Picturing the future Lehigh Valley

The Lehigh Valley stretches from the western edge of Lehigh County, Pennsylvania, to the Delaware River in the east, on the border with New Jersey. The valley is surrounded to the north and south by mountains, and its 726 square miles include portions of the Appalachian and Delaware & Lehigh trails, along with more than 120 natural heritage areas. It’s also home to the iconic industrial cities of Allentown and Bethlehem. But despite the Rust Belt narrative of population and job losses, the Lehigh Valley has grown by around 4,000 people every year for the last seven decades. 

defunct factory with green Lehigh Valley in background

In December, the Lehigh Vally Planning Commission (LVPC) moved toward finalizing a 25-year plan for the region called Future LV. In broad strokes, it calls for densifying existing cities and towns in service of protecting the undeveloped areas that are important to the region’s ecological health and quality of life, while improving transit networks for drivers, bikers, and pedestrians. It’s a nonbinding document—its recommendations will be implemented, or not, by more than 60 municipal governments—but it carries the weight of more than $3 billion in federal transportation spending. And because the plan looks ahead to the year 2045, the LVPC wanted to give local officials and residents some vision of what its recommendations might mean.

To illustrate the transformation of the valley that implementation of the plan would stimulate, the LVPC turned to PennPraxis. Ellen Neises, adjunct associate professor of landscape architecture at the Stuart Weitzman School of Design and executive director of PennPraxis, led three studios in the Lehigh Valley, and became acquainted with Bradley and others at the LVPC through that work. PennPraxis was hired as the Design Partner on the Future LV plan in May 2019, and a team of four Design Fellows spent the summer meeting with Lehigh Valley officials and redesigning a number of places in the Lehigh Valley, in ways that embodied planning and equity goals and demonstrated what attention to design quality could offer. 

Read more at the Weitzman School.