Jun 27, 2009

Dwindling City Density

A recent hot topic in the world of urban planning is the idea of tearing down portions of cities that are largely abandoned and blighted in order to contract the city’s size. The money for most of these projects would come from state or federal funds and the goal is to remove seldom-used infrastructure and save money on the future repairs thereof. Money would also be saved, and the rest of the city would benefit, from a plan like this because the police force and other emergency vehicles would have a smaller, more densely populated, area to patrol and not be stretched quite so thinly.

All in all, these benefits sound incredible. This recession could be seen as a punishment for expanding our nation’s growth so rapidly and unsustainably and this contraction of our cities looks like an answer.

However, I’m not so sure. To be clear, I’ve not yet decided my stance on any of this and I certainly don’t know enough about the subject to make my decision any time soon. All I can do is throw the Pros/Cons that I can see out there and hope something comes out of the comments that makes me think, and think hard.

So the “Pros” of this are already listed: improved policing of remaining neighborhoods, less money spent on repairs of aging infrastructure that is seldom-used anyway, better response times from emergency vehicles, and (hopefully) increased density in remaining neighborhoods to support self-policing and bring foot traffic to local businesses.

What would be done with this land, in these grand plans, would be to return the properties to nature. I’m not sure whether this’d be done through city-run reforestation efforts (which is happening in our own parks) or simply letting the land return on its own time (which could take around fifty years, according to Andrew).

However, the “Cons” are glaring. You’re taking away homes, destroying sites of future growth (i.e. the conversion of industrial spaces into affordable artists’ lofts or the refurbishment of Victorian mansions) disconnecting many neighborhoods from each other (series of “linked islands” may force car dependency on residents if public transportation isn’t varied and frequent) and, as Roberta Brandes Gratzpoints out in her LA Times piece, there hasn’t really been a history of positive effects of massive clearance

Right now, the debate rages between those flung to the far ends of the spectrum of opinion about this: either tear it all down and reforest it, or preserve all of it.

I think there’s a compromise to be found. I’ll post about it later, since this is getting a bit long-winded right now, but I’d like to hear your opinions on the pros/cons before that. Which side do you prefer, and why? And how do you think you would feel if it were in your own Rust Belt city of Allentown that this was happening?

Jun 16, 2009

Seeing Green

I seem to always have excuses not to update this thing. However, excuses are done with! My friend, Andrew, is putting me to shame with his "daily posting" nonsense, so I will step up to the plate* and attempt weekly postings. Maybe even more! I've been doing exciting things and want to tell you about them.

Tonight I'm off to the South Side Film Festival as soon as I get off work, but apparently there's also a Green Ribbon Committee meeting for anyone interested in the greening of Allentown. It's at the Lehigh County Government Center Public Hearing Room, 17 South Seventh Street, Allentown and will be done by 9:00, at the latest. It's a great opportunity to hear what's already getting done in the city and to voice your own opinion on what can be done and how. There's some more detail at the Good News Blog, so I guess it is definitely a Good Thing.

*hello, baseball metaphors! Maybe I've been hanging around Andrew's house a little too much. I'm starting to recognize names and such of Phillies players. All I'm saying is this cannot be good.

Jun 3, 2009

Recent Jaunts in Allentown

I've been thin on the "posting things" but big on the "doing things" and I apologize!

In my jaunts around the city, I notice that the Liberty Street Tavern caught fire again. My friend, Steve, is a bartender there and he surprised me by showing up at the Hava Java tonight. The conversation went like this:

Me: Steeeeeeve! Steve Steve Steve! How are you! (I am kind of like a Jack Russell terrier when greeting friends)
Steve: Katie, why does my job always catch fire?
Me: What?
Steve: Some girl came into the bar and said "Uhm ... your building is shooting flames out the back..."

Apparently, a piece of marinated, raw chicken got thrown onto the grill and the flame that engulfed it jumped into the exhaust and caught the grease trap on fire! They're going to be closed until Friday or so, since all the city inspectors have to come through again once they replace the parts of the kitchen that got all "on fiyah."

Hmm...but what else is going on?

One of my jobs has me spending some time on Hamilton Street around the lunch hour. I don't often find myself on Hamilton Street unless I'm driving through it, but I've been hoofing it during the lunch hour to check out some of the events going on at the PPL Plaza and, sheesh, there are quite a few things going on! The Summer In The City series of local musicians sends out some nice background music for the lunch-goers, but the best is the Plaza Growers Market!

The Plaza Growers Market had its kick-off today. There were about six vendors, but I'm told that there will be more each week as the season progresses. The best part is that the market's at lunch time! Last year, it sort of straddled the end of the work day, but this new time is much more convenient. Also, a lunch time market can feature vendors selling prepared food! Balasia, formerly located in Emmaus, now has its own stand at the market. It's the only outlet for the restaurant and my, my! the curry hummus is delicious!

I also ran into Sarina at the Chen Arts table and my, my it seems like they've got a show coming up! "Velocity" will be in the Allentown Arts Museum starting this Sunday! You should stop in for their opening and talk to me. Just say you're "from the internet" and we will talk!

Also, did you know that the old Saylor's restaurant will be a 24-hour diner? The West Side Diner should be open by the end of the summer and will bring some traffic to the 19th street neighborhood. I'm excited, since it looks like the neighborhood could support a 24 hour diner. The coffee shop closes at 11 on weeknights and midnight on weekends and there are several bars in the area. The local late night crowd now has somewhere to migrate to once at the end of the night (or is it in the morning ...)

More to come soon as I continue meandering around the city. I should start to meander with my camera. It would be helpful.

May 14, 2009

From The Ground Up Remains Of A City

There are exciting things happening in Allentown!

One of these things is called Allentown From The Ground Up. It's a small social networking/activism* community that my friends and I started. Despite Allentown’s status as a “small city,” I’ve found some difficulty getting in contact with people my age who are interested in the welfare of the city.

We work to get Allentown’s active citizens to connect with each other outside of the workplace. Right now, it’s about having a good time in the city, but in the future it just might be about fixing up the city we care about.

Andrew, Bryan and I were in Bucky Boyle park not too long ago, kicking around the trash on the waterfront and we realized that there have got to be some other people who want to do things like this with us. Then we thought that kicking trash around isn’t such an appealing thing. So we decided to do events that are fun. Like the Iron Pigs!

So, come out and join us for an Iron Pigs game on May 30th. We’ll meet outside the gates at 6:30 and, since it’s the Iron Pigs, you can be sure it’s going to be a good time.

Also, check out our Twitter and Facebook page. If you can connect to us through that, too, we'll be sure to keep you in the loop for all the activities we're planing.

*Now, when I say “social networking” you’re going to think of those websites like Facebook. Don’t get the wrong idea, we’re on facebook, but we also exist in the real world. You know. That place from which you type up your comments? Where you eat? Yes, that one.

May 11, 2009

As I said in the previous post, I only vaguely remember Hess's. I remember Santa and colored sugar and the circular kinds of clothing racks that were easy to hide inside. That last bit really drove my mom up the walls when we were in there. Since I was the kind of kid who behaved AWFULLY in stores, I didn't really get to go to Hess's much in the first place.

Last night's talk on Hess's department store let me in on the incredible history of an institution that holds a special place in the collective memory of Allentown residents. The speakers, Frank Whelen and Kurt Zwikl have published a book on Hess's heyday and shared their experience with about 30 locals in the basement of The Episcopal Church of the Mediator. The evening started with a potluck and quickly turned over to Mr. Whelen's lecture on how Hess's came to be. Apparently one of the Hess brothers took the TRAIN from Easton to Bethlehem to Allentown and decided to put his store in Allentown almost immediately after walking up Hamilton street from the train station. From the start, the store had character. The grand opening ceremony in 1897 featured the Allentown band, something no other Allentown dry goods store ever thought reasonable or feasible. The store continued to undergo massive expansion, annexing all the other buildings on its block. Mr. Whelen asked those of us who had visited the store before it closed "remember how you would have to take a couple steps up and down throughout the store? You were walking between all the different bulidings the store acquired and converted."

Kurt Zwikl then took over and spoke of his personal experience growing up in Allentown during Hess's "Hollywood on Hamilton" days. He listed names of celebrities that were clearly before my time and types of events I've never experienced. I can't imagine a department that doubles as a source of community pride – all I know are the monolith big boxes that land in asphalt strips like space ships. The portrait Zwikl painted of Max Hess Jr. reminded me, in a way, of Citizen Kane.

In the question and answer session, an attendee said something of interest. “Can you imagine what people would have said if they were told that Hess’s wouldn’t exist in thirty years? I don’t think anyone would believe it.”

“It’s just proof that things DO change,” said Zwikl.

May 9, 2009

Alright, Alright, I Know, I Know!

I know I promised to post, but things have been hectic and I've got a particular post I am going to write tonight or tomorrow (after I go to the event tonight) and, um, is that a good enough excuse?

Tonight I am going to see Kurt Zwikl and Frank Whelan speak at the Church of the Mediator by West Park tonight and I'd like to do a write-up about it. It'll be on Hess's! I remember going to Hess's! I got my picture taken with Santa there every year until it closed because my mom insisted that it was the REAL Santa Claus. Now, I am a junior in college and I know a thing or two, but I think I may still be tricked into thinking he was real if I saw that Santa Claus again. I mean, he had a real beard and everything!

I also remember my mom complaining about Hess's a lot once it got sold. After the place closed up, we stopped going to downtown. My mom remembers that Hess's was a major "plus" to the Valley when she and my dad moved here in the eighties. She also remembers that "downtown started going downhill" pretty much right after they moved in. She cites the movie Funny Farm whenever we talk about Allentown's core; specifically the part where Chevy Chase is shouting "Release the deer!" into a walkie talkie. I am not sure if you understand what I mean, but I am officially late for this potluck and I've got to get going!

Real post; real soooooon!

A Funny Farm refresher for ya:

May 8, 2009

I Am Returned!

Finals are over. Sophomore year is done. Expect a real blog post tomorrow!