Scenario Planning Peer Workshop Report - State College, Pennsylvania
IV. Key Insights from the Workshop
Participants suggested that other regional scenarios besides those discussed in the workshop could be considered. For example, one scenario could assess what new infrastructure might be needed given dramatically higher prices of transportation fuels. Another could explore an extended period of decreased economic activity. The alternatives explored during the workshop, while focused on a narrow range of possibilities, helped participants consider and think through regional impacts and potential responses to plausible regional changes.
Critical Planning Issues
Discussions of the four scenarios revealed insights on the key issues affecting regional transportation and general planning in Centre Region, including the following:
- Increased commute lengths are not ideal. Longer commutes increase congestion and wear and tear on roads. Additionally, if fuel prices increase dramatically, residents with lengthy commutes might not be able to afford to drive to their jobs and other activities. The region may not be able to provide adequate public transportation to support residents' travel needs.
- Limited funding presents a challenge. The region has experienced limited or uncertain availability of funds for transportation infrastructure maintenance. This challenge is most pronounced in State College, which has experienced stagnant growth and a relatively fixed level of tax revenues. With limited funding, the region might have difficulty addressing transportation infrastructure needs that arise in any scenario.
- The region should focus on preserving a vibrant core. Most participants believed that due to the central location of PSU in the State College community, the downtown area is thriving more than many small cities. The vibrant downtown is an asset to the entire region. To retain a strong downtown and realize benefits from re-using existing transportation and utilities infrastructure, public incentives might be needed to encourage downtown re-use and re-development. However, development costs are higher in the downtown area than in surrounding suburban neighborhoods.
- Suburbanization might continue as the dominant development pattern. While infill and growth in already developed areas may be preferable from a traffic perspective, the expectation is that most residents will continue to prefer suburban living. Consequently, developers are likely to respond to this demand. It is a challenge to compare the measurable and non-measurable impacts that could result from continuing the suburban development pattern.
Since the focus of the workshop was to assess the general trends described in the scenarios, participants did not focus on identifying potential trade-offs or determining specific action steps. They did discuss general actions that could be taken to mitigate the impacts of each scenario should it come to pass. For example, if PSU enrollment increased dramatically, the Centre Area Transit Agency (CATA) and PSU could potentially work together to coordinate class schedules and achieve better utilization of the transit vehicle fleet.
Success Factors to Address Regional Challenges
Participants discussed success factors that would be required in addressing regional challenges. There was a consensus that it is difficult, yet critical, to transition from reacting to changes to planning for an effective future. Key themes in the discussion included: 1) a better understanding of "what the region is;" 2) a better understanding of community values; 3) the need for increased regional collaboration and coordination; 4) a better understanding of demand for and capacity of transportation and land use resources, such as highways, buses, parking, water, sewage, and housing, especially as related to identifying underutilized capacity; and 5) development of strategies for addressing funding limitations.
Success factors included the following:
- Ensure regional collaboration and communication across planning-area boundaries. While the Centre Region metropolitan planning organization coordinates planning activities within a portion of the county boundary, there is no formal governing body for the five municipalities and surrounding townships that are commonly known as the Centre Region. As a result, it can be difficult to identify specific agencies that should be involved in addressing a particular planning issue, as well as agency roles. More and better communication and collaboration is necessary to address many of the issues that would emerge in various scenarios. This collaboration should include increased partnerships across jurisdictional boundaries, public and private sectors, and across disciplines (e.g., transportation, land use, water, emergency services). It would also make use of future systems analyses to develop knowledge about specific Federal, state, and local administrative procedures that might constrain closer coordination between the transportation system and land use planning. The intent of these systems analyses would be to identify procedures that need reform and to assess possible alternative administrative procedures.
- Obtain private sector involvement in planning processes. It is important to obtain feedback and input from the private sector; historically, transportation and planning agencies in the region have more often heard from residents and less often from businesses. Private sector feedback related to action steps is critical, especially given scenarios that assume substantial business and population growth in the region.
- Use scenario planning to foster a continuing strategic conversation about trends and possible changes internally within planning organizations and among organizations and groups in the broader area or region. Organizations are often busy with their day-to-day work and there might be limited opportunities to think broadly and strategically about internal organizational changes or possible futures. Scenario planning can be a strategic planning tool for organizations to enable reflection on current planning practices and processes and facilitate organizations' better preparation for the future.
- Identify new or alternative sources of funding. The Centre Region has experienced severe limitations in funding. It can be difficult or unrealistic to try and implement innovative action steps, ideas, or projects without access to funding. Possible strategies for the region could include seeking out discretionary funding opportunities, engaging in public-private partnerships, or implementing other innovative finance options to continue to provide high-quality transportation and other public infrastructure.
- Understand community values to plan proactively. Previous community surveys in Centre County have indicated how people view the borough and what their values are, but do not always provide a clear picture of what people value or why they value it. Public agencies need to have a good understanding of community values to carry out plans and projects that will meet residents' needs and provide a high quality of life. It might not be desirable or feasible to implement changes unless a high level of community support can be obtained.