Todd Erdley on outdoor seating, big box stores, and the Silicon Valley

     Waiters serve patrons dining in an outdoor cafe in one of Buenos Aires' swanky neighborhoods, Recoleta. Although malnutrition is rampant in the heartland and in the vast rustbelt ringing Buenos Aires, the good life goes on for part of Argentine society. (AP file Photo/Natacha Pisarenko)

    Waiters serve patrons dining in an outdoor cafe in one of Buenos Aires' swanky neighborhoods, Recoleta. Although malnutrition is rampant in the heartland and in the vast rustbelt ringing Buenos Aires, the good life goes on for part of Argentine society. (AP file Photo/Natacha Pisarenko)

    “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. Todd Erdley is the president and CEO of Videon in State College.

    Q: What amenity or service that you’ve seen in your travels to other places do you wish you could bring back to your community?

    A: When I travel to many other locations including those that are in climate zones much colder than State College, I see a significant commitment to outdoor seating at restaurants, coffee shops and bookstores. There is something about seeing people outside of these places that enables a “vibe.” It creates energy. It enables random collisions of people. It fosters communication. So while not so much a service, this type of amenity I believe would be a phenomenal spark to the “vibe” that already exists in State College. It would enable our positive spirit to really amplify and I believe great results would unfold.

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

    A: I need to think about this one. Malls are the first thing that comes to my mind but a mall might not classify as an urban improvement. Another “improvement” that I do not feel is great is the push towards having lots of big box stores. I look at North Atherton and am disappointed that the combination of big box stores were not combined with something like an off-Atherton access road that would have connected Wegmans to Trader Joes to Walmart. This type of interconnector would have really been great.

    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: Meagan Tuttle is a Planner for the State College Borough. She has a vision and a passion that if logically fostered, could enable amazing things.

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

    A: This town is changing before our eyes, yet some in our community are trying to figure out how to hold on to a view of this town in the “yesterday” mode. Progressive thinking, not radical thinking, that brings together all elements of the community including students, townspeople, business leaders, officials—where we are all working off the same vision—is in my opinion, vital. We have been very fortunate to, rather easily, see this town expand in mostly a good way. But with the dominance of Penn State as the economic engine, we must be careful that we do not let this overwhelm what State College is and will be. Thus, looking to the future where we embrace the assets of Penn State and take more responsibility for the economy of the Centre Region is a must if we are going to maintain this area in the way that people have seen State College.

    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: I saw a documentary on the history of how Silicon Valley got started. I was fascinated to see that this happened not because of an intentional plan, but it was more about people coming together, sharing best practices, motivated to be successful AND to help one another. Ultimately this created a way of working, a way of living, a way of thinking. And these ultimately became the foundations for growth that enabled the valley to be what it is. I am not saying State College should be Silicon Valley. But I do believe that attitudinal changes are foundational for great things to happen. 

     

    Editor’s note: Some responses may have been edited for length or clarity.

     

    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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