THE FUTURE IS NOW
Development. Technology. Climate change. Equity. The future is coming at us faster than ever before, and the Lehigh Valley is in position to lead the way. FutureLV: The Regional Plan sets the vision and direction to carry this region to 2045 and beyond.
Seven decades of uncommon growth and a unique identity—built on a foundation of beautiful natural resources, a strong workforce and close access to almost anything anyone could want—has created a prime opportunity to compete in the global economy.
The region’s town centers can be the focus of new growth, while its historic, cultural and natural assets remain a selling point for people and businesses looking for a high quality of life. An already-robust transportation system is poised to become the multimodal network of the future, connecting walkable and bikeable neighborhoods, workers and job centers.
But getting there will require overcoming the challenges of balancing growth against preservation and bringing about profound change, while resources remain limited.
This plan provides a blueprint for managing future growth, making the most of our assets and creating a Lehigh Valley where everyone has access to health, opportunity and a livable neighborhood.
The LVPC and the LVTS are bi-county resources that provide balanced, accurate, timely and reliable information, data, analysis, planning and guidance on all relevant aspects of the Lehigh Valley community and society.
Subdivision, development and zoning regulation in Pennsylvania, as well as comprehensive planning, is delegated through the Municipalities Planning Code (MPC). County planning agencies, such as the Lehigh Valley Planning Commission (LVPC), are tasked with the creation of the comprehensive plan to set the overall vision, goals, policies and actions for Lehigh and Northampton counties. Metropolitan Planning Organizations, such as the Lehigh Valley Transportation Study (LVTS), plan for the overall safety, maintenance, asset management, expansion and coordination of the region’s mobility network. This includes a funding program for roads, bridges, transit, trails and rail systems. FutureLV: The Regional Plan serves this role by identifying known assets, sensitive lands, facilities, and current and proposed land uses, among other significant resources that make up, reinforce and change the way the Lehigh Valley functions. Overall, the LVPC and LVTS serve as advisors, collaborators and supporters of:
Public water and sewer entities
Lehigh Valley Planning Commission and Lehigh Valley Transportation Study are committed to and FutureLV: The Regional Plan supports and reinforces:
Authority to Develop a Comprehensive Vision, Goals, Policies, Actions and to Invest in the Lehigh Valley
This bi-county comprehensive plan and long-range transportation plan were developed in accordance with state and federal laws and are intended to comply with applicable laws, rules, regulations, executive orders, policies, guidelines and requirements.
Pennsylvania Municipalities Planning Code and the Lehigh Valley Planning Commission
The Lehigh Valley Planning Commission (LVPC), founded in 1961, is the Northampton County and Lehigh County Planning Commission with powers outlined in the Pennsylvania Municipalities Planning Code (Act of 1968, P.L. 805, No. 247, as reenacted and amended). Specifically, the Pennsylvania Legislature grants authority to county planning commissions to “protect and promote safety, health, morals and general welfare through coordinated development, guidance and protection of amenity, conveniences, future governmental, economic, practical, social and cultural facilities, growth and development, as well as the improvement of governmental processes.” This translates to the guidance of uses of land and structures, type and location of streets, public grounds, utilities and other facilities through bi-county comprehensive planning. The Commonwealth also requires identification of land uses of regional significance, preservation of natural and historic resources and prime agricultural lands be incorporated into plans. Municipal governments are encouraged to adopt municipal or multi-municipal land use plans and regulations that balance the needs of individual communities with that of the counties. These state-mandated requirements support small business development, facilitate the present and future viability of existing agricultural operations and encourage revitalization, all fostering a business-friendly environment that permits municipalities and counties to minimize impacts to communities and society as a whole. FutureLV: The Regional Plan is the comprehensive plan for the region, as required by the Pennsylvania Municipalities Planning Code.
United States Code, Title 23 and the Lehigh Valley Transportation Study
The Lehigh Valley Planning Commission staffs and participates in the Lehigh Valley Transportation Study (LVTS), as the federally designated, mandated and funded Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) for transportation policy-making. The LVTS includes representation from state and county governments and governmental transportation authorities that ensure regional cooperation in transportation planning. MPOs were introduced by the Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1962, which required the formation of an MPO for any urbanized area with a population greater than 50,000. Federal funding for transportation projects and programs are channeled through this planning process. Congress created MPOs to ensure that existing and future expenditures of governmental funds for transportation projects and programs are based on a continuing, cooperative and comprehensive planning process. Specifically, the LVTS assesses data, congestion, feasibility, land use, transportation system performance and operations, safety and security, travel demand, freight and environmental linkages to develop a cohesive plan for the reliable movement of people and goods. This planning effort consults and coordinates with local, county, state and federal governments, transit operators, adjacent regions, transportation advocates, trail partners, the mobility-impaired, environmental justice communities and the public. The Long-Range Transportation Plan, which is FutureLV: The Regional Plan, incorporates and synthesizes metrics, research, partnerships and collaborations that plan context-sensitive transportation land use solutions, supporting a livable, sustainable and resilient infrastructure system.
A Single Region and Plan
FutureLV: The Regional Plan establishes a single comprehensive plan for the community. This plan is innovative because it merges the land use, community, economic, natural resources, agricultural, historic preservation, housing, utilities and community facilities planning of the Lehigh Valley Planning Commission with the transportation planning and investment of the Lehigh Valley Transportation Study. The combined effort creates a balanced and forward-thinking series of strategies that will lead the Lehigh Valley into the future, while addressing the needs of today.
Community events in which the Lehigh Valley Planning Commission engaged the public. Ranging from Galas to downtown BBQs and bike tours, the LVPC provided interactive opportunities for the community to voice its thoughts and ideas on the Lehigh Valley’s growth and development.
Public planning workshops presented by the LVPC during the development of FutureLV: The Regional Plan. These included Planning + Pizzas, Strategy Labs, LVPC Board + Committee meetings, Lehigh Valley Transportation Study Board meetings, Multimodal Working Group meetings and Regional Planning Action Team meetings.
People from across the region were invited to identify strengths and needs in their communities. Using an interactive chalkboard cube, residents shared their aspirations for the area, pinpointing the coming trends of the Valley and what needs to be addressed for the future.
Citizens responded to a regional outlook survey that focused on transportation, open space, development, housing, employment, etc., and the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats of each.
Total attendance at public meetings and forums
Total number of people reached through Facebook and Twitter
To the many citizens, community leaders, municipal partners and stakeholders who helped develop this Plan. FutureLV: The Regional Plan would not have been possible without their time, commitment, input and passion for making a great region even better.
LEHIGH COUNTY COMMISSIONERS AND NORTHAMPTON COUNTY COUNCIL
LEHIGH VALLEY TRANSPORTATION STUDY COMMITTEES
LEHIGH VALLEY PLANNING COMMISSION COMMISSIONERS
LEHIGH VALLEY PLANNING COMMISSION STAFF
FutureLV: The Regional Plan was researched, designed, written, edited, promoted, and is now applied in our community, by this team.
Becky A. Bradley, AICP
Peter M. Barnard, AICP
Director of Community Planning
Director of Transportation Planning and Data
Tracy L. Oscavich
Director of Development
Geoffrey A. Reese, PE
Director of Environmental Planning
Director of Administration
Chief Community Planner
Senior Environmental Engineer
Michael S. Donchez
Senior Environmental Planner
Susan L. Rockwell
Senior Environmental Planner
Senior Community Planner
Senior Geographic Information Systems Planner
Graphic Designer/Publication Coordinator
Transportation and Economic Systems
Senior Planning Technician
PEOPLE HAVE SPOKEN
How important will the following planning issues be over the next ten years?
In March and April of 2018, a survey given online and through the mail reached every corner of the Lehigh Valley. The 31-question survey asked residents about their likes, dislikes and ideas for the future. It gave us a window into who we are and how people view our future. Here’s a sample of what people think:
IMPORTANT OR VERY IMPORTANT
OR VERY IMPORTANT
OR VERY IMPORTANT
OR VERY IMPORTANT
What strategies would best address the Lehigh Valley's future transportation and mobility needs?
Designing walkable/bikeable communities
Installing new sidewalks and closing gaps in the existing sidewalk network
Promoting walking, biking and carpooling to work
Building new roadways and widening existing roads
Extending local public transit/bus service to new area
What do you like most about living in the Lehigh Valley?
Parks, trails and recreational activities
Natural lands and farmlands
Proximity to New York City and Philadelphia
Through public meetings, private conferences, community events and strategy labs, we talked with thousands of Lehigh Valley residents, most of them passionate about their view of the region. These are the topics they talked about most:
Mix of urban, suburban and rural areas
Near family and friends
The Lehigh Valley is a community with an old world soul and new economy innovation—an uncommon combination that’s made it one of Pennsylvania’s fastest-growing regions.
While its extensive trail network, rolling farm fields and historic sites are what residents say keeps them here, more than 1,000 miles of waterways, 123 natural heritage sites and many cultural attractions have made the region number one in the state for tourists on recreation visits.
Its natural assets are the kind that can’t be found in the big metros, yet a key to its success rests with its location within commuting distance of New York City, Philadelphia and
Washington D.C. It’s close enough to experience the best that the world’s largest metros have to offer, yet far enough away to develop its own unique identity—one built on balance.
The historic character of Bethlehem, Catasauqua and Easton are balanced by Allentown’s contemporary downtown rebirth, as the rust veneer of the century-old SteelStacks concert venue is balanced by the shine of the Tower 6 office complex. While the region’s three cities and 27 boroughs evolve into a new period of urbanism, the farmland that’s helped define its agricultural economy is accented by an eclectic mix of crossroads villages.
More than 300 miles of pathways, which include the D&L and Appalachian trails, are balanced by a highway network that provides easy access to much of the Northeast, the Jersey Shore and the Port of New York and New Jersey. The weekend warriors who have long used the expanding trail network are increasingly being joined by people using it to commute.
Ultimately, the region’s diverse population of native residents, who value a history that began before the American Revolution, is balanced by waves of newcomers who have been adding more than 4,000 people a year for seven decades. Many arrive to find that their search for more attainable housing and a greater sense of community can end in a place where they can aspire for more.
A result of that steady growth is a resilient economy driven by education, healthcare, manufacturing, retail sales and an arts and culture industry that adds more than $200 million to the local economy, while attracting more than 15 million visitors a year.
Thousands of acres of former manufacturing sites have been repurposed into modern industrial and business parks occupied by nearly 500 companies, while 16 colleges, universities and technical schools prepare a new generation of workers for a future that will require everyone to be lifelong learners.
Now, the Lehigh Valley is well-positioned to embrace a future of profound change by enhancing its historic core and nurturing its economic and cultural strengths, while maintaining the balance that’s made it a destination for so many searching for a higher quality of life.
Doing that will require embracing our farming industry and preserving our environment by directing inevitable growth toward existing population and job centers, designing a transportation network focused on moving people—not simply vehicles—and maintaining a strong economy by training the workforce of tomorrow.
Fastest-growing corridor in nation for warehousing and logistics
Valley residents commute outside the region to work
In Pennsylvania for highest percentage of spending by tourists on recreation visits
People commute into the Lehigh Valley
Natural Landscape - From River to Ridge
Human Settlements - An Abundance of Places
Cultural - Industrial Landscapes
The geography and natural landscapes of the Lehigh Valley have fundamentally shaped the region’s history and development patterns. The rich soils have supported an agricultural economy that has been essential to the region’s identity for nearly 300 years. In the 19th century, canals and railroads following the path of the Lehigh River provided a vital corridor for transporting anthracite from the Coal Region. Similar deposits of mineral wealth within the Lehigh Valley gave rise to major extractive and manufacturing industries in the cement and slate belts. Remnants of the area’s industrial past are woven throughout the region and include the monumental SteelStacks in Bethlehem, the Coplay Cement Kilns, Lock Ridge Iron Ore Furnace, the Slate Belt quarries, the Lehigh and Delaware canals, and the Simon Silk Mill.
Design Renderings by PennPraxis
Below the Kittatinny Ridge, locally known as Blue Mountain, a low shale plateau with undulating hills, stream headwaters and a rural setting gradually descends into a seven-mile-wide limestone valley to the foot of South Mountain. Through this landscape, the Lehigh River flows southward from the Lehigh Gap to Allentown, where it turns eastward through Bethlehem towards its confluence with the Delaware River in Easton. These waterways and topographic features create natural landscapes and scenic beauty that are treasured by the region’s residents.
These rich and varied natural landscapes gave rise to an abundance of distinct human settlements and man-made landscapes. The area’s three cities and many of its major boroughs grew along the banks of the Lehigh and Delaware rivers. The rural landscape of Lehigh and Northampton counties is dotted with dozens of crossroads villages that give form and character to the region. The highways, shopping malls, office complexes, industrial parks and residential suburbs testify to the continuity of the region’s growth and prosperity, while also posing challenges to preserving the very features that gave rise to that growth and prosperity.
The Lehigh Valley is one of the fastest-growing regions in Pennsylvania, with a projected 24% population increase by the year 2045. This growth is largely driven by the migration of people into the region, as more workers and families are attracted to the Valley for its natural and historic character, high quality of life, affordability and convenient location. As the region grows, the demographics are shifting. People older than 65 will have the most significant increase as our population ages, while children and young adults under 20 are expected to increase as a growing number of families flock to the region.
The Lehigh Valley has been growing more diverse as well, particularly over the past three decades. The minority population has become a more significant part of the community, growing from 8% of the population in 1990 to 18% in 2017, with Hispanic, Black and Native American populations each doubling between 2000 and 2010.
Employment in the Lehigh Valley is projected to increase by 17% before the year 2045. Many of the region’s fastest-growing occupations are in the healthcare, manufacturing, warehousing, recreation, and technical and professional service industries. Its close proximity to major metropolitan areas has helped make the Lehigh Valley one of the busiest freight corridors in the nation. As technology improves and people live longer, there is an increasing need for healthcare professionals. The occupation of home health aide is expected to experience the biggest growth among Lehigh Valley jobs, with a 30% employment increase by 2045.
Projected population for 2045
Gross Domestic Product
Projected employment for 2045
Daily vehicle miles traveled
Lehigh Valley International Airport passengers in 2018
Tons of freight cargo in 2018 at Lehigh Valley International Airport
The Lehigh Valley has seen steady population growth since after World War II, and for several decades the Baby Boom Generation has dominated the region’s demographic make-up. That will change in the coming decades as Generation Z becomes the most populous generation in the history of the Lehigh Valley, with nearly 220,000 members by 2045, easily surpassing the current total of 173,694 Baby Boomers who live in the region. The trajectory of the region’s population projections suggest a high amount of in-migration of Millennials and Generation X members. Both are expected to grow steadily, bringing balance and stability to the Lehigh Valley’s overall population in the coming decades.
Consistent, sustainable growth has added an average of more than 4,000 new residents a year to the Lehigh Valley for seven decades. However, the latest projections expect the region to grow by closer to 6,000 residents a year over the next 25 years. That will force municipal, business, government and planning leaders to make innovative choices about how to manage all the new growth, without detracting from the assets that have made the region so attractive to new residents and businesses.
FutureLV: The Regional Plan is created to support the current and future population, businesses, environment and culture of the Lehigh Valley. We know that many global and national megatrends will disrupt the region as we know it today. Some are already changing the way we live, such as on-demand and shared services like Uber and Airbnb. Others, like vehicle automation and blockchain, are evolving rapidly and will have a larger impact on our individual lives, government and business functions in the mid- and long-term. These current and future forces will substantially change the physical and regulatory landscape of the Lehigh Valley, altering how we work, consume goods and services, and compete in the global marketplace. They’ll change how we view our communities, our quality of life and ultimately ourselves. These factors will reshape who we are as a region by having a profound effect on all aspects of our lives. These societal disruptors are not entirely known, but where possible, these future forces have been outlined and underpin the goals, policies and actions of the plan. Your future begins now.
We are in the midst of the 4th Industrial Revolution
The Lehigh Valley has evolved into a region growing in population, diversity, commerce and, ultimately, national stature. Long known for its beautiful open space and abundant recreation options, some of the nation’s largest companies have also made it the Northeast epicenter for the e-commerce boom. That boom bolsters an already-strong economy anchored by healthcare, education and retail sales.
But that success has brought the Lehigh Valley to a tipping point in which government, community and planning leaders will have to make tough decisions. Decisions about how and where to build the homes needed for the more than 4,000 new residents who arrive every year. Decisions about preserving natural resources, while managing millions of square feet of new industrial development annually. Decisions about overcoming declining resources to build a transportation system that welcomes not only drivers, but walkers, bicyclists and people with disabilities. Decisions about making all of the region’s many benefits accessible to everyone in our diverse population. And ultimately, decisions about how to choose a future with automation, e-commerce, the sharing economy and climate change, before it chooses us.
If the Lehigh Valley is to capitalize on its many assets—culture, location and diversity—then we must collectively tackle difficult issues now.
In exploring the plan, these themes provide the connective tissue between the goals, policies and actions.
Development patterns are changing, there is less available land and the region’s population continues to grow—all increasing pressure on farms and open space. Striking a balance between growth and preservation will be key to meeting the needs of tomorrow, while retaining our identity.
People and goods are moving in, out and around the Lehigh Valley in greater numbers than ever before. The next generation of mobility improvements will rely on increasing access, moderating cost, diversifying transportation options and incorporating new technology.
The job market is changing, the economy continues to diversify, temperatures are rising and weather is becoming wetter. Improving economic and environmental resiliency will help to meet the challenges of a less predictable future.
Housing costs are increasing, new jobs often are far from population centers and education is more important than ever. Increasing access to opportunity will improve equity so all residents can benefit from continued growth and prosperity.
Obesity, diabetes and high blood pressure are on the rise due to low physical activity, long commutes and poor diets. Increasing the accessibility and opportunities for active lifestyles will improve physical, social and mental health.
In a connected world, social, economic, technological and political changes can have huge effects on identity. Local culture can be strengthened by investing in our values, sense of community, arts, language, traditions and food.
Funding & Finance
Government revenues are down and resources are increasingly limited. Advocating for funding and financial stability will help sustain our infrastructure, transportation network and governments.
More devices are connecting to faster internet, renewable energy is replacing fossil fuels, automation is entering every aspect of life and the sharing economy is here to stay. Keeping up with changes in technology will enable us to capitalize on new economic and social opportunities.
Resources are tight, generations are aging into new roles and technology is radically changing how things get done. Increasing the capacity and adaptability of governance will be key to meeting the future challenges faced by our communities.