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Sustainable Pittsburgh

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Sustainability Insider

Featuring Susan G. Hockenberry, Executive Director, Quaker Valley Council of Governments

A long-time trusted advisor and go-to authority on local government, Susan Hockenberry understands the vital role municipalities play in fostering communities that simultaneously benefit residents, the natural environment, and the local economy. This week’s Insider features her unique insights on trends, challenges, and opportunities in sustainable development.

What are Councils of Government (COGs) and what are among their chief roles and values?

Councils of Governments are voluntary associations of local governments enabled by PA state law to help local governments perform together anything that they may do on their own.  COGs serve a variety of roles as determined by their members, particularly in coordinating and executing programs to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of local governments.  COGs are all about local communities empowering themselves to build their future!

 What are a couple key trends in regional sustainability to which municipalities should be alert and responding?

There are three key areas.  First, the generational shift that is occurring in our region is affecting local governments.  How will communities attract investment and cultivate leaders to navigate the transition?  Second, public works is changing rapidly; transferring new technologies to this field is important right now.  Lastly, taking an asset-based approach towards community development is being recognized as the way to deliver the most bang for the buck.

How is the Quaker Valley Council of Governments (QVCOG) addressing sustainability challenges and opportunities for your communities?

In QVCOG we are placing an emphasis on civic engagement and we have launched a “PI Team” to involve governing boards, employees and community volunteers in setting the priorities of the QVCOG.    “PI” stands for Project Ideation, but the infinite possibility of “Pi” provides a sense of the potential of intergovernmental cooperation. We are embracing shared cloud-based technologies for finance, geographic information systems, document management and communications to improve operations, accountability and security.  Long-standing public works programs are being examined such as recycling to determine needed improvements —in terms of environmental benefit and community engagement.  We are developing a multi-municipal capital improvement plan. Lastly, we know that our COG’s future is inextricably intertwined with Rt 65 and we are embarking on a multi-municipal/multi-modal approach towards addressing the positives, and the negatives, brought about by that shared transportation asset.

In what ways are local governments partnering with the business sector to develop local economies that are more aligned with the principles of sustainable development?

Our local governments and businesses are interdependent.  The business community contributes services and programs that benefit business and improve the quality of life, and our local governments provide a range of support, from infrastructure to public safety to even financial support of nonprofit business development groups.  Both the business community and local governments support civic and recreational groups in our COG.  All recognize the necessity of temporary inconvenience for long term improvement when local government construction impedes operations. Several QVCOG communities engage in multi-municipal planning and shared services, recognizing that the economy is not constrained by municipal boundaries.  Our local governments place a priority on community features that build local business districts such as walkability and transit.  We have a number of smaller population communities within our COG, so often everyone knows everyone and synergies occur on their own.  Keeping a sharp eye for when coordination can assist is where the QVCOG as an organization can help!