Greg Heller-LaBelle on light rail, ivory towers and silver bullets

     The Lehigh Valley Iron Pigs play the Pawtucket Red Sox at Coca-Cola Park in Allentown, Pa. Greg Heller-LaBelle says “silver bullet” strategies like putting up stadiums don’t spur economic development alone. (<a href=Photo by Lehigh Valley, Pa. via Flickr Creative Commons) " title="coca_cola_park1200" width="640" height="360"/>

    The Lehigh Valley Iron Pigs play the Pawtucket Red Sox at Coca-Cola Park in Allentown, Pa. Greg Heller-LaBelle says “silver bullet” strategies like putting up stadiums don’t spur economic development alone. (Photo by Lehigh Valley, Pa. via Flickr Creative Commons)

    “Five Questions with …”  is a regular Keystone Crossroads feature where we seek to glean wisdom and ideas from some of Pennsylvania’s top urban thinkers and doers. Greg Heller-LaBelle is CEO of the Colony Meadery, president of Lehigh Valley Beer Society, and former communications associate at Riverlife Taskforce, a nonprofit partnership focused on economic development in Pittsburgh.

     “Five Questions with …”  is a regular Keystone Crossroads feature where we seek to glean wisdom and ideas from some of Pennsylvania’s top urban thinkers and doers. Greg Heller-LaBelle is CEO of the Colony Meadery, president of Lehigh Valley Beer Society, and former communications associate at Riverlife Taskforce, a nonprofit partnership focused on economic development in Pittsburgh.

    Q:  Tell us about an amenity or service that you’ve seen in your travels to other places that you wish you could bring back to your city/community?

    A:  Regionally, light rail connections between secondary markets like ours and major markets like NYC and Philadelphia. The effect on workforces would be dramatic.

    Q:  What’s one urban improvement idea that you would categorize as “nice try but didn’t work”?

    A: Really all “silver bullet” strategies that involve putting up one building – unfortunately, often a stadium at taxpayers’ expense – and hoping the area around it develops. Even if you get a couple blocks of business buildings, sustained development requires multi-faceted, nuanced policy.

    Q:  Describe a person in your community who is a “spark” — someone who seems to get things done and inspire people. (This does not need to be an elected official.)

    A: Wayne Barz, who leads the Ben Franklin TechVentures, has been a champion of entrepreneurs in the area for a long time, and is a resource without which our local startup scene could not exist. It would be easy to stay up in the ivory tower or BFTV, but Wayne consistently involves himself in many of the community efforts across the Valley. Having his acumen, experience and involvement has helped the local entrepreneurship culture begin to blossom.

    Q:  What flaw or habit does your city/community have that you would like to see change?

    A: The Lehigh Valley is at least two counties (with pieces of three more), three major municipalities and countless smaller ones. Whether because of statutory reasons or just plain old provincialism, there’s too many separate efforts, duplication and competition between services. This isn’t a challenge unique to us. Many regions and city-states need to come to grips with the fact that geographic borders just do not mean what they used to, and that we are in this together.

    Q: Tell us about a movie or book that depicts, in a way that grabbed your attention, how a city can thrive or fail?

    A: Two political documentaries, “Street Fight” and “Can Mr. Smith Get to Washington Anymore?” both tell cautionary tales of how entrenched political structures can actively work against progress when it comes in the form of a young upstart politician. Both communities allowed themselves to be misled and divided by familiar, intransigent leaders, and in the end chose not to change because change was scarier than the name they knew. Of course, both Corey Booker and Jeff Smith have done well since their losing bids, so the movies also end up being stories about how most successes are preceded by failure, and how good ideas and work ethic can win in the end.

    Is there someone you know who thinks hard about cities and knows how to get things done?  Someone whom Keystone Crossroads should spend “Five Questions with …”  Please let us know in the comment sections below or via Facebook or Twitter @Pacrossroads.

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