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Urban planning expert urges leaders to make local neighborhoods walkable

Pittsburgh Tribune ReviewBy Tony LaRussa
Saturday, May 19, 2007

An urban planning expert urged local leaders Friday to adopt “smart growth” principles as they map out a strategy for the region’s future.
“There are a lot regions in this country and around the world where people have started to realize that things such as transportation and housing need to be planned in a very deliberate way,” said David Chen, founder and executive director of Smart Growth America, based in Washington.

Chen was the keynote speaker at the seventh annual Southwestern Pennsylvania Smart Growth Conference at the Omni William Penn Hotel, Downtown. About 250 business and community leaders attended.

Smart growth involves comprehensive regional planning that, among other things, takes into account environmental issues, global competitiveness, transportation, housing, changing demographics and social equity.

Given the Pittsburgh region’s aging population, Chen said community planners should make neighborhoods more walkable and less reliant on cars by improving the quality and availability of public transportation.

He suggested using smart growth principles when redeveloping older towns and neighborhoods, and when planning new communities.

“While there is still a demand for conventional developments, the market is shifting and we are beginning to see a greater desire for urban living,” Chen said.

With so many townships and boroughs, the region’s fractionalized bureaucracy creates a “significant challenge” when trying to plan on a regional scale, but it has been done in other parts of the country without annexation, Chen said.

“New Jersey has successfully linked different transit systems to create a more integrated system,” said Chen, who noted that some communities in upstate New York have begun to share municipal services.

During a question-and-answer session, David Ross, the planning director for Castle Shannon, drew attention to a lack of governmental cooperation by asking for a show of hands from representatives of local government.

Only four people responded.

“We live in a very parochial area,” he said. “Many of the issues we are discussing today have to be dealt with from the bottom up rather than the top down. That means getting local officials on board with the idea of working together. That will take time.”

Chen announced yesterday that Smart Growth America decided to hold its first national Reclaiming Vacant Properties conference Downtown in September.

Tony LaRussa can be reached at or (412) 320-7987.

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