Keystone Crossroads

Keystone Crossroads: Rust or Revival? explores the urgent challenges pressing upon Pennsylvania's cities. WPSU and three other public media newsrooms in Pennsylvania 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.

Jovan Weaver, principal of Wister Elementary School.
Jessica Kourkounis / WHYY

Season two of the Keystone Crossroads podcast “Schooled” looks at one elementary school in Philadelphia that sparked debate when the district turned it over to a charter organization. WPSU’s Emily Reddy talked with the host of “Schooled,” Kevin McCorry, who followed the school through its first year as a charter school under principal Jovan Weaver.

Forty-two Pennsylvania dairy farms scrambled in search for new markets after receiving contract termination notices about a month ago from Dean Foods, a national distributor based in Texas. Since then, two distributors in the state have entered agreements with some of those farms.

Harrisburg Dairies will pick up nine farms in the Lebanon-Lancaster area, while Schneider’s Dairy in Pittsburgh decided to take on four farms from Clarion and Venango counties. 

The Center for Rural Pennsylvania hosted a public hearing in Tioga County on Thursday, hearing from providers and consumers about the lack of broadband access in rural areas.
Min Xian / WPSU

Dr. Robert Gillio is in charge of telemedicine at J.C. Blair Hospital in Huntingdon county.

But he has no internet access at home.

“I can’t get Comcast at my house, two miles from the hospital,” Gillio said. “I want to log in at home and help? I got to drive to the damn hospital to log in to help my patient with telemedicine.”

One of the nation’s largest dairy distributors is ending its contract with dozens of Pennsylvania dairy farms at the end of May — a decision that reflects challenges faced by the industry.

This story originally appeared on PlanPhilly.

No one could argue that Olney, in upper North Philadelphia, is gentrifying. But that doesn’t mean the neighborhood isn’t revitalizing. In the afternoon when schools let out, kids weighed down with colorful backpacks fill the sidewalks of tidy rowhome blocks. The neighborhood’s North 5th Street shopping district bustles with Colombian cafes, Jamaican bakeries, and Korean restaurants. Over the last 15 years, neighborhood’s population growth has greatly outstripped city averages no matter how it is measured.

Tonetta Graham on her Strawberry Mansion porch, in philadelphia, PA.
Bastiaan Slabbers for WHYY

This story originally appeared on PlanPhilly.

If Philadelphia’s Strawberry Mansion section gentrifies, Tonetta Graham knows her block is bound to change. She owns a house on 30th Street, right around the corner from her childhood home. It cuts a striking figure. Painted candy apple red with white trim, Graham’s house stands alone, the sole remaining building on this side of the block. Vacant lots surround it, some strewn with tires and old mattresses.

James Earl Davis, a Professor of Urban Education at Temple University and his golden doodle, Baldwin, pictured in his home in East Germantown.
Brad Larrison for WHYY

Temple University education professor James Earl Davis and his partner moved into their stately 150-year-old Victorian home in East Germantown in 2001, at a time when the neighborhood was, well, iffy.

“The car was broken into around 2002 because there was money and CDs on the front seat. They broke the window and got those, but that was kind of an urban novice error,” Davis recalled with a knowing laugh.

Claudia Sherrod (left) and Haley Dervinis (right) both live in Point Breeze. Although Dervinis is a newcomer, she's also wary of the rapid change.
Emma Lee / WHYY

Debbie Bell knows what it is to be made to feel like an afterthought.

She’s a lifelong resident of Point Breeze, a historically low-income African-American neighborhood in South Philadelphia that’s seen a lot of change lately.

To hear longtime neighbors like Bell tell it, Point Breeze used to be about pride. It was mothers cooking collard greens. People pulling together to help each other make the rent when times got hard. It was friendly competitions to see who had the tidiest block.

It was about community.

A view of Society Hill taken from inside the Society Hill Towers.
Kimberly Paynter / WHYY

 

Auditor General Eugene DePasquale.
AP Photo

(Harrisburg) -- In the wake of last month's shooting in Parkland, Florida, the state auditor general is expanding the scope of school districts audits in the hopes of improving safety.

Eugene DePasquale says his office will take a deep dive on the security procedures at all of the commonwealth's public schools.

Previously, districts that performed well financially and academically received less scrutiny. 

A blighted home sits on 12th Avenue in Altoona, Pennsylvania.
Min Xian / WPSU

Altoona’s Blight Task Force released a plan Wednesday to address the city’s rundown property problem. The plan looked at the extent of blight in Altoona and recommended next steps.

Over the past five months, the task force surveyed the city's housing conditions. They found more than half of about 9,000 parcels of land surveyed are in need of minor repairs, such as a new coat of paint. Meanwhile, nearly 400 parcels require major repairs and even demolition.

After more than a decade spent in a state financial oversight program, Pittsburgh regained its fiscal independence last month. More than a dozen Pennsylvania cities remain in the program.
Margaret J. Krauss / WESA

On a Monday morning in February, people packed the Pittsburgh mayor’s conference room to witness the city’s successful transition to financial independence — an event lauded as a turning point for the city’s future.

Democratic congressional hopeful Laura Quick in between campaign calls on a recent afternoon. Quick is running for the U.S. House of Representatives in the new 9th Congressional District.
Emily Previti / Keystone Crossroads

Democratic congressional hopeful Laura Quick and two campaign staffers recently set up shop for the afternoon inside a Panera Bread not too far from her home in Palmyra, Lebanon County.

They’d popped open their laptops on the table closest to a fireplace going full blast. That warmth would probably be welcome on most February afternoons, but it was an unseasonable 70 degrees outside.

“I asked them to turn it off, but they can’t,” explained Josh Brady, 23, Quick’s unofficial numbers guy.

So they decided to deal with the extra heat.

From left to right: Diego Uribe, Ben Shaman, Jake Richard, and Quinn Berger evalute Pennsylvania's new congressional district map compared to the 2011 version at the Westtown School in West Chester, Pa.
Lindsay Lazarski / WHYY

In the days after the Pa. Supreme Court released its new congressional map, students in Jon Kimmel’s 8th grade math class huddled around computers to analyze the changes.

The class has been closely following the twists and turns of a case that could have an impact on the balance of power in Washington D.C.

The new map of Pennsylvania Congressional districts, released February 19 by the PA Supreme Court.
PA Supreme Court

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court has enacted a new congressional district map that onlookers say is much more favorable to Democrats, replacing one the court overturned and deemed an unconstitutional partisan gerrymander last month.

Teacher Jon Kimmel in his classroom at Westtown School in Chester County, Pa.
Avi Wolfman-Arent / Keystone Crossroads

Viewed from a distance, Westtown School in Chester County, Pennsylvania seems like precisely the place you’d expect a conversation on redistricting and gerrymandering. The Quaker private school sits at the juncture of two especially contorted congressional districts — the 6th and 7th — and counts among its core values “peace and justice in community and in the world.”

A map of the 7th congressional district. Gerrymandering has divided the communities of the 7th congressional district in Montgomery and Chester counties. The district incorporates most of Delaware County and portions of Chester, Montgomery, Berks and Lanc
Dan Gleiter / PennLive.com

In a full majority opinion released Wednesday, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court found that the state’s congressional district map deprives voters’ of their right to “free and equal” elections as protected by the Pennsylvania Constitution.

Pennsylvania's congressional district map, deemed unconstitutional by the Pa. Supreme Court.
File photo

U.S. Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito has denied the request for a stay on the ruling overturning Pennsylvania’s congressional district map.

Republican lawmakers, who were sued for creating an unconstitutionally gerrymandered congressional map, had turned to the nation’s top court after the Pennsylvania Supreme Court’s split decision in January.

All 67 counties in Pennsylvania signed on to a list of seven priorities they hope to achieve in 2018, in a statement released this week by the County Commissioners Association of Pennsylvania. But the local leaders say they cannot achieve their goals alone.

Farmland on the outskirts of the Titusville School District (Kevin McCorry/WHYY)
Kevin McCorry / Keystone Crossroads

They contorted their faces in a howl. With eyes bulging, mouths twisted, veins popping, the Titusville High School senior class, cheerleaders screeching out orders, filled the gymnasium with frenzied intensity as they bellowed out the name of their school mascot, letter by letter — rattling the grandstands and reaching for their maximum decibel.

“What’s that spell?” a girl screamed.

“Rockets!” the seniors answered. “Rockets! Rockets!”

File Image - Pennsylvania state troopers and police officers from around the country line up outside the Blair County Convention Center in Altoona, Pa., following a memorial service Thursday, Jan. 5, 2017, for Pennsylvania State Trooper Landon E. Weaver.
AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar

A grand jury report released on Tuesday calls for the Pennsylvania State Police to stop internal investigations of trooper-involved shootings, stating the agency’s standards are inconsistent and cause public distrust.

 

A Lehigh County jail.
Jessica Kourkounis / Keystone Crossroads

Following a U.S. Department of Justice investigation in 2014, the Disability Rights Network of Pennsylvania filed a lawsuit against The Pennsylvania Department of Corrections, demanding changes to provide better care for mentally ill inmates.

The city of Reading has long felt out of place on the U.S. congressional map.
Keystone Crossroads

Reading Mayor Wally Scott, a Democrat, has decided to focus on things he can change without relying on higher levels of government.

“I don’t have any reason to need them for anything,” he said.

So far his priorities have boiled down to four things: trash, parking, water and police.

Matt Rooke sits outside of his home in State College, Pennsylvania. A former resident at the Hilltop Mobile Home Park, Rooke said his experience of being displaced gave him insights into the affordable housing problem in the area.
Min Xian / Keystone Crossroads

 

Some of the communities experiencing the most rapid changes in Pennsylvania are those that abut colleges and universities.

State College, for instance, has boomed in recent years largely due to the growing influence of Pennsylvania State University’s Main Campus. In general, this development has been positive for surrounding Center County, where there’s been a 10 percent rise in median household income since 2009.

Advocates for fair districting
Katie Meyer / WITF

In most states, the legislature is in charge of designing congressional and state voting districts.

Pennsylvania isn’t unique in that respect.

But some say the commonwealth is home to some of the nation’s starkest examples of gerrymandering — where the shape of a voting district is manipulated to produce the outcome desired by the party in charge.

Johnstown, Pennsylvania.
Lindsay Lazarski / WHYY

A widely-shared Politico article used Johnstown, Pennsylvania as a lens to showcase the loyalty of President Trump’s supporters one year after his election. But local residents are balking at the portrait of Johnstown that emerged from the story. 

The story depicted Johnstown as a “depressed former steel town” facing massive population loss and an opioid epidemic, filled with residents happy to give Trump a pass no matter his actions or unfulfilled promises.

A map of the 7th congressional district. Gerrymandering has divided the communities of the 7th congressional district in Montgomery and Chester counties. The district incorporates most of Delaware County and portions of Chester, Montgomery, Berks and Lanc
Dan Gleiter / PennLive.com

What’s it feel like to live along the border of one of the most gerrymandered congressional districts in the U.S.?

Just ask Bonnie Marcus and Bill Van Wie, who live at Kendall Crosslands, a picturesque retirement community in Chester County.

“Have you seen what we look like? We’re a joke,” said Marcus, a Democratic poll worker who gathered a group of neighbors at the community center to talk gerrymandering.

“I don’t think there’s a way they can make it worse,” Van Wie chimed in.

Protestors held signs that read "stand up for DACA"
Min Xian / WPSU

State College Mayor Elizabeth Goreham, Penn State Law Professor Shoba Sivaprasad Wadhia and campus Pastor Ben Wideman urged support on Wednesday for a DREAM act to secure the future for recipients of DACA, or Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals.

The group asked Congressman Glenn Thompson to take action through a conference call with the media.

Mayor Goreham urged Thompson to pass a DREAM act by the end of the year.

Fair District PA volunteer spoke outside Corman's office
Min Xian / WPSU

Fair Districts PA delivered postcards collected from constituents to State Senator Jake Corman’s office in Bellefonte on Thursday, urging the Republican majority leader to to pass legislation to reform the redistricting process in Pennsylvania.

About 25 members and supporters of Fair Districts PA gathered in the parking lot outside Corman’s office with over 500 postcards stapled onto a giant board.

“The districting process in Pennsylvania is rigged and we need to stop that,” said Toby Short, a volunteer for the advocacy group.

Old Main, an administrative building and landmark of Penn State's University Park campus.
Lindsay Lazarski / Keystone Crossroads

The ongoing budget impasse in Harrisburg has been especially frustrating to Pennsylvania’s state-related universities, which have been counting on a roughly $650 million allocation from the state to subsidize lower tuition rates for students who live in the commonwealth.

The allocation is negotiated and approved yearly by lawmakers, and this year, in the midst of a long-overdue budget plan, there remains no consensus on how to pay for it.

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