by Howard J. Grossman, AICP
In the book “Lights Out” by newscaster Ted Koppel, Tom Ridge, former Governor of Pennsylvania, is quoted, “we are not a preemptive democracy. We are a reactive one. Rare are the occasions on which we act in anticipation of a potential problem.”
These words could be utilized in the Pocono-Northeast as this region has experienced a bundle of problems and issues that have come about unexpectedly and are not always caused within but outside eternal factors which have affected how we operate and how we see the present and the future. There is a vital need for preemptive planning and staking out the various options that should be in place in the event of serious weaknesses which cause the situations to occur.
The flood of 1972, called Tropical Storm Agnes, is one such component to affect the region in a dramatic way. The flood of 2011 which impacted West Pittston and some other communities, is a another such example.
The many recessions which have externally affected the region provided more examples of the need to plan accordingly since more such events are likely to occur. The opportunity to begin to store ideas and action which can be utilized as new dilemmas occur throughout the region would be an excellent source of support and preemptive, organized arrangements which can be quickly made available as responses to the overall definition of problem solving that is essential to the ability of the region to meet problems which show up, both those that are internal and those that hit the region from the outside.
Koppel’s book of 279 pages should be read by many leaders in the region since it talks about electrical grids, blackouts that can last for months, the lack of planning at the national level if one or more of the three electric power grids are attacked. This region should begin to examine ways to respond to this difficult situation if such a negative event actually occurred. However, there are other ways the region should take preemptive steps to avoid entanglements that could be disruptive to our economic, environmental, social and other topics. Here are a few ways to begin to take appropriate steps.
■ There is a need to update the regional plan periodically so that new events can be taken into account as they occur. This is a role that the NEPA Alliance (formerly Economic Development Council of Northeastern Pennsylvania) can play. A collaborative approach would make sense with other agencies such as the Northeast Pennsylvania Industrial Resource Center and many others being involved.
By pre-planning, it would not only be preemptive but allow a look at creativity and innovation techniques to be responsive to a better future and quality of life for the one million plus citizens who call this region as home.
■ The environmental sensitivity that has always been a more recent trend in the region could benefit from a regional plan approach, using the excellent work of the Northeast office of the Pennsylvania Environmental Council (PEC) and the many other roles being played by other groups such as the land conservancies, land trusts, watershed associations and others. The fall meeting of the various environmental entities in the region would be a great way to enhance how this could be a meaningful step in the region’s environmental history.
■ The social theme so vital to regional life has resulted in many older and newer human service organizations to grow in response to great needs, especially since the region has had a history of difficult times and many low income families. In fact, there should be a social action plan created at the regional level, an idea suggested 20 years ago, but never accomplished. If this were to occur, the entity driving the idea could serve as an advocate for advancing human services even beyond current levels.
■ The cultural level of activity in the region is significant. Economic and community development can benefit from more at districts being formed, more support being provided for the arts, all counties having established cultural departments such as that found in Lackawanna County, and much more.
In the 1970s, there was a regional arts council and it may be time to seriously consider reigniting this concept, hold more seminars on the arts as was done by WVIA two years ago, and utilize the arts in a way that has not been discovered regionally. That could be accomplished by bringing together the arts organizations and discussing the capability of an advocacy organization being formed to serve as the regional focus for the future.
■ In the health care field, there are many organizations that exist, and health probably is the number one employer and income factor in regional life. There is a need to think through the extent to which the health sector will advance in the next ten to twenty years, and how the region should plan accordingly.
There were entities in regional history such as the NEPA Business health group and the Health Systems Agency, there is value in thinking about redirecting this approach in 21st century terms in a regional sense. Again, preemptive planning would seem to be essential in this particular field, and perhaps the region could be the example for accomplishing health sector planning.
■ One other action would be looking at the outstanding colleges and universities in the region and encouraging quality and quantity use of the faculty, students and administrative talents collectively that exist to focus on the major priorities that face the region. This idea has been proposed in the past and could be advanced again as a measure to utilize existing entities in a slightly different way.
These ideas, together with creating a regional leadership program, using the outstanding community leadership programs which now exist in each county to take up the gauntlet of preemptive planning would go a long way toward meeting the futuristic needs of a region capable of accomplishing almost anything in the years and generations ahead.