Public input vital to New Kensington’s ‘SmartGrowth,’ officials say
New Kensington officials are steering the city on a course that not only will bring growth, they say, but do it in an intelligent manner.
That was the message Brian Clark, a consultant working with city council and the city’s redevelopment authority, had for city residents this week.
Clark gave an overview of the concept that city officials have been working on for more than a year.
He said the idea is to build upon assets the city already has to move the community forward.
“There are very few cities that have a short-line railroad, a barge-loading facility and access to a major highway,” Clark said.
He said there aren’t many intermodal transportation projects going on in Pennsylvania right now, which gives the city “a unique opportunity” to undertake one.
However, Clark did not specify what that might look like.
In regard to economic development, he said acquiring the Schreiber Industrial Park property “enabled the city to take charge of its own destiny.”
Clark said he receives calls daily from businesses interested in Schreiber as a location but did not cite any of them, saying that it is always up to the businesses if and when they make such a move.
“We have a lot more interest in investment from private sources,” Clark said.
One thing he emphasized as part of the SmartGrowth concept is the acquisition of data to use in creating analytics that will help the city not only develop, but make better governing decisions.
Gathering that data will be done, in large part, by the use of cameras and sensors placed strategically throughout the city.
“You’ll be able to monitor the entire city through gathering data,” he said.
That data can range from the frequency of accidents at a location to criminal incidents. That information can then provide city officials with information on where to allocate resources, whether it be traffic signals, an additional police presence or better lighting in a public area.
Data usage would not be limited just to public safety but would be multi-layered, with code enforcement as another area where it could help, Clark said. It can help track properties and neighborhoods in regard to code violations to give officials a better perspective on where, and perhaps how, to address violations.
“This will basically take us into the information age and allow us to provide services to city residents,” Clark said.
He said a big part of the city’s SmartGrowth plan involves cleaning up blighted structures throughout the city to provide room for growth. A $500,000 state Capital Program grant received last year is earmarked for blight.
“We’ve already developed a list of properties to be condemned by the city,” Clark said.
Councilman Doug Aftanas, who has been leading that effort, said the list is between 50 and 100 properties.
The process of getting rid of blighted structures is neither quick nor easy when using Capital Program funds, which carry restrictions.
“You have to be able to prove that every one of these properties is under your control, and they have to meet the criteria before they can be demolished,” Clark said.
Other goals include fixing streets and parks to make them accessible to all city residents. He said the streets would be configured so that they are friendly to everyone regardless of their mode of transportation, be it motor vehicles, bicycles or walking.
He said the city continues to seek input from its residents and what they would like the city’s plans to include.
He encouraged residents to attend public meetings on the SmartGrowth plan and fill out online questionnaires available at www.smartnew kensington.com.
“Once the plan is complete, you take the zoning ordinance and modernize it to give the residents what they want,” Clark said. “We need to share and obtain information from our citizens as rapidly as possible.”