Livable Communities in Reading and West Reading
Jun 05, 2018 07:45AM
● By Claire Brandenburg Taylor
With a mission to bolster livability in urban areas, Reading and West Reading organizations are focused on expanding their already vibrant, active communities. Aaron Gantz, executive director of downtown revitalization at Greater Reading Chamber Alliance (GRCA), asserts that a growing number of people are seeking walkable urban living space. Downtown Reading scores a 94 out of 100 in terms of walkability, deeming it a very walkable city. The score is based on restaurants, drinking, culture, entertainment, schools, food, retail, bikeable spaces and parks.
Gantz explains that GRCA is primarily focused on economic development, which goes hand-in-hand with livability. “There is not enough…housing in downtown Reading,” she declares, “so now there is a lot of focus on residential space. Bringing residents into downtown creates critical mass necessary for revitalization. Businesses can’t be 100 percent reliant on the nine-to-five crowd; people living in urban centers frequent establishments after working hours, which naturally improves positive perception and overall livability.”
A livable community is defined by the mix of residential, commercial and retail including dining and entertainment. “That combo has proven successful across the United States,” affirms Gantz. As millennials seek to live in urban areas and older generations downsize from house to condo or apartment, it’s the “magic mix”. Access to fresh food also plays an important role; Penn Street Market, featuring local, fresh produce and more, is open every Thursday from June through September.
"One of our strategies is to maintain and improve a positive perception of Reading in order to attract residents and business owners,” says Gantz. “This is critical for forward movement. The city of Reading is beautiful and has much to offer. When we take pride in our city, we build positive perception.”
Meeting the housing needs of a diverse population is challenging. There isn’t much on the market yet in Reading, but changes are coming. Diversifying downtown housing options is an integral part of the Greater Reading Chamber Alliance’s Downtown Reading five-year strategic plan; it will manifest as new construction and conversion of older buildings into apartments and condominiums.
Grassroots efforts to improve quality of life contribute significantly to an area’s livability. Several Reading neighborhood groups, such as Center Park Historic District and the 18th Ward, are active in ongoing efforts.
Dean Rohrbach, program manager at West Reading Community Revitalization Foundation (WRCRF), works to advance the vitality of commercial areas in the town of West Reading through the Main Street Program and livability of residential areas through the Elm Street Program. WRCRF eases burdens on local government by acting as its arm for community and economic revitalization.
For the first time in decades, every storefront on The Avenue––West Reading’s five-block business district on Main Street––is occupied. Over $8 million in grants and bonds have been invested, resulting in improvements ranging from infrastructure upgrades and improved traffic flow to bicycle trails, parks and brightly painted storefronts.
“Neighborhood branding and special events build cohesiveness among divergent groups who mingle and discuss shared interests,” reflects Rohrbach. “They share one thing in common: they love and take pride in their community and are willing to work together to make it better. Here, neighbors know one another and work together to make West Reading a safer, friendlier, cleaner place.”
With a Walkscore of 89, West Reading also boasts a Mural Corridor with 25 murals, and more scheduled. At the site of the former Vanity Fair outlets, UGI is constructing a large tech center to attract millennials. One third of the housing in the older, residential section of town has been repainted in historic colors. West Reading’s outdoor Farmer’s Market is open every Sunday along The Avenue. “We’re a fun place to play with a cheery look”, says Rohrbach. “We greet visitors with beauty and romance them with color.”
Claire Brandenburg Taylor is a freelance contributor. Connect with her at [email protected]