November 20, 2022
The landscape has changed with the season from green filled with flowers to brown, red and gold of the deciduous tree canopy in this temperate Pennsylvania community of Forest Hills. As we push forward with budget setting we struggle to implement the plans laid down over the past several years- A Comprehensive Plan for Development, a Climate Action Plan and an Active Transportation Plan. The local governments of America are on the front lines of addressing the great existential challenges of our time. But they do not appear as cataclysmic surges everywhere at once. While coastal areas may struggle with rising sea levels and extraordinary king tides, we in the middle lands have different problems.
Here we seek to reinvest in communities long abandoned by the extractive industries of coal and steel and petrochemical production that laid down the wealth of the 20th century. Here we seek to reshape a future built on the foundations of past systems, but with the resilience and ingenuity that has sustained the people of this land for millennia. Adaptations come slowly, but now more quickly as the tools of policy begin to take hold. The grassroots ideas compiled into the ReImagine Appalachia Blueprint during 2020-2022 are now being implemented through successful incorporation into the Infrastructure and Jobs Act and the Inflation Reduction Act adopted by Congress this year. Funds begin to percolate down to the communities, with the new concept of Community Benefit Agreements attached to federal funds. We are slowly dragging equity and inclusion considerations into the policies that drive progress.
What does that look like at the Borough level? Well, we see the prospect of upgrading our sidewalks and public transportation corridors for safer and more frequent bus transit service, and eventually bicycle lanes. We see funds for repairing pedestrian walkways connecting shopping and parks with communities. Walkways and stairways were once prolific in the days when the community was served by electric streetcars, but have fallen into disrepair, overrun with vines and the inevitable succession of saplings growing into the cracks. The remnants of a more active society remain and can be restored.
As the cost of renewable energy systems comes down and is better supported with incentives, more people and businesses are making installations, some linked with their electric vehicle charging stations. The community looks toward establishing micro-grids where solar on business and municipal buildings helps to meet energy requirements, and centrally located battery storage units can ameliorate the cost for the whole community as well as offer better reliability and resilience in storms. The electric grid is being evaluated and upgraded to accommodate the changes that are coming soon. Investment tax credits and production tax credits that are established in law for 10 years, instead of two or three requiring constant budget reauthorization, now make investors more interested in these projects. Stability in the market actually works where exhortation and pleading fell on deaf ears.
As the crises of extended droughts afflict many parts of the world and even significant and growing areas of America, we see the pattern of abundant water from storms in our area instead. Stormwater surges and landslides are our greatest climate change vulnerabilities. This pattern of storm water from climate change carries a huge opportunity and also an obligation. In Pennsylvania and our neighboring Appalachian states, we will have water for growing food, for domestic use and for other purposes. We will not have water to waste, or to contaminate by deliberately adding contaminants for fracking or industrial sewer discharge. Fresh water is essential for life. We must become adept at managing the storm surges, storing water for later use, and conserving its integrity from contaminants. Water can be reclaimed, reused and recirculated endlessly, if the laws that govern its distribution and flow are respected and not abused.
The COVID pandemic that has cost over one million lives in the US alone has reshaped our society. We carry the scars of this pandemic in our loss of social interaction, our pain and grief at losing loved ones, and our economic stress. We have seen our vulnerabilities magnified in the global marketplace when supply chains have been disrupted. People begin to look again to regional and local systems for things that are necessary. Will the homogenized global marketplace yield once again to regional and local specialization? Can we look forward to specialties that make places unique, that mark them as home? I hope so. The handmade homemade craft of folks who made much out of little has earned a place in our history, and may become a hallmark of our future. COVID also revealed the disparities in broadband access and affordability. Here again, new laws begin to address this issue that restrains participation in the virtual marketplace for many people in both urban and rural areas. Is it time for broadband access to be an essential utility service?
I attended the Forest Hills community celebration of Light Up the Hills on Friday evening. There were people from all around the neighborhood and surrounding communities as well. The faces of children telling their wishes to Santa, the people coming in for hot chocolate and donuts after watching young performers all came together to greet each other, and share a few moments of joy. That is what makes communities matter. Shared joy, shared accomplishments, and the sense of belonging in a special place that we can shape, but that also shapes us.
As we prepare for the Thanksgiving Celebration, this week, I think of this time for extending gratitude and appreciation among our kinsfolk, and to our neighbors and friends. And I hope that we can also extend a smile and friendly expressions even to strangers we may meet along the way. We are more alike in our humanity than different in race, gender, culture, religion, or even politics. It is a time to remember the deep history of this land and the Indigenous Peoples who thrived here for thousands of years before the European colonists arrived. Their resilience to changes over millennia gives testament to the ability of people to adapt, to find ways of cooperating through changes, and to share the love and respect for this bountiful land.