The City of Altoona (population 48,000) retained Environmental Planning & Design (EP&D) as the lead consultant to update its Comprehensive Plan. The City faced a number of hurdles including a declining population (down nearly 40% over the last 40 years) and a stagnant tax base, a significant number of vacant and underutilized properties and on-going fiscal problems, was completing its Act 47 process simultaneously to the comprehensive planning process. Subsequently, the Comprehensive Plan’s actions served as the foundation of numerous Act 47 Plan recommendations.
As part of the planning process, a branding campaign known as "positivelyAltoona", five neighborhood workshops and a series of community-wide on-line surveys were conducted. In addition, more than 60 persons participated in a variety of focus group discussions. The goal of the civic outreach effort was to educate residents within the City's 23 neighborhoods and its hundreds of businesses of the City's fiscal challenges and to identify the most important aspects of the community's quality of life.
A series of physical and policy implementation actions were developed to help guide redevelopment and revitalization activities with particular attention paid to the Downtown and its surrounding residential areas. Moreover, the growing needs and desires of the Penn State-Altoona campus provided the basis for additional implementation actions as related to the City’s land use mix, civic amenities and service needs.
The City of Altoona was awarded the 2013 APA-PA Daniel Burnham Award for the development of its Comprehensive Plan. Since the adoption of the Plan, Altoona has initiated several follow-up studies that were actions of the Plan. These studies address housing in the City and are intended to reverse the decades old trend of population loss. Increasing the residential population within the City will aid the community in its goal to remove itself from Act 47 status.