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.

The Challenges Of Preserving Historic Hotels Of Pennsylvania

12 hours ago
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. 

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.

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.

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."

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.

Ryan Loew / For Keystone Crossroads

 

The Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development is removing Clairton’s distressed city status.

Manayunk Bridge Reopens As A Trail And A Symbol Of A Changing Economy

Nov 12, 2015
The Manayunk Bridge reopened Oct. 30 to pedestrians and cyclists connecting Philadelphia's Manayunk neighborhood to Lower Merion Township in Montgomery County, Pa.
Lindsay Lazarski / WHYY

Iconic. Ever since it opened in 1918, the Manayunk Bridge has been iconic, a symbol for its namesake section of Philadelphia.

"It's one of those things that's always been the symbol of Manayunk," says Kay Sykora, project director of the Destination Schuylkill River project at the Manayunk Development Corporation. 

What Does The Changing PA Supreme Court Mean For Education Funding, Charter Schools?

Nov 9, 2015
Matt Rourke / AP Photo

  The results of last week's Pennsylvania Supreme Court election could have wide-ranging implications for a number of high-profile cases related to education issues in Pennsylvania.

Three Democrats swept the open seats on the state's highest court – shifting the balance of power 5-to-2 in their favor when they assume the bench in January.

Ryan Loew / For Keystone Crossroads

In a two-chair barbershop in Clairton, Roger Mount shapes clients’ beards and hairlines. He does what he calls old school barbering, using a straight razor. “When you’re cutting hair like this it’s like an art, you try to make the bad look good,” he said while working on a client last week. 

What Your City Can Learn From The Cost Of Water In Coatesville

Oct 22, 2015
Lindsay Lazarski / Keystone Crossroads

Rising administration costs and dwindling coffers mean cities across Pennsylvania are looking for quick cash.

Selling off a big asset, say an energy or water utility, can seem like just the save they need. In 2013, Allentown leased its water authority for 50 years to stave off a pension crisis. The following year, Middletown Borough in Dauphin County signed it own five-decade deal for $43 million, an arrangement the mayor called "the lesser of two evils."

PA's College Towns Capitalize On The Knowledge Economy

Oct 20, 2015
Lindsay Lazarski / Keystone Crossroads

Walk around Videon's headquarters, and it's easy to forget that you're in a short, squat building in the back of an office park. Dogs run around the open workspace, filled with standing desks, funky stone tables and huge computer monitors.

They're an audiovisual technology company, so it make sense that they would want to show off their equipment.

"We've got a really nice little theater area here, which is a fun place to show off the high tech stuff that we do," says marketing director Rebecca Lundin. "And also, bring our kids in and have birthday parties." 

Pennsylvania Environmental Council

As the industries along urban waterfronts have faded, big cities like Philadelphia and Pittsburgh have come up with robust master plans — and significant funding — to connect people with their rivers.

But what can smaller municipalities with fewer resources do to revitalize their waterfronts?

Marie Cusick / StateImpact Pennslvania

The Marcellus Shale runs under 60 percent of Pennsylvania. But the areas where drilling takes place feel the economic effects more than most. On Thursday, those counties received $8.1 million in state funding to support 44 local projects that address housing availability, community development and rental assistance.

Exploring Urban Islands: From Natural To Developed

Sep 28, 2015
Lindsay Lazarski / Keystone Crossroads

Michael Catania walks on a rocky beach at Petty's Island. He picks up a flat stone and flings it out into the Delaware River. The stone skips a few times toward a shipping terminal and the church steeples of Philadelphia's Port Richmond neighborhood.

"I feel like a little boy when I come here," said Catania, chairman of the New Jersey Natural Lands Trust.

Wooden stakes protrude from the ground. The remains of an old pier line the perimeter of the beach. Plastic bottles, old tires, a TV, and bricks sliced in half — one side "key," the other "stone," litter the shoreline.

Irina Zhorov / 90.5 WESA

On Oct. 3, Pittsburghers will walk up and down the formidable stairways of the hilly South Side Slopes neighborhood with maps in hand. The StepTrek, which started more than a decade ago, raises awareness and funds for the Slopes’ aging stairs.

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