The American Planning Association (APA) is honoring the City of Allentown with a National Planning Achievement Award for Urban Design Gold Medal for the downtown development and urban design plan.
The plan, authored by Goody Clancy, is helping city officials and developers make thoughtful decisions, where downtown has seen some $675 million in real estate investment over the past seven years, with more still to come. The award also honors the 2009 state-level economic incentive legislation that established the city’s Neighborhood Improvement Zone (NIZ) and sparked large-scale commercial investment.
“We are honored to be recognized by the American Planning Association for our Downtown Allentown Development and Urban Design Plan,” said Mayor Ray O’Connell. “The creation of the Neighborhood Improvement Zone brought jobs into the downtown. The Downtown Allentown Development and Urban Design Plan marries job creation with residential development. Our investment in great public places and streets is appealing to the residents who are filling the jobs and making our downtown more attractive and welcoming to our hundreds of thousands of workers and visitors.”
The Downtown Allentown Development and Urban Design Plan repositions the area as a mixed-use neighborhood to appeal to employers and residents alike, prioritizes new market-rate housing in the downtown, improves the quality of architectural expression, and creates a “culture of care” around the design of downtown. As a result, downtown has become more walkable, more active, and offers new open space amenities that are attracting people to Allentown to live, work, and play.
The plan has guided the significant investment spurred by the NIZ. The NIZ enabled Allentown to undergo a dramatic transformation with at least 22 development projects totaling more than 2 million square feet of floor area. The plan prioritizes downtown housing for long-term economic development and identifies public space improvements to provide more neighborhood amenities and invigorate downtown streets. State taxes generated by the 128-acre NIZ are used to pay debt service on financed improvements within the district, effectively reducing the cost of real estate development and infrastructure.
A rigorous design review has also been established to ensure NIZ incentive developments enhance the urban character of the renewed downtown neighborhood. Goody Clancy worked with ANIZDA and the city to establish a competitive matching grant program supporting investments in parks, streetscape, and multi-modal transportation.
“Allentown exemplifies how planning is central to delivering good urban design, complete with guidelines and a review board to ensure consistency and cohesiveness,” said Wendy Shabay, AICP, 2019 Awards Jury Chair. “Downtown Allentown’s plan, and its focus on quality of life through public space and amenities, ensures Allentown’s strong economic future.”
Each year, APA recognizes outstanding efforts in planning and planning leadership through its National Planning Excellence and Achievement Awards. The two-tier awards are selected through a juried process. Excellence Award recipients are the highest honor and Achievement Awards recognize accomplishments in areas of specialization within the planning profession. The awards recognize outstanding community plans, planning programs and initiatives, public education efforts, and individuals for their leadership on planning issues for more than 50 years.
The award will be presented during the APA’s National Planning Conference scheduled for April 13-16 in San Francisco.
photo courtesy of APA, photo by The Photo Group