Jan 15, 2009

Allentown, Lift Your Weary Head! Rebuild! Restore! Reconsider!

The title of the post comes from a Sufjan Stevens song which, once I find a satisfactory media player, I will play for you. The picture comes from somewhere on the internet. It is not mine.

Pancho got my mind reeling with a question: what does Allentown need? It's a broad question and there are so many, many answers, but I thought that the Lehigh Valley blog network would be good to ask. Who has opinions if not bloggers?
I feel that the most important thing that would help center-city is to attract more jobs to the downtown. Getting more Lehigh Valley companies to move their headquarters, attract new businesses that would usually prefer a new business park. I think once the new jobs are created, things can slowly domino in the positive direction. More jobs > more tax dollars > more police/less crime, >more support & service industries etc. (or however you want to imagine it) I just wish we could do it all overnight, so everyone would feel comfortable.


So, what do you think are the top three things that need to get done in order for downtown Allentown to be an attractive downtown? If you think more police would make it better, post it; if you think a permanent giant parade float installation would make it better, post that too. Allentown's urban development is something I spend an inordinate amount of time thinking about, and I really need some new things to consider.

My initial thoughts involve a long laundry list and exclamation points: Keystone Opportunity Zone reformation! Improvement of Public Transportation! Public education programs! Wider sidewalks! More trees! More street lamps! The Americus! Urban gardens! Neighborhood- and city-scale marketing! Zoning law reformation! Waterfront - do something with it! Preservation! Sustainable development! Train access! The list goes on and I want YOU to add to it.


Bernie O'Hare said...

Katie Bee,

More than anything, I believe people living in or visiting downtown Allentown need to feel safe. Until that happens, nothing else will work. It's not glamorous or chic, but A-town needs nore cops and they need to be visible.

Volvo Driving Soccer Mom said...

Allentown needs a dose of reality, accept the citizens and culture for what they are. Stop trying to recreate something that can't exist anymore. There are two groups struggling for control of the agenda in the city, The Progressives who want to build on what is actually there, and the obstructionists, who want to believe the fairy tale, and will do anything to obstruct and sabotage the efforts of the Progressives.
We can't turn back time.
My girls and I were watching the "Back to the Future" DVD set Sunday, and The Emmett Brown character gave Marty McFly the Greatest advice: "Your future is whatever you make it, so make it a good one."
We aren't going to have flying cars or Hoverboards in 2015, (though it would be cool!) but the citizens could elect a leadership team intent on building for the future, instead of trying to recapture a dead past.
P.S. When I my daughter told me there was already a comment, she bet me a dollar it was Bernie O'Hare. I said no Way! I Lost!

gsbrace said...

If you follow the trends in revitalizing communities, the following are absolutely critical (and in order):
-a vision for the future (how will we know what to do if we don't know what we want to be?). good news: this doesn't require a lot of money. Bad news, it requires everybody agreeing on something and working toward the same outcome. Right now, there is no coherent vision
-safety, cleanliness and greenery--this requires money and time
-cultural and entertainment assets (read: things to attract well educated people to a region...arts scene, coffee shops, restaurants, etc)

What's interesting is that once these things fall into place (all three, not one or the other), jobs follow. The old model of economic development is that people went where the jobs were. That was during the days of manufacturing, agriculture and resource extraction fueling the economy. Those are no longer the major drivers of our economy. The new economic engines are knowledge based and require a different work force. The new reality is that the work force that new economy businesses want to hire go to a place where they want to live. Then, businesses follow them. I'm not saying it's right or wrong, just what the reality of economic development has become. That reality needs to be well understood in order to spur revitalization.

matthew said...


Allentown needs people like YOU!!! Volunteer at the City or AEDC when you come back from school for the summer. To echo Geoff's point, the things that are important to a young, smart urbanist are the things that are important to develop in our city.


Anonymous said...

Yes, Allentown does need dedicated people, but it also needs a huge pot of money to land in its lap. Can cities play Powerball? ;)
If we had all that cash we could hire more cops and hand out facade grants galore!

Pancho said...

Let's turn the RUST BELT into the GREEN BELT!

Glad you're turning this into a discussion, it's a great topic.

As I mentioned, I like the idea of getting jobs here. Specifically new industries like green, bio-tech, nano-tech. But I would like to see some of these LV company headquarters move into center city (follow Butz's lead). Lehigh Cement used to be in the building that LCCC is in now. It'd be nice to see someone like them downtown again. And why didn't Olympus move downtown? That would have been great.

The Valley has a ridiculous amount of wonderful businesses that could have smaller annex stores on Hamilton or 7th street. How about Josh Early's, or Majestic? They could have small store fronts downtown. Could we lure some of these existing Lehigh Valley business into center city store fronts? Maybe even a Martin Guitar outlet? I don't know, just a thought. I would love to see Hamilton and 7th showcase the best the valley has to offer.

But, yes, a visible police presence would be a big help.

Let's get Palowski, Rendell et al touting the new slogan:

Pancho said...

BTW, I love Sufjan Stevens. I was given Illinoise a while back, which is on par with Michigan. Hopefully things won't ever get as bad a Detroit!

Did you hear about his BQE project (check him at wiki, it mentions it there)? The guy is amazing!

j black said...

I believe each of these posts have relevance and are pieces of the grand puzzle that, once combined, will create the answer that will revitalize A-town. Unfortunately, due to political agendas and difference of opinions, we will not come together even if it is for the common good.
Cooperation is key. We NEED a true MOVEMENT. Not just words, events, meetings, and promises, but people who will take to the streets and are willing to knock on doors and meet people WHERE THEY ARE AT, whether they are are on the West, East, South or North side of Allentown. Will this come to pass ? Well I, and a few colleagues, plan on doing some unorthodox and PROGRESSIVE things in 2009. SO, just watch and see....

Alfonso Todd

Katie Bee said...

Oh wow! That was a lot of response. Well, let's get down to it:

@Bernie: My mom works with the art museum and for the past year or so, she constantly complains about safety. I, too, have spent a lot of time downtown and I've never felt unsafe, but you're right that if visitors/residents don't FEEL safe, they won't come back. So, POLICE.

@VDSM: I've heard this complaint before! I've got this real opinionated friend and just about when all those Allentown history books started coming out, he got really upset that people were trying to turn back time to make Allentown into some 1950's shopping Mecca. LOOKING FORWARD, not into the past!

@geoff: the concept that businesses go where the people are explains why olympus didn't move downtown. That vision would definitely be a part of looking forward. It is possible to get everyone to agree, it just needs a whole lot of time and a very, very dedicated set of people in charge of the visioning committee. So a positive, COHESIVE VISION, right?

@matthew: I will email you about this!

@sarina: massive anonymous donations would be awesomez.

@pancho: where'd you hear that catchy phrase? Green and business don't necessarily go hand in hand, but they're already reducing their carbon emissions by moving into the city and not constructing a new building in some office park, right? I would be totally up for an epic storefront battle between Josh Early and Premise Maid. That would actually make my day. No, LIFE; it would make my LIFE. So! BUSINESSES (which goes with geoff's three step plan).

@alfonso: a movement! everyone is catching movement fever with Obama, so it should really not be that hard to drum up support. If I were to create a movement, I would start at the neighborhood level and make it a sort of community in-reach project (the "where they're at" approach). Then, once the sense of true community is established (pot-luck suppers, deee-lish!), empower the community with action! Beautification projects, flash-mobs at council meetings, even festivals, it could all work. I am also super-idealistic. Maybe a little naive.

GREAT responses, everyone! I am tempted to use the LV blogosphere as my personal Magic 8 Ball from now on. "Blogosphere, which courses should I take while I study abroad?!"

Joyce Marin said...

Katie Bee, Great post and discussion! I agree with almost everything that is said here. For my list, I'd put:
1. Main Street Manager
2. KOZ, Round II to pass to attract some of Pancho's big companies here with their jobs
3. Facade improvements.
4. Police on foot patrol
5. An active arts scene (I want coffee houses and little joints where live music can be heard all over town).

What to study overseas? Traditional architecture, public transportation and a foreign language would be natural. But, like Matt said, don't go without interning with us first.