Keystone Crossroads

Lindsay Lazarski/WHYY

 

When the lush, green curves of Route 403 give way to the expansive brick buildings of Johnstown's steel mills, innovative economic development is not the first thing that comes to mind. The city's landscape is industrial, full of cement, and accented generously with blight. Its population sits at about 20,000, down from a high of around 70,000. The last time it was this low was in 1890, and people continue to leave.

Irina Zhorov / 90.5 WESA

Property taxes are considered a relatively stable, easy-to-collect tax. In many states government officials conduct regular property reassessments, which help calculate accurate tax bills, without much to do. Not so in Pennsylvania, where reassessments can cause upheaval and dramatic political wrestling matches.

With the heavily boarded up community of Homestead as a backdrop, the Housing Alliance of Pennsylvania released a toolkit to fight blight today.

Irina Zhorov / 90.5 WESA

Oberg Industries’ tucked away buildings in Freeport, Pennsylvania are easy to miss.

But inside the nondescript structures are tidy rows of machinery worth hundreds of thousands of dollars each. In one department, refrigerator-sized electric discharge machines, which cut metal using wire, sizzle away like cooking bacon. In another, workers operate manual machines. In one room a worker runs quality assurance using a high-tech instrument.

Irina Zhorov/90.5 WESA

Ronell Guy oscillated between admiration and admonishment as she drove around the California-Kirkbride neighborhood in the Northside.

Guy, who is the executive director of the Northside Coalition for Fair Housing and an interim board member of the city’s land bank, pointed at blighted properties and vacant lots and then cooed at the possibilities of the abandoned properties.

Jasmine Goldband / Jasmine Goldband Photography

90.5 WESA is partnering with public radio stations throughout the state on Keystone Crossroads. It’s a new initiative exploring the challenges faced by Pennsylvania cities, and how they're being overcome.

Some of the segments will air on Essential Pittsburgh, including features and conversations with reporters such as Irina Zhorov, based here in Pittsburgh.

Zhorov recently covered historic preservation as an economic development tool for Pittsburgh, along with manufacturing in western PA and workforce development. 

Zhorov said she's especially interested in how industry is changing in Western PA, new development projects and more broadly what the state is doing to stay solvent.

Irina Zhorov / 90.5 WESA

Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto announced that he wants to use the city’s stock of aging buildings as a tool for economic development.

Beyond Pittsburgh, too, Pennsylvania has no shortage of old buildings and some cities have long used them as a selling point. 

A new study measured the impact of maintaining older buildings in urban areas and concluded that for cities lucky enough to have them, leveraging them can bring development.

Another PA City to be Declared "Distressed"

Jun 6, 2014

While City Council and Mayor Bill Peduto try to finalize a third, 5-year recovery plan for Pittsburgh under Act 47, the city of Shamokin in Northumberland County will soon become the 21st municipality in the commonwealth currently declared financially distressed.

"This is a financial mess," says Shamokin City Clerk Robert Slaby.

Ryan Loew / 90.5 WESA

90.5 WESA has hired journalist Irina Zhorov as the station’s reporter for the Keystone Crossroads initiative, a two-year public media collaboration to focus on the challenges and opportunities facing Pennsylvanian cities.     

Zhorov joins 90.5 WESA after working as a reporter, multimedia producer and host at Wyoming Public Radio. Her professional interests focus on researching and reporting on environmental and energy-related issues, as well as homelessness and education.

Five public media stations spanning Pennsylvania have joined forces to form a collaborative reporting center called Keystone Crossroads.

Keystone Crossroads will explore urban decline and solutions in Pennsylvania and examine topics such as aging infrastructure, immigration, local government, neighborhood life, poverty and tax policy. The initiative aims to offer connected, statewide reporting on urban challenges in the Keystone State.

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