Smart Growth offers resources to Westmoreland communities
Officials with Smart Growth Partnership held an informal community partners meeting in Mt. Pleasant last week, talking about the program and its vision and benefits to representatives of six local municipalities.
Representatives from Mt. Pleasant, Scottdale, Greensburg, Youngwood, Ligonier and Latrobe attended.
The mission of the Smart Growth Partnership, which is now a program of Penn State Cooperative Extension, is to help enable communities to enhance their quality of life, viability and long-term sustainability by providing information, education and assistance.
“We are now going in a different direction,” said Allen Kukovich, Smart Growth Partnership board president. “We are more focused and more targeted, offering our resources to help local communities.”
Kukovich, a former state senator, said the group now hopes to reach out more to communities in an effort to accentuate and improve networking, using information garnered as a tool to help neighboring towns.
“Working with local governments is the single most important thing that we want to do,” Kukovich said. “We want to be a resource and have you share the direction that Smart Growth is taking.”
A new concept the group is working with is enlisting college students from Indiana University of Pennsylvania and the University of Pittsburgh at Greensburg, to work on organized study and research projects that will have a direct impact on proposed projects from towns.
“This is a way for us to help local communities with little or no cost to the community,” said Whit Watts, who teaches in the department of Geography and Regional Planning at Indiana University of Pennsylvania. “We are pretty much offering to you an open invitation.”
The college students would compile research and needed data that can then be used for grant acquisition, community studies and legal issues.
Jonathan Vallano, director of University of Pittsburgh at Greensburg Applied Research, said the students' aid could be very beneficial to communities that wish to utilize their resources.
“We are trying to do research projects that will be a benefit to the community,” Vallano said. “We want to complete applied research projects that communities need.”
In addition, Smart Growth hopes to continue to work with the small communities and bring together one big picture of success and prosperity.
“We want to draw on resources from across the state,” said John Turack, Smart Growth interim executive director. “What people want is a better quality of life and we do try to provide that better quality of life by providing a lot of good information.”
Jeff Landy, Mt. Pleasant borough manager and Smart Growth board member, said that developing the smaller communities is important, that there is now a trend of seeking the small town quality of life.
“People are again looking for that small town atmosphere and they are leaving the cities to return to small towns like ours,” Landy said, adding that older towns, like many in the area, share the same concerns and problems, such as outdated infrastructure. “Smart Growth can provide us with valuable tools on where our towns and cities can go.”
Turack invited town officials to contact Smart Growth with proposed ideas or questions on how to proceed with any development plans they may have.
“We will always do our best to steer you in the right direction or get you the resources that you may need,” he said.
Marilyn Forbes is a freelance writer.