Keystone Crossroads

Seth Perlman / AP

 

More than 100 water systems in Pennsylvania have had lead levels above a federal threshold at least once since 2013, according to an Associated Press analysis of the data.

Eleanor Klibanoff / WPSU

 

If you had $50,000 to improve your community, what would you do? Would you invest in infrastructure, build a park or fund a non-profit organization? Or might you try something a little more creative?

The Knight Cities Challenge pushes urban thinkers to do just that: think creatively about how to engage their community. There are 26 Knight Cities around the country, including Philadelphia and State College, and anyone in those cities can submit a project to the challenge. The winners, announced Tuesday, get a portion of $5 million.

Courtesy of David Bellinger

 

It's 1957. Dr. Herbert Needleman is on his way to see a three-year-old patient at the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia.

Needleman is a young doctor, about six feet tall, with brown eyes and dark hair. This is the first case of lead poisoning he's ever seen.

When he shows up, the girl is not in good shape. Her eyelids are drooping. Her pulse is slow. She's not making a sound.

Jessica Kourkounis / NewsWorks

 

Concentrated poverty is growing across the country, according to a report from the Brookings Institution.

Since the recession, more people live in neighborhoods where at least 20 percent of residents fall below the poverty line. 

Capitol Recap: Why Sunbury’s Police Scandal Matters

Mar 28, 2016
Emily Previti / WITF

 

The first thing you see inside Sunbury City Hall is Mayor David Persing's name on an office window.

Today, Persing's got back-to-back appointments running past 5 p.m. He's taking them at a conference table that fits easily in his chambers, along with a large, sturdy desk and ample shelving.

Persing is the part-time mayor of a town with fewer than 10,000 people.

Jacquelyn Martin / AP

 

Surrounded by state health officials and fellow lawmakers, Senator Vincent Hughes said, "The only thing good that came out of the lead crisis in Flint, Mich., is a renewed, intense effort from states around the country to attempt to address what's going on with lead in their respective communities."

Babar760 / Bigstock.com

  When David Rosner was a kid, he'd go into his grandfather's garage and mix up cans of paint. 

"I can still remember just sticking a stick in to mix it up and hitting halfway down a solid mass of hard stuff," said Rosner. "That was lead." 

Ideas Worth Stealing: When Evictions Happen, Laws To Soften The Blow

Mar 8, 2016
Sarah Schneider / 90.5 WESA

In July, 2015 the landlord at Penn Plaza, a private multi-family housing development in Pittsburgh’s rapidly gentrifying East Liberty neighborhood, slipped 90-day eviction notices under the doors of all tenants in one of their buildings (tenants of the other building now have until 2017 to vacate).

Emma Lee / WHYY

 

Pittsburgh Police Chief Cameron McLay can't be with all of his officers, all the time. While they're driving their beat, responding to calls and policing the city, they're on their own. Negative reports, either by the officers or about the officers, are often he-said, she-said cases.

But that could be changing. Pittsburgh is one of five cities in Pennsylvania that received federal Department of Justice funding to outfit their officers with body cameras. The small cameras, worn on the officer's uniform, record interactions between police officers and the community.

Irina Zhorov / Keystone Crossroads

In Vogt True Value Hardware on Pittsburgh's South Side, the stock of plumbing pipes includes copper and plastic. The owner of the neighborhood store, Shawn Vogt, shook his head no when asked if he carries any lead lines. 

“It’s no longer legal,” he said. “That’s like an old fashioned thing.”

The store hasn’t carried any lead pipes in decades, he said. 

The Challenges Of Preserving Historic Hotels Of Pennsylvania

Feb 28, 2016
Hotel Bethlehem

 

The hotel industry is enjoying a boom time in Philadelphia.

New accommodations are under construction in what will be the city's tallest office tower, the Comcast Innovation & Technology Center; in what will be the state's highest residential building, the SLS building; and at other sites on the Penn and Drexel campuses, in Center City, and in Fishtown.

Some of the new hotels will adapt historic spaces, including the Family Court, Liberty Title and Trust, and the Willis Hale Building at Juniper and Chestnut Streets.

Why Is Pennsylvania’s Water Expensive?

Feb 27, 2016
nekidtroll / flickr

A recent ranking of the nation's 500 largest water systems found the highest rates charged by private companies in Pennsylvania.

Aging infrastructure and an investor-friendly regulatory climate contribute to costs, experts say.

This caught our attention because multiple commonwealth cities are considering privatizing water treatment and delivery, or have done it recently.

Why do cities consider privatizing? To finance system improvement, generate cash for a relatively unrelated obligation, or both.

 

Findings

For Police Departments In PA, Collecting Data On Gun Violence Remains Inconsistent

Feb 22, 2016
Rachel McDevitt / Keystone Crossroads

 

Although data can be a powerful tool in the argument over policies to address gun violence, approaches to collecting and using data across local police departments are inconsistent.

A call to the Erie Police Department comes back with the number of guns taken off the streets in the last few years. The Philadelphia Police Department releases annual reports on its website that show the number of shooting victims and homicide by firearm. In Reading, they're focusing on the locations of verified shots fired in the city.

Josh James / WUKY

 

A few weeks ago, we published a story about  Pennsylvania cities trying to recruit bilingual police officers. 

Although the Latino population is growing quickly in many cities, making up 40 to 60 percent of the population in some cases, police departments trying to hire Spanish-speaking officers are facing challenges. 

Hearings For Hundreds Of PA Lifers Sentenced As Juveniles A Daunting Task

Feb 12, 2016
Kimberly Paynter / WHYY

 

Hundreds of Pennsylvania inmates serving life sentences now have a shot at release after last month's U.S. Supreme Court ruling on juvenile lifers.

While everyone agrees that the decision should give certain prisoners new hearings, how exactly that will play out is being debated fiercely.

Pennsylvania has the dubious distinction of having more offenders serving life behind bars for crimes they committed as teens than any other state.

Ideas Worth Stealing: Replace All Lead Pipes

Feb 11, 2016
Paul Sancya / AP

Ideas Worth Stealing: Every week, Keystone Crossroads looks to cities across the world for lessons in urbanism and municipal governance that could benefit Pennsylvania. No city does it all right, and we hope these examples from metropolises near and far inspire and encourage cities here to think outside the box. 

Market Slide At The Start Of 2016 Could Mean Trouble For Pension Funds

Jan 27, 2016
David Goldman / AP

Markets have been volatile at the start of 2016, and that could be bad news for municipal pension funds in Pennsylvania.

As it was, about half of the municipalities that maintain pension funds have distressed plans, with a total liability of $7.7 billion.

Johnstown's Pension Plan Liability Continues To Grow

Jan 21, 2016
Carolyn Kaster / AP

 

Johnstown’s public pension plans are in bad shape and, according to the latest Pennsylvania Auditor General’s report, continue to get worse.

Eleanor Klibanoff / WPSU

 

Loan payments and credit downgrades mean that the state's community colleges won't recover right away.

Some of the upsides of a community college — lower tuition, shorter programs, local funding contributions — have quickly become challenges during the budget impasse. Pennsylvania's 14 community colleges have been hurt by the six month delay, and may continue to feel the pinch even though state funds have been released.

Harrisburg Pulls Police From NRA Show Security Detail

Jan 10, 2016
Emily Previti / Keystone Crossroads

 

The Great American Outdoor Show's brought tens of millions of tourism dollars to the Capitol region for 25 years.

It's also sponsored by the NRA.

This February, Harrisburg Mayor Eric Papenfuse says police won't provide security inside the Farm Show Complex, as is customary.

Papenfuse says his decision is tied to the NRA's support of the state law that made it easier to sue Pennsylvania cities over their firearms ordinances. 

Eleanor Klibanoff / WPSU

 

From the back of Barry Grossman's house, you get a panoramic view of Lake Erie: miles and miles of uninterrupted lake, anchored on one side by the popular Presque Isle State Park. And in the distance, a large ship making its way slowly across the lake. 

"Last two days, I've seen four major lake liners go by," said Grossman, the former Erie County executive. "Usually you don't see them this time of year."

Grossman hopes that means industry is starting to pick up around the lake again. But he worries Erie's workforce won't be ready for a big turnaround.

Saving Midcentury Modernist Buildings In PA Cities

Jan 4, 2016
Steve Bootay

 

At this time of year, everyone's thinking, "Out with the old, in with the new." Yet there's a growing appreciation for the not-so-old, and even a taste for what came before — specifically, the Cold War cool fashions and interior furnishings of the "Mad Men" era.

Esteem for the style of Midcentury Modern — the period between the 1930s and 1970s — is spreading to its architecture, an expression of postwar optimism and Space Age imagination, and its leading designers, many of whom were trained or practiced their art in Pennsylvania.

Section 8 Vouchers Can Help Low-Income Renters, But Finding Housing Is Difficult

Dec 23, 2015
Newsworks

 

Reuben Sumpter has lived in the East Liberty neighborhood of Pittsburgh for decades. At first he lived in an apartment tower that served low-income people. That high-rise, the East Mall, was demolished. Even in the early 2000s, when the neighborhood’s revival was just starting to show, there were concerns that fewer affordable units would replace the dense high rise.

Lindsay Lazarski / WHYY

At Kutztown University, a lot of students live near campus.

But not Shannon Peitzer.

She's a senior. And every morning she spends at least half an hour driving to school from her apartment.

Lehigh Valley Ponders Welcoming More Syrian Refugees

Dec 17, 2015
Laura Benshoff / WHYY

Farouk leans forward at the interview table, hands clasped. The question, what do you miss in Syria, gets a one word answer.

"Everything," he said.

Farouk -- not his real name -- doesn't want to be identified for fear of retribution back in Syria.

What's Changed In The Refugee Resettlement Hub Of Lancaster

Dec 16, 2015
Lindsay Lazarski / WHYY

Farhan Al Qadri was doing well for himself, running a warehousing business that took him three decades to build. It kept him on the road and away from his wife and children at times. But it also afforded them a 20-room house with a courtyard in the middle, and plenty of land  — including a small farm — just outside the Syrian village of Daraa.

Did he consider himself wealthy?

"It was very excellent," he says, nodding. "But now, I have zero."

Eleanor Klibanoff / WPSU

 

It's the first thing in the morning, which means Ramona DiMassimo has already claimed her spot at one of the desks in the computer room of her apartment building. She says having Internet access down the hall from her apartment has been "habit forming."

Pennsylvania's Houses Are Old — And That's A Problem For Everyone

Dec 9, 2015
Lindsay Lazarski / WHYY

 

Around Pennsylvania, you'll see lots of historic homes: romantic 18th century red brick houses, stately Victorian-era mansions and dense rowhomes built for industrial workers. 

The state's old houses, half of which were built before 1959, can give a neighborhood character. But they can also cause a lot of problems.

Some of the homes are filled with health hazards like lead paint and ancient wiring. Others are simply falling apart with age.

And many residents can't afford the repairs.

In Erie's Big Plan, It's A Matter Of Rightsizing

Dec 4, 2015
Rachel McDevitt / For Keystone Crossroads

Cities have generally had to plan for growth, but many Pennsylvania cities now face shrinking populations. That doesn't mean they get to stop planning.

Erie is the 4th largest city in Pennsylvania, but it is among the last of the top 15 to catch up to the comprehensive plan bandwagon. Under the Pennsylvania Municipalities Planning Code only counties need to come up with a comprehensive plan, but city planners highly recommend them for municipalities as well.

Capitol Recap: Proposed Municipal Pensions Fix Would Allow Skipping Public Bids

Nov 25, 2015
Emily Previti / Keystone Crossroads

The exemption would apply to 98 percent of Pennsylvania's municipal retirement systems.

Susquehanna Township's figured out a way to save $40,000 a year, every year.

That's three percent of their budget, freed up. Without compromising anything for residents, or firing anyone.

But to public officials in the 25,000 person community, getting there was almost not worth the trouble.

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