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ScrantonWilkesBarre

Advice on Making a Breakthrough

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Good morning everyone!

As a new member, I'd like to know if anyone could offer me some advice on as to how I could possibly influence local elected officials and residents to become interested in future challenges facing my community. I live in Northeastern Pennsylvania, a region that is quickly becoming the next bedroom community to NYC as Northern New Jersey becomes too expensive and too crowded for most urban dwellers seeking their own half-acre of greenery on the new exurban frontier. I've watched in alacrity as Pike County, PA (home to Milford, Matamoras, etc.), was told by the Scranton media market stations that it was no longer being covered because Nielsen research indicated that most county households turned to NYC outlets for their information. I've watched as "BoWash" has begun to annex the Stroudsburg/Delaware Water Gap area as being its next victim, and the rest of surrounding Monroe County is also falling victim to housing developers, Wal-Marts, Lowe's, resorts, casinos, etc. It may be too late to save Pike and Monroe Counties from being swallowed by the vengeance of BoWash, and the Allentown/Bethlehem/Easton area may have also lost its independent identity forever, but I feel as if it's NOT too late to save the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre area from a similar fate of overcrowded schools, traffic congestion, rising home prices, and a spike in crime.

Currently, BoWash seems to have been kept at bay by Monroe County's border with Lackawanna County (home to Scranton) and Luzerne County (home to Wilkes-Barre). However, as the outermost portions of Monroe County begin to undergo the same changes that Stroudsburg underwent back in the early 1990s, I fear that urban dwellers will soon look BEYOND the Monroe County line for new growth opportunities. To put things into perspective, this rigid county line that has so far acted as a buffer zone between the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre MSA and bedroom communities to NYC/NJ is only TWENTY MINUTES from the valley cities of Scranton and Wilkes-Barre themselves, both of which are noted for being surrounded by pristine green mountains. I've been very active thus far in trying to get locals to "WAKE UP" so that they shed that same "indifferent" attitude that lead to chaos in the Poconos in the way of sleeping officials who were forced to scramble last minute to build new schools as students shared lockers and held classes in hallways. I'm going to focus my efforts most heavily on the portion of Lackawanna County that abuts the Monroe County line---The North Pocono School District and the communities of Moscow, Thornhurst, Gouldsboro, Daleville, and Clifton. These communities sit just FIVE minutes from a few massive housing developments in Tobyhanna, Monroe County, such as "Pocono Farms" and "Pocono Country Place" that are home to mostly ex-NJ/NY residents. As such, it seems to me as if officials in North Pocono need to plan NOW for the point at which the NY/NJ growth DOES hop over the county line and into their territory, which will likely happen within the next five years.

To be honest, officials seemed to notice that the overcrowding problems plaguing the Pocono Mountain School District (just five minutes away), would soon be affecting them as well, and district officials actually proposed building a new, larger high school in anticipation of BoWash, which I applauded. However, local residents ignorant of their proximity to Monroe County decried the possibility of "paying higher taxes for a needless school." They'll be singing a different tune in a few years as their current high school faces overcrowding issues and vacant land values rise to the point where it will be MUCH more expensive to build another school a few years down the line. Then again, "NEVER PLAN AHEAD" seems to be the motto for my NEPA peers. Most roadways in the area are already four lanes, which should suffice for many years to come, but police regionalization within the North Pocono area also needs to occur to better deal with the urban issues that will accompany this growth.

Pennsylvania is one of the most politically-corrupted and fragmented states in the nation, comprised of thousands of little "fiefdoms" called townships and boroughs that actually FIGHT EACH OTHER instead of working together to better the area overall. I doubt the possibility of getting communities in North Pocono to work together to form a comprehensive community growth strategy would be viable, since elected officials in each town would feel as if their "power would be threatened" and that they would lose their "individual identities as townships." They need to realize that BoWash IS coming to North Pocono, and they can either adapt to it by working together as the townships in Monroe County EVENTUALLY did, or they can continue to bicker amongst themselves and make their own decisions while the community at-large grows unchecked and unattended. (Sound familiar to anyone in Pocono Mountain?)

Now comes my plea for help. When facing such a strict "resistant to new ideas" mindset from officials and local residents whom I may even dare to call "short-sighted", how can I finally make a breakthrough to them before it's too late. With a half-dozen new housing developments already underway in North Pocono, the time to act is NOW before they do pop up on the "BoWash" radar in a few years as Monroe County fills up! Thank you!

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The MAP Center at King's College used census data to generate this helpful map of Northeastern Pennsylvania's population trends between 1990 and 2000.

popc00-nepa.gif

I apologize for being unable to obtain the code for the map legend, but you can interpret these maps as follows:

DARK RED = +80.0% to +278.0%

ORANGE = +40.0% to +79.9%

LIGHT ORANGE = +15.0% to +39.9%

SALMON = +0.1% to +14.9%

TORQUOISE = 0.0% to -14.9%

GREEN = -15.0% to -39.9%

DARK GREEN = -40.0% to -100.0%

LARGE BLACK CIRCLE = +3,500 or more persons

MEDIUM BLACK CIRCLE = +1,000 to +3,499 persons

BLACK DOT = +1 to +999 persons

RED DOT = 0 to -999 persons

MEDIUM RED CIRCLE = -1,000 to -3,499 persons

LARGE RED CIRCLE = -3,500 or more persons

For example, the city of Scranton is a large red circle and a torquoise shading, indicating that between 1990 and 2000, the Electric City shed more than 3,500 residents, which amounted to less than 15.0% of its overall population.

mref-lac.gif

Municipal boundaries in Lackawanna County, home to Scranton, the region's urban center. On this map, red denotes a "city", orange denotes a "borough", and brown denotes a "township."

popc00-lac.gif

A close-up of how Lackawanna County fared in the 1990s. Notice that the growth in the nearby Pocono Mountains has now spread adjacent to the county line, beginning to infiltrate Thornhurst Township, (which is incorrectly labeled as Lehigh Township), the southernmost municipality in the county. Between 2000 and 2006, other communities between the county line and Scranton have been showing stronger real estate gains and population growth estimates as well, indicating that BoWash is spreading further west onto a new frontier. Also note the gain of several thousand residents in South Abington Township, just to the north of Scranton, which is a community home to MANY new sprawling subdivisions that are draining residents out of the city as a result of domestic sprawl unrelated to the pressure from NY/NJ.

popc00-luz.gif

Luzerne County, where I live, is also threatened by BoWash, (note the strong growth just to the east of this county as well). I live in the northeastern portion of the county, in the lone community shaded in the light orange for its growth. Also notice the concentration of orange shadings in the center of the county, also known as the "Mountain Top" area. This area, now designated as a "CDP" by the U.S. Census, is a sprawling area being fed by both Wilkes-Barre to the north and Hazleton to the south. Also interesting to note is the slowed growth of the "Back Mountain CDP" in the northwestern areas of the county, which used to be one of the fastest-growing areas in the entire region. Also note on the far left that the fast-growing townships of Monroe County, the leading edge of BoWash, is now on the doorstep to the extreme Eastern portions of the county, in the Bear Creek/Buck Township area.

mref-luz.gif

A municipal reference to Luzerne County, home to Wilkes-Barre, Scranton's "sister city", and Pittston Township, my hometown just to the north. I'm most concerned about the Bear Creek/Buck area, both of which border Monroe County, and both of which belong to the urban Wilkes-Barre Area School District.

popc00-mon.gif

Monroe County in the Poconos, home to Stroudsburg, I-80, and known to New Yorkers as "The New Hamptons." Once a rural getaway, the Poconos have been transformed into a rather congested year-round community for people commuting to work in NYC but seeking to escape exorbitant housing prices, (which are now spreading here as well with the rising demand). Notice the strong growth in the northern and western Poconos, indicating that BoWash is cooling off near the New Jersey border and shifting ominously closer to the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre area to the northwest.

Now that you see some physical details about this phenomenon, it's time for my question to you all---"Is there anything that can be done to stop this before it's too late to save our area?" The county lines here are only twenty to thirty minutes now from the cities of Scranton and Wilkes-Barre, and new developments continue to edge closer and closer. Is our pastoral scenery destined to become history?

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Any advice would be appreciated!

Well, since it appears as if you are all speechless, I'm just going to approach various local township boards of supervisors with my proposals for them to begin REGIONAL community planning in an effort to limit sprawl and preserve open space. I know I won't get through any of their thick skulls, but I suppose I'm doing the best I can with the limited power I have as an individual.

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Well, since it appears as if you are all speechless, I'm just going to approach various local township boards of supervisors with my proposals for them to begin REGIONAL community planning in an effort to limit sprawl and preserve open space. I know I won't get through any of their thick skulls, but I suppose I'm doing the best I can with the limited power I have as an individual.

Is there a regional planning agency for the area, or MPO staff?

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Is there a regional planning agency for the area, or MPO staff?

Unfortunately, not to my knowledge. Our area tends to be quite reactionary---Wait until a problem arises, and THEN worry about it. I'm trying to be pro-active here in addressing the issue before it smacks the area in the head, but nobody locally seems interested besides myself.

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I'm sure there are other individuals like yourelf in your area, try to find them. You will never get much done by yourself, it would be a lost cause, but if got even 20 or 30 people together you may be able to get some action. Even convincing your city or whatever to have a citizen advisory committee or board for regional planning could do wonders.

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Well you are asking the question that gets asked here alot. How do you stop sprawl, especially automobile inspired sprawl?

The problem is that many remote municipalities embrace the growth because it increases the local tax base but does not take into consideration the effect on the region. It's a difficult problem to address and usually requires solutions at the state level down to the local level. And it requires a very progressive government that recognizes the problem and tries to do something before it's too late.

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Just look at the ridiculous amount of municipalities in these maps... that is one major problem in PA. It's all a bunch of tiny fiefdoms fighting over their own piece of the pie... instead of working together through regional cooperation. My desired solution would be large-scale municipal mergers... but that will probably never happen... so at least there could be some NEPA regional governmental/planning organization that has some say in how the region develops.

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