Keystone Crossroads: Rust or Revival?

Keystone Crossroads: Rust or Revival? explores the urgent challenges pressing upon Pennsylvania's cities. Four public media newsrooms are collaborating to report in depth on the root causes of our state's urban crisis -- and on possible solutions. Keystone Crossroads offers reports on radio, web, social media, television and newspapers, and through public events.

Our partner stations are WHYY in Philadelphia, WPSU in State College and witf in Harrisburg. Read all of the partner stories here.

Pittsburgh’s WQED joins the collaboration as an associate partner. 

Support for this project comes from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

Keystone Crossroads
10:05 am
Tue December 30, 2014

Place Branding: What’s It Mean When Identity Gets in the Way?

A cyclists rides past restaurants and boutique shops on Butler Street in Lawrenceville.
Credit Lindsay Lazarski / WHYY

In 2011, a group of designers put together a development proposal to make Pittsburgh’s airport more than just a landing pad. The plan included ideas to transform the airport into a larger transport hub that would attract businesses to the vicinity, making for a dense commercial zone.

One of the theoretical models in the proposal included something called New Town, literally a new town that would absorb the people coming to take advantage of all the new businesses and jobs the future growth of the airport would spur.

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7:41 am
Wed December 10, 2014

The State of PA's Bridges, Part 3: Inspecting and Managing Them More Efficiently

Steve Haluska inspects the floor beams of the second level of the Fort Pitt Bridge in Pittsburgh.
Credit Irina Zhorov / 90.5 WESA

This is the third story of a three-part series on the state's bridges.

About seven years ago, the Bridge Maintenance Engineer for the South Carolina Department of Transportation, Lee Floyd, was concerned about one of his bridge’s ability to hold up while a replacement was built. He placed sensors on the bridge to monitor how it behaved and found that actually he could keep it open without any temporary repairs.

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7:28 am
Tue December 9, 2014

The State of PA's Bridges, Part 2: Rebuilding Them Faster

The concrete piers (walls) on this bridge over the Swatara Creek in Middletown took weeks to harden and strengthen. Under the state's new program, the construction team will be able to put a pre-fabricated pier together in days.
Credit Keystone Crossroads

This is the second story of a three-part series on the state's bridges.

Twenty-three percent of Pennsylvania's bridges are structurally deficient, and many need to be replaced. But between permitting, design, and construction, building a new bridge takes years.

That's why the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation is trying to speed things up.

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7:57 am
Mon December 8, 2014

The State of PA's Bridges, Part 1: How Are They Holding Up?

The bridge on Main Street over East Branch Perkiomen Creek in Sellersville is one of about 6,000 bridges in Pennsylvania that is considered structurally deficient.
Credit Lindsay Lazarski / WHYY

This is the first story of our three-part series on the state's bridges.

If you drive in Pennsylvania, you've probably crossed a structurally deficient bridge. Maybe you're driving over one right now.

Pennsylvania has more than 30,000 bridges. Some span rivers, like the Ben Franklin Bridge in Philadelphia, and others are much smaller, crossing rural creeks and highways. More than 6,000 of these bridges are structurally deficient. (We put together an interactive map of the state's structurally deficient bridges.)

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Keystone Crossroads
8:06 am
Tue December 2, 2014

Regulated Tent Cities for Homeless Pondered But Improbable in PA

Frank Fairweather camped for three years beneath the Interstate 83 bridge in Harrisburg with at least half a dozen others at any given time. City officials recently closed the encampment.
Credit Image courtesy of Eric Weiss

Frank Fairweather says poor health forced him to quit truck driving just shy of his 50th birthday. He kept a roof over his head for a while but then one roommate was jailed for a parole violation, and the other skipped town.

Before he could find replacements, Fairweather fell behind on rent. He ended up joining several others camping under an interstate bridge near downtown Harrisburg.

Fairweather didn’t leave for three years, staying through winters and Tropical Storm Lee, until one night earlier this fall.

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Keystone Crossroads
2:13 am
Wed October 8, 2014

An Artist Battles Blight With a Coat of Gold Paint

The House of Gold sits on the corner of Park and Swissvale avenues in Wilkinsburg. Artist and architect Dee Briggs, who lives next door, acquired the house through a vacant property program and with the help of others painted it gold.
Credit Ryan Loew / 90.5 WESA

To drive through Wilkinsburg is to tour the ravages of a post-industrial Pittsburgh, a suburb of the comeback city that just hasn’t come back, yet. Houses stand empty, there are open lots, drug deals go down in broad daylight. And then, glimmering on a corner lot: a house painted gold.

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9:49 am
Wed October 1, 2014

Pittsburghers List Infrastructure, Education as Top Issues in the City

90.5 WESA hosted a public forum last night along with Keystone Crossroads, a project focused on urban issues statewide.

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Keystone Crossroads
9:48 am
Tue September 30, 2014

A New Municipality In Antietam Valley?

Mount Penn resident Jeff Motes lobbed a ball at the dunk tank target (and subsequently soaked his niece). He says a consolidation between Mount Penn and Lower Alsace would be 'great for the kids. The borders are so close, sharing resources would be a good thing.'
Credit Kate Lao Shaffner / WPSU

Pennsylvania has more local governments than any other state except Texas and Illinois. There are some downsides to this, including the inefficiency and expense of duplicated services, and the potential for competition among municipalities.

State law allows municipalities to consolidate or merge, but it doesn't happen all that often because the process can be fraught with tension. But two communities in Berks County are trying to give it a shot— this November, residents will vote on whether they should consolidate and form a new municipality.

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Essential Pittsburgh
4:47 pm
Mon September 29, 2014

Keystone Crossroads Holds Statewide Town Hall Meetings

Harris Sokoloff (left) of Penn Project for Civic Engagement welcomes participants to Keystone Crossroads’ first community forum to discuss the urgent challenges facing Pennsylvania cities at WHYY in Philadelphia.
Credit Lindsey Lazarski / WHYY

On Tuesday evening, the third Keystone Crossroads community forum will be held at the Community Broadcast center on the South Side. Titled, “Rust or Revival: Which Way is Our Town Heading?" these evenings are all about community engagement.

Similar forums have been held in Philadelphia and Harrisburg with the goal of parsing out our community problems and potential solutions. 

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9:28 am
Wed September 24, 2014

Johnstown Hosts Its Inaugural Outdoor Festival

Johnstown is hosting the inaugural Allegheny Adventure X-Fest, a weekend-long event for outdoor enthusiasts in the region. Brad Clemenson is with Lift Johnstown, one of the sponsors of the event. He says the weekend will incorporate Johnstown’s 39th annual marathon, along with a whole host of other activities, including biking, boating, hiking, geocaching, fly-fishing demonstrations, as well as music.

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Government & Politics
5:58 pm
Tue September 23, 2014

Public-Private Partnership To Expedite Replacement Of 558 Structurally Deficient Bridges

The biggest project yet under the public-private partnership, or P3 law, passed in 2012, will replace 558 of Pennsylvania's 4,200 structurally deficient bridges by 2018. The Pennsylvania Department of Transportation has released the final list of bridges, whittled down from 2000, and has reached out to private companies to submit bids for the project. PennDOT says this approach will get the job done quicker and more economically. 

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Government & Politics
1:07 pm
Mon September 22, 2014

Sen. Alloway Sponsors Bill Allowing Raise in Local Hotel Tax

Senator Richard Alloway (R) has sponsored a bill in the state legislature that would allow certain counties to increase their hotel taxes. If enacted, Senate Bill 838 would open the door to raising the tax visitors pay for hotel stays from 3 percent to 5 percent in applicable counties. And that’s in addition to the tax the state levies.

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Keystone Crossroads
8:07 am
Mon September 15, 2014

State College Hopes To Fight The Tide Of Student Rentals With New Homestead Investment Program

State College is a quintessential university town. During the school year, Penn State students more than triple the borough's population.
Credit Kate Lao Shaffner / WPSU

State College's Highlands residents are used to sounds of partying on weekend nights. The neighborhood borders Penn State's University Park campus and downtown.

It's made up of fraternities and apartment buildings, but also single-family homes ranging from grand stone and brick historic mansions to more modest mid-century houses. The residents are quite the mix—college students, retired professors, and young families all call the Highlands home.

But it's not hard to tell who lives where.

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Station News
2:45 pm
Thu September 11, 2014

90.5 WESA, Keystone Crossroads Community Forum - Sept. 30

Pennsylvania's cities and towns are full of promise, but plagued by problems. The appeal of urban living is on the rise. Many neighborhoods bustle with new residents and amenities. But issues such as crumbling infrastructure and high taxes linger. What can Pennsylvania's cities, large and small, do to address their problems and fulfill their promise? 

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11:40 am
Fri September 5, 2014

How Church Buildings In PA Are Finding New Lives

The nonprofit performing arts program "Greatness Is In You" leases the church from a real estate company.
Credit Marielle Segarra / WHYY

Walk a few blocks in Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, or any of Pennsylvania's old cities, and you're bound to see a house of worship. In Old City Philadelphia, these could be churches the founding fathers attended. In other neighborhoods, they could be former ethnic churches that served specific immigrant communities.

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7:30 am
Fri August 29, 2014

Pennsylvania's Cities Confront Homelessness

Davina Dalor, 42, holds a pewter necklace with an engraved symbol for completion. Dalor is going through the gender transition process — male to female while living in the woods in Allentown, Pa.
Credit Lindsay Lazarski / WHYY

You'd never know it from the road, but in the woods in Allentown, there's a small monument to just how resourceful people can be, when they have to be.

Weeds and wildflowers obscure the path leading to Davina Delor's shelter. She built it herself after landing here in April - her fourth campsite since 2010.

That's when Delor, 42, lost her job, quickly followed by her apartment and car.

"I'm still looking for work. I get little odd jobs here and there, but nothing that pays. Nothing that will get you an apartment or anything like that," Delor says.

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Government & Politics
7:29 am
Fri August 29, 2014

Foreign Students Contribute Knowledge And Billions To Local Economies, Report Says

Foreign-born students studying in the U.S. spend billions in local economies and their talents should be more deliberately harnessed, according to a new study by the Brookings Institution.

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Government & Politics
9:38 pm
Mon August 25, 2014

Jobs Conference Focuses on Global Talent Recruitment, Innovation and Energy

The job market of the 21st Century is increasingly global and focused on innovation. That was one of the takeaways at the Governor’s Jobs 1st Summit in Pittsburgh Monday.

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Arts & Culture
3:30 am
Mon August 11, 2014

From Oil Drilling to Oil Painting: Revitalization Through Oil City’s Artist Relocation Program

Joann Wheeler stands in the lobby of the National Transit Building. The lobby mural depicts big players of the oil industry, like John D. Rockefeller.
Credit Kelly Tunney / For WPSU

Oil City suffered the fate of many other Pennsylvania communities that were once driven by prominent industries. It was once the hub of the nation's oil production and home to major companies like Pennzoil and Quaker State.

But the companies moved away and the days of Oil City's prosperity are gone. Oil City has had to find ways to reinvent itself. And it's chosen to embrace art—and artists.

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Government & Politics
5:23 pm
Thu August 7, 2014

Councilwoman Wants Inquiry Into Real Estate Deals

Councilwoman Natalia Rudiak is asking Mayor Bill Peduto to look into the sale of an apartment complex. She said how the sale happened could lead to a loss of tax revenue to the city.  

The Cork Factory Lofts in the Strip District were recently sold to GMH Capital Partners for an undisclosed sum. But instead of buying the converted lofts outright, GMH purchased the two companies that previously owned the converted lofts and associated properties. The sale included three buildings.

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Economy & Business
10:44 am
Wed August 6, 2014

Johnstown Bets on Quality of Life Initiatives to Drive Economic Development

The Conrad: The flatiron Conrad building sits on the edge of the Stonycreek River in Johnstown, Pa. The building has become a symbol of the city's blight and economic troubles.
Credit 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.

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Government & Politics
7:58 am
Tue July 29, 2014

Property Reassessments for Tax Bills Inspire Big Drama in Pennsylvania

Braddock Borough Council President Tina Doose.
Credit 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.

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Government & Politics
5:23 pm
Thu July 24, 2014

With New Tools to Fight Blight, Communities Look to Arm Themselves to Reclaim Neighborhoods

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

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Economy & Business
10:30 am
Wed July 9, 2014

Qualified Employees Increasingly Hard To Come By In Manufacturing Sector

Chris Boltz, a manufacturing engineer with Oberg Industries, has been there since 1998. When he decided to attend Oberg's apprentice program instead of attending college, his high school counselor told him he was throwing away his life.
Credit 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.

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Government & Politics
3:30 am
Tue July 1, 2014

Pittsburgh Land Bank Brings New Tools To City's Blight Problem

Ronell Guy and Councilwoman Deborah Gross in the Northside. They say the land bank will help put blighted properties into productive use.
Credit 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.

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Essential Pittsburgh
6:37 pm
Mon June 23, 2014

Statewide Initiative Explores the Challenges Faced by Pennsylvania Cities

Workers renovating the dome of the AAA Motor Square Garden in East Liberty.
Credit 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.

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Government & Politics
11:45 am
Mon June 23, 2014

Historic Preservation As Economic Development: Peduto Says Yes, Please

The YMCA building in East Liberty plans to use preservation tax credits to develop a hotel.
Credit 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.

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Act 47
10:46 am
Fri June 6, 2014

Another PA City to be Declared "Distressed"

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.

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Station News
2:31 pm
Wed May 7, 2014

Meet Irina Zhorov, 90.5 WESA's Keystone Crossroads Reporter

Irina Zhorov
Credit 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.

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Keystone Crossroads
1:09 pm
Wed January 15, 2014

90.5 WESA Among PA Public Media Stations Uniting to Explore Statewide Urban Decline

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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