by Brian Hillard
When I had first planted my roots in Bethlehem thirteen-and-a-half years ago, it wasn’t long before I had experienced my first taste of the community within. With a backyard full of yard debris and no truck to haul it to the compost center, my next-door neighbor offered to help me run it over with his truck then, unbeknownst to me, he took it over himself while I was at work the next day. Since then I have experienced that sense of community time and time again, from all over the City: from neighbors helping clear the walk from the most recent snow storm to volunteering their time at any one of our local soup kitchens, the passion that Bethlehem residents put into improving our community sometimes takes my breath away.
“As I immersed myself into the community further, I found not only that sense of community deepen, but a sense of sustainability as well.
As I immersed myself into the community further, I found not only that sense of community deepen, but a sense of sustainability as well. Invited to join Bethlehem’s Environmental Advisory Council (EAC), I had the opportunity to see first hand how volunteers were able to have a voice in local environmental policy. As the City announced its second Climate Action Plan this time with the aspiration to include the entire Bethlehem community in emissions reduction the opportunity arose for the EAC to have a major role in its crafting.
In the time since we have discovered an abundance of sustainability-inducing possibilities. Improvements to our parks and green infrastructure can enhance our storm-water resiliency as well as our connectedness to nature; expanding our walk-able and bike-able transportation infrastructure and encouraging electric vehicles can improve our air quality as well as our quality of life; reducing our plastic usage and enhancing our recycling efforts can reduce our waste and keep our city beautiful. There are so many opportunities to develop the sustainability in our community; both the possibilities and the benefits are endless.
These opportunities, however, are not limited to any one community: I see these kernels everywhere in the Lehigh Valley. My first Lehigh Valley endeavor into sustainability, the Lehigh Valley Sierra Club, had quickly shown me what so many in the Valley are doing. Improving and protecting water quality, advocating for renewable energy, and encouraging an appreciation of the outdoors is at the heart of their mission. Every other group I encounter only reinforce this from Wildlands Conservancy to the Alliance for Sustainable Communities to the various watershed associations and every other EAC in the Valley. There are many groups that advise and advocate for protecting and expanding our natural resources and improving our residents’ quality of life.
The opportunities for every one of us to engage ourselves are seemingly boundless. The organizations that dedicate themselves to improving our communities are all around us, with a diversity that allows us to find the one that suits us best. The actions and endeavors that the individuals in these groups make are not monumental in reality they may only take a few hours of their time in any given month, but the impact they have collectively can be monumental. The Lehigh Valley both as a collection of communities and as one larger community possess some incredible natural resources, and it is up to us to ensure their protection. Each one of us has the potential to be a part of this. All we have to do is reach out.
by Brian Hillard
Brian is a technical specialist for the Sustainable Energy Fund, serves on the Bethlehem Environmental Advisory Council (EAC), and is helping prepare Bethlehem’s Climate Action Plan.
(Essays express the ideas of the individual authors and do not necessarily represent the views of the Alliance.)