By Zeke Zelker
Land Use and Development As a teenager, I spent hours walking in the cornfields of Lower Macungie, searching for solace in the serene pastoral landscape. I would traverse this landscape alone, rummaging through my confused adolescent mind trying to figure out some big problems. Why do people act so irrationally? Why were people homeless? Why do people have to die so young? Why do people become addicted to drugs? If there was a God, why would I almost die from doing missionary work? Long walks with the earth below my feet, through the organized rows of grain, always brought some form of clarity. If I ventured back to this place of my youth I would either find myself in someone’s back yard or dodging tractor-trailers in a warehouse parking lot. Land development is necessary, but it should be regimented.
Do single-family houses need to be on an acre of land? There are few places in the world where you would find developments like we have in the United States. A big reason for this is the amount of public infrastructure required to develop such a property. You need water, sewage, electric, roadways… it becomes extraordinarily inefficient, especially if you look at how its impacts progress over time. Would building four houses on that same acre be more efficient, maybe six? Would having higher population density per acre drive a stronger economy? Would it generate more municipality tax revenue? With this added tax revenue, could more be done for people who pay those taxes? Should developments happen closer to the urban core?
A change in policy would prevent more farmland being developed. The location of the Lehigh Valley is a blessing and a curse. We’re surrounded by so much natural beauty; mountains, rolling hills, valleys, creeks, streams, rivers, fertile land; yet, if you drew a circle around the Lehigh Valley, for three hundred miles in any direction you would find the highest population density in the United States. All of these people need “stuff,” which big box retailers and online stores have realized. Thus, acre upon acre of farmland is now paved over with enormous distribution centers on them. Besides the eradication of farmland, this has put a strain on our roadways. Bigger rig traffic leads to more pollution, which affects the air, soil, and farmland. It’s like a double whammy to farmers, but we need more than them growing plants to combat the situation. What if policy required every new distribution center to have a green roof growing plants on them? Sure, it would be more expensive to build the structures, but there would be a huge human and environmental impact to those people who live in the Valley. It could help solve some food insecurity issues, cool and insulate the structures, reduce the toxins in the air, and create good PR for the companies that construct them.
Secondly, shouldn’t these warehouses be constructed near railways, which would reduce the need for tractor-trailers on our highways? Pennsylvania has several railroad tracks that are underutilized or not used at all. Instead of a line of trucks idling outside a warehouse, a crane could easily put the shipping containers on rail car and take the cargo to its destination. After all, most of these trucks are going to locations with larger populations, which most likely have railroad track and freight yards.
Would making these restrictions reduce the number of new warehouses? Maybe, but forward thinking companies that have an eye on the future would welcome the policy; it’s good business.
I still don’t have the answers to the issues that plagued me of my youth, but I do know for certain that we will never get farmland back.by Zeke Zelker Zeke is an award winning filmmaker who decided twenty years ago to come home to make a difference.
by Zeke Zelker
Zeke is an award winning filmmaker who decided twenty years ago to come home to make a difference.
(Essays express the ideas of the individual authors and do not necessarily represent the views of the Alliance.)