Bethlehem Seeks Community Response to Climate Action Plan

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The City of Bethlehem and consultant WSP are actively constructing the Bethlehem Climate Action Plan (CAP), and currently are seeking community feedback about their proposal. On October 7th, 2020, the City hosted the second community-wide webinar during the design process. The October CAP community meeting presented the progress for the design of the CAP based on the previous community response, and further garnered community input, this time on more specific possibilities and strategies. In November, the design committee, lead by Jeff Irvine, for the Bethlehem Climate Action Plan will present a draft of the plan to the community in a third webinar, with an opportunity for further feedback. Ultimately, the full plan is scheduled to be completed by the first quarter of 2021. This article captures the ongoing community dialogue about strategies for city wide environmental justice, and highlights further opportunities for the reader to have their voice heard and contribute to the construction of the Climate Action Plan.

This graph from Jeff Irvine’s presentation during the webinar reflects the priorities ranked by community members in the previous community feedback session for the CAP.

The October CAP meeting started with a recognition of the priorities and values that the Bethlehem community holds and would like taken into account through the design of the CAP. During the first community-wide webinar about the CAP design, community members highlighted justice, equity, health, sustainability, and Black Lives Matter as intersecting values and ideas that need to be embedded in the design of the plan. In the October community meeting, the organizers highlighted different strategy and action areas for climate mitigation, including: buildings, transport, local food and waste, electricity sourcing, land use and green space, education and engagement, adaption and resilience, and environmental justice and equity.

Though there was limited time to address all of these strategies and action areas, Jeff Irvine was able to present a number of the possibilities within each of these goal areas and facilitate feedback from community members who attended the webinar via an app called Mentimeter. For example, in the area of education and engagement, community members ranked various methods, based on priority and feasibility. As you can see from the still shot of the graph below, the most compelling strategies offered under the education sector included an evaluation of the expansion of environmental education in local K-12 curricula, and a public outreach program.

Graph capturing live community responses to potential education and engagement strategies during the webinar.

In terms of specific strategies that can be applied within the buildings sector of the CAP, many of the options, including a retrofit program, net-zero emissions standards for renovations, or energy audits for large commercial buildings, received similar priority ranking by community members. One strategy within this sector particularly stuck out as a priority for the community above the others however. The community is especially interested in initiating or expanding upon residential energy efficiency programs, especially those serving low-income communities, such as weatherization assistance: updating residential housing to more efficiently and sustainably protect against severe weather or at least ensure less energy is used to combat weather.

In terms of local food and waste initiatives, community members were most interested in instituting a food composting program, enforcing existing recycling/waste policies, and requiring retailers and restaurants to donate, reduce, reuse, or compost their unsold food. Some of the other possible strategies under the subject of local food and waste, and the community response to these strategies, are captured in the graph below.

Graph capturing live community responses to potential local food and waste strategies during the webinar.

In terms of transportation and mobility strategies to make Bethlehem more sustainable, community members prioritized increasing the pedestrian focused spaces and structures in Bethlehem, to reshape the culture of mobility available, and to promote more sustainable transport options. In particular, providing pedestrian “safe routes” in and around town was a strong priority, which would include initiatives like the pedestrian bridge plan. Other strategies that were favored include partnering with LANTA bus service to expand service and make public bus transport more extensive and desirable, and building more bike-friendly infrastructure, including bike lanes, connecting existing local trails, and providing parking and shelters.

Graph capturing live community responses to potential transport related strategies during the webinar.

A clear community preference for how to accomplish the Bethlehem CAP goals related to environmental justice and equity was not evident. The proposed strategies were less specific and tangible, and community feedback seemed spread out across the various possibilities. Yet this is clearly important to implement in the Bethlehem CAP, and the committee working on the plan has made specific steps towards this end. For example, the CAP designers have initiated one-on-one interviews and outreach to garner the perspective and priorities of lower-income community members who may not be likely to attend the webinars, but who clearly should have a voice in shaping the CAP. The leaders designing the Climate Action Plan have also partnered with the Hispanic Center of the Lehigh Valley to facilitate Spanish language interviews of community members so that language is not a barrier for community participation. The meeting was also recorded and a Spanish translation made available afterwards at www.BethlehemCAP.org. Jeff Irvine also highlighted that one clear environmental justice goal that the CAP intends to uphold is to ensure that at least 40% of overall CAP benefits go to low-income communities.

From these brief glimpses of community feedback, it is clear that the city of Bethlehem is invested in shaping the CAP to respect the priorities of the community, and that this community is defined in a just and inclusive way. Perhaps the most important take-away from this webinar however is the various ways that community members can record their feedback in more substantial ways to inform the design of the CAP. First, there is a crowd-sourced map that hopes to record areas of climate vulnerabilities in the Bethlehem area. Specifically, community members can investigate and interact with a map that has tags for heat risks and flood risk, as well as mark new climate vulnerabilities. Community members are the best authority on these climate vulnerabilities, so crowdsourcing this knowledge is key to having the most complete mapping of these locations of vulnerability. This interactive map can be found at map.BethlehemCAP.org. Finally, there is an extensive community survey that will inform the CAP design, found here, with more extensive descriptions of the proposed optional strategies and opportunities to give quantitative and qualitative feedback to each strategy. It is imperative that community members take an active part in shaping this plan, so that the plan is shaped by what is feasible, and prioritized based on the needs of a diverse set of community voices. Contribute your own perspectives by November 1st!

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