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Alleghenies Ahead - Shared Strategies for a Stronger Region; Plan Wins Statewide Award

Planning commissions from six local counties won an award from the Pennsylvania Chapter of the American Planning Association during its annual conference in Erie, PA for a 139-page report that details problems the Southern Alleghenies are facing and possible ways to solve them.



Alleghenies Ahead is an unprecedented multi-county comprehensive plan.  It involves six counties ranging in population from 15,000 to 135,000.  The counties realized they have common issues – broadband, housing and blight, and economic development – and by working together they could achieve more progress than if working alone.  The plan emphasizes implementation.  It outlines regional priorities and detailed county-level action plans.  Alleghenies Ahead is an effort that recognizes that no single project, issue, or entity can do this – that it requires sustained attention on multiple fronts that haven’t traditionally been connected to the problem of job creation or household attraction, such as housing, recreation, and technology. Businesses and families have countless options today, and helping them choose the Southern Alleghenies is something that every investment and policy decision in the region stands to influence. Priorities reflect input of 400 neighbors and colleagues participating in “kitchen table conversations” in each county.  The plan defines principles to help align even the smallest of local decisions with regional goals and outcomes.  Alleghenies Ahead changed the conversation and strengthened the region’s resolve for the future.

Five years in the making, it details demographic and economic changes that have stymied revitalization in the wake of the dilapidation left behind when coal and steel companies pulled out of small towns and cities here.

For starters, the report says that since the '50s, the average age in the Southern Alleghenies has increased from late 20s to mid-40s, meaning there are both fewer births and fewer young people sticking around past high school.

On top of that, the region has seen many more people move out than move in, complicating efforts to fill jobs and vacant houses that dot the landscape.

Each county has five priorities. As an example, the plan for Blair County has five priorities developed by a steering committee comprised of more than 30 local stakeholders: public health, broadband and wireless service, agriculture, housing and blight, and municipal coordination and collaboration. The plan places a heavy emphasis on implementation, with each priority containing a specific action plan.

Several action items in the plan are already underway, including the activation of a regionwide broadband task force through Southern Alleghenies Planning & Development Commission.

Cambria County Planning Commission senior planner Katie Kinka believes that a young workforce will be key to the region's future.

"If you're going to be sustainable, you need a generation that's going to take over what currently exists," she said during a phone interview on her way back from Erie on Tuesday. "That's kind of like an ever-evolving situation."

Kinka says that governments can't create enough jobs to keep the area stable, but they can work to create environments where that's possible.

"What we can do is lay the groundwork for making beautiful, livable, healthy, thriving communities — interesting, unique communities — that people want to move to or want to set up shop in or people want to stay in," she said.

It also identifies certain attitudes that its writers think hamper progress, one of which is "risk aversion," or what planners see as a pervasive and pernicious fear of failure.

"If we don't do something drastically different... we're going to still be 'x' number of years behind our sister counties," Kinka said.

Read the report:



 “This is an honor bestowed upon everyone who has had a part in developing this plan,” said David McFarland, director of Blair Planning in a statement. “The plan publicly recognizes we must make some course changes and be more proactive in capitalizing on the assets the region has to offer, both now and in the future.”

Six counties collaborating on a comprehensive plan had never been attempted before in Pennsylvania.

“This is the very first time 18 county commissioners, six county planning commissions and one regional economic development agency have joined forces to complete such an initiative. When you remove the arbitrary boundaries that exist between our counties, you quickly realize how similar our collective assets and challenges really are. And you also realize the greater opportunities and advantages of working together to implement projects of regional scale and impact. We’ve certainly set a precedent by collaborating, and plan to continue to work productively as a region moving forward," said Katie Kinka, senior planner for the Cambria County Planning Commission in a statement.



The PA Chapter of American Planning Association (PA APA) is a nonprofit, non-partisan organization for the promotion of planning, and for professional planners and planning officials in the Commonwealth. The organization is a chapter of the American Planning Association (APA). It was created in 1985 by the consolidation of three separate chapters of the APA in Pennsylvania, and the Pennsylvania Planning Association. Approximately 3,000 members strong, the PA Chapter of APA works to promote planning at all levels of the Commonwealth through trainings, the annual conference, legislative monitoring, and public awareness efforts. PA Chapter of APA members participate with various statewide and regional groups with shared values and goals.