balya.