Welcome to Media Pennsylvania, the seat of Delaware County and America’s first free trade town. It’s colloquially known as “Everybody’s Hometown” and less well known as my adopted home town. Located just 13 miles west of Philadelphia, Media is a small town of about 5,300 residents with a significant population of baby boomers and millennials (30% and 28% respectively). It is strategically situated next to major highways such as Route 1, Interstate 476 and 95, and well served by public transportation, such as SEPTA regional rail, trolley and various bus lines. It’s well educated (59% with BA or higher), relatively well-off (over $63K media household income), and boasts a healthy housing market (47% more sales in 2016 than 2011). But beyond the numbers, it’s simply a great town.
The main downtown corridor is nestled away from the busy thoroughfare on Baltimore Avenue. As a result, State Street is this charming, walkable street that offers eclectic restaurants, locally owned shops, and a variety of festivals throughout the year. The mix of activity, infrastructure, and people create an authentic community that can’t be fabricated. Combined, these aspects make State Street a great street and are the reasons why it recently won the 2017 Great Streets award from the Pennsylvania Chapter of the American Planning Association.
In addition, Media has a number of public parks and playgrounds, the iconic outdoor Plum Street mall, as well as great places to just simply sit and people watch. Did I mention there’s an old school trolley that runs down State Street? It really can’t get any cuter. On top of it all, folks are friendly, progressive, and civically engaged. All of these aspects are highly attractive and part of the reason why my husband and I decided to call Media home in 2015.
In a rare confluence of my personal and professional lives, I was recently presented with the opportunity to do the type of work that I love, in a place that I love. Last winter, ESI was commissioned to create an Economic Development Strategy and Implementation Plan for the Borough of Media. ESI led a dynamic project team including Catherine Timko from The Riddle Company, a Washington DC based firm specializing in retail and business attraction, as well as Jonas Maciunas from JVM Studio, a Philadelphia based firm focusing on urban design and transportation. The purpose of the project was to provide concrete action steps over the next 5-10 years that will promote the economic health of the borough. Over the course of nine months, the project team observed the current state of four fundamental areas that help make or break a town: economic development, retail, transportation, and placemaking. We researched economic conditions, identified the retail trade areas, and analyzed the regional retail market. The team also reviewed the transportation assets and physical infrastructure (e.g. sidewalks, benches, places to linger) that support social gatherings. In addition, the team compared local happenings with industry trends, and best practices from around the country. All of this research was complemented with an extensive community engagement process, which included numerous interviews, four sets of focus groups, an online survey(that received over 850 respondents!), and a public forum. Throughout the process, we were constantly amazed at the level of interest and thoughtful engagement from the community. So what was the result? A shared economic development vision emerged from the community; one that may be used as an outcome to achieve and a guidepost for future action.
“The future of Media will be a sustainable community with a vibrant, walkable downtown that offers an authentic and distinctive memorable experience for people of all ages. It will be a regional destination for retail, dining, the arts and community events. As Media attracts residents, visitors, and workers, it will be a diverse and welcoming community that remains Everybody’s Hometown.”
Now, that’s a vision I can get behind. And it’s one being considered – and potentially adopted – by the Borough Council in a couple of weeks. While our project concluded with action steps for the borough to consider, it is the Council who must decide how to implement the economic vision for Media. This will take significant coordination and collaboration with the business community, restaurant owners, arts community, residents, and other stakeholders. But with as much community involvement as we saw throughout the project, it looks like the entire town is up for the task. As I reflect on our completed project, I’m feeling quite positive about Media’s future. With an engaged town and committed leadership, the borough seems poised to thrive and grow over the next 5-10 years. In my personal opinion, I believe it will actively attract new businesses. It will add residential units. It will build upon the arts, theater, and its cultural scene. It will continue to be a regional destination for restaurants, retail, and festivals. It will maintain its small town feel, yet offer some of the best urban amenities outside of Philly.
That said – here is my insider and, only slightly biased, tip. Now is the time to come to Media. Are you a young (or young at heart) entrepreneur looking for affordable rental space to start your business in the region? This is your spot. Are you a young (but not so young) millennial starting a family and looking for a kid-friendly community and great school district? Media is your town. Are you a baby boomer trying to downsize while maintaining an active lifestyle? Look no further. Whatever stage of life you are in- whether young or old – resident, employee, or visitor – Media has something for you. Come check out “Everybody’s Hometown,” and don’t forget to say hi when you see me on State Street.
Brittany N. Forman is a Director at Econsult Solutions, Inc (ESI). At ESI, Ms. Forman leads projects on public policy and community and economic development. She helps clients assess municipal budgets and policies, evaluate programs and operations, and manage projects from inception to their successful completion.