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.

Steven McKnight poses for a photo
Min Xian / WPSU

For those born and raised in struggling Rust Belt cities, it’s common to move away for job opportunities or a different lifestyle. The city of Altoona has steadily lost population since its height in the 1930s. But for some Altoona natives who have returned to the area, there are many appeals to working and living back home.

Steven McKnight is one of those people. He called himself a “boomeranger.”

“I’m actually a double boomeranger,” McKnight said.

Pennsylvania is the nation’s fifth largest coal producer. Counties in the western, central, and even eastern parts of the state are home to coal mines. But far less coal comes out of the ground than it used to. On this episode, we’ll head to southwestern Pennsylvania where coal mining is a strong part of the area’s identity, and find out what some miners there are grappling with. We’ll hear from our reporter Margaret J. Krauss about a mine rescue team, a retired coal miner worried about his future, and a former miner who had to find new work.

 

There are millions of Americans out there who don't have much of an opinion about their local convenience store brand. They'll stop at a 7-Eleven for a snack, a Shell station for gas and any old truck stop to use the bathroom. They're not likely to describe their relationship with a convenience store as "love."

Those people don't live in Pennsylvania.

Keith Srakocic / AP Photo

 

A giant billboard went up at the intersection of Centre Avenue and Crawford Street in Pittsburgh’s Hill District neighborhood in 1960. It read, “No Development Beyond This Point.”

On a recent morning, Carl Redwood stood in the same spot. He chairs the board of directors for the Hill District Consensus Group, a neighborhood planning organization. The intersection is called Freedom Corner, a critical gathering point during the Civil Rights era.

Behind The Headlines: Pennsylvania's Opioid Epidemic Up Close

May 18, 2017

With an increasing number of opioid overdoses in Pennsylvania, attention from state and local officials is growing as well as public attention around the issue. In 2015, there were more than 3,500 drug related overdose deaths in the state, which marked a sharp increase from the previous year. In Philadelphia, 900 people died as a result of overdoses, which is three times the number of homicide victims.

Norristown Millennials Jump Into The Political Fray

May 16, 2017

About 25 people recently gathered inside the lobby of the Centre Theater in Norristown for a political fundraiser. The event is being held for 27-year-old Shae Ashe. He’s running for Norristown school board in the May 16 primary election.

“I decided to run for school board because Norristown has a lot of challenges,” Ashe said. “It could use somebody innovative to figure out how we can navigate our school district in Harrisburg as well as D.C.”

More than 100 people gathered at the National Civil War Museum in Harrisburg on Wednesday for Keystone Crossroads’ second annual Urban Ideas Worth Stealing conference. Panelists and audience members discussed Pennsylvania cities’ biggest challenges, and offered their experience addressing them. Some of the day’s tweets can be found below, but here are a few of the highlights:

 

Providence, Rhode Island had Buddy Cianci. Bridgeport, Connecticut had Joe Ganim. Washington, D.C. had Marion Barry.

Will Allentown mayor Ed Pawlowski join the list of mayors re-elected despite federal corruption charges?

 

Erie, Pennsylvania has public schools that have been underfunded for years. And today, the school district is in a dire situation. Erie’s story raises broader questions about education equality, and to what extent kids can be successful when they go to schools with limited resources. In this episode, you’ll hear from a range of people — including parents, teachers, students, and school officials — about what the impact has been.

Lindsay Lazarski / WHYY

This past weekend, President Donald Trump marked his 100 days in office at a rally in Harrisburg. As part of our occasional series, "I Voted Trump," Keystone Crossroads checked in with Trump supporters across the state to see whether their views have changed.

Daphne Goggins is a mother, grandmother, community activist, and an avid social media user. She often posts updates about President Donald Trump to her followers on Facebook.

Nationally, immigration is a contentious issue. But behind the politics are real people — undocumented immigrants worried about a crackdown, Latino families dealing with racism and long-time residents watching their hometowns change. Grapple, a new podcast from Keystone Crossroads, introduces us to some of the people grappling with immigration issues across the state of Pennsylvania.

Lindsay Lazarski / WHYY

 

When Delaware County's Chester Upland School District raised taxes last summer for the fourth year in a row, it was just the latest move in a long-running attempt to bring a chronically deficit-ridden district back to financial health.

"We keep asking the state to give us more," said Chester Upland's school board president, Anthony Johnson. "And the board's mindset is, we've got to stand up and do for self, too."

Richard Florida Imagines A New Urban Future

Apr 25, 2017

 

For over 30 years, urbanist and author Richard Florida has observed the life of cities, and has come up with solutions on how to make them work.  In his new book, The New Urban Crisis, Florida argues that cities will have to turn to themselves to help themselves and to make them more inclusive for all.

Margaret J. Krauss / WESA

 

Below a tangle of highways along the southern edge of Pittsburgh’s downtown is a truncated section of concrete. The Mon Wharf Landing may look as if it goes nowhere, some sort of multi-modal experiment that suffered from lack of follow-through.

To Jay Sukernek, it’s quite the opposite.

 

Johnstown has taken the bronze medal in a race no one wants to win  — the country's fastest shrinking cities. The Johnstown metro region, which includes all of Cambria County, lost 5.5 percent of its population since 2011.

According to the research group 24/7 Wall Street, that's the third fastest rate of decline after Pine Bluff, Arkansas, and Farmington, New Mexico. 

Johnstown City Manager Arch Liston was surprised to hear that the city was so far down the list — but the numbers didn't shock him. 

Charles Rex Arbogast / AP Photo

Unless Congress passes the Miners Protection Act by April 28, more than 2,000 retired union coal miners in Pennsylvania will lose their health care. The bill proposes to use interest from the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act to shore up the health and pension funds administered by the United Mine Workers of America (UMWA).  

Gene J. Puskar / AP Photo

 

Ride-sharing and technology company Uber will pay $3.5 million into the state’s general fund to settle a long-running dispute with the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission. Commissioners approved the settlement in a four to one vote Thursday. The civil penalty is one-third of the original $11.4 million fine levied against Uber. 

 

President Donald Trump, a Republican, won Pennsylvania by a narrow margin of 68,000 votes. The state has about 900,000 more registered Democrats than Republicans. 

And yet, 13 of the state's 18 congressional seats are held by Republicans. One of the reasons for that imbalance is gerrymandering, the drawing of voting districts to benefit a political party. Pennsylvania is often ranked among the most gerrymandered states in the country. 

Kimberly Paynter / WHYY

 

 

Ever wonder about something you see or hear about where you live that you wish our reporters would explore? Here's your chance! You ask the questions, you vote on the questions you're most curious about, and we answer. Submit a question for us to investigate. 

Keith Srakocic / AP Photo

 

State legislators are again discussing bills that would make it easier to sue municipalities over local firearms ordinances that conflict with Pennsylvania law.

The measures would require courts to award plaintiffs legal fees, even if they lose the case.

Predecessor legislation had the same provisions for court costs — for pretty much anyone, regardless of whether they own a gun or had even been to the town with the contested rules.

Ed Zurga / AP File Photo

 

The suit alleged the school’s practices violated the Equal Education Opportunity Act. A federal judge agreed, as did an appellate panel.

So what were the practices?

Lindsay Lazarski / WHYY

 

 

When playing the slots in Pennsylvania, casinos and gamblers aren't the only ones making money.

The state collects 54 cents for every dollar a player loses in a slot machine.

The state uses most of that money, about 34 cents, for reducing property taxes. The state's horse racing industry gets 11 cents and 5 cents goes to a state economic development trust fund. The remaining 4 cents is split among the communities that host the casino.

Gene J. Puskar / AP File Photo

 

This week, former Penn State University president Graham Spanier is in court for his role in the Jerry Sandusky child sex abuse scandal. This trial is one of the final chapters in a legal saga that has stretched since Sandusky was arrested in 2011. 

But outside the courtroom, the effects of Sandusky's actions are still being felt statewide.

 

Both Philadelphia and Pittsburgh are in the midst of multi-year building booms. More than 4,000 apartment units were built in the two cities last year.

For many years in Pittsburgh, new apartment buildings weren’t a priority: the city had plenty of available housing stock and, despite a steady flow of college students, fairly pedestrian demand. But in 2012, 958 new units were built. The next year, that number jumped to 3,227 and hasn’t fallen below 2,100 since, according to Jeff Burd, president of Tall Timber Group, an information service for the construction industry.

Jon Elswick / AP Photo

 

On Thursday morning, President Donald Trump released his "skinny budget," an outline of his proposed federal funding allocations. As promised, it was skinny in every sense of the word — Trump hopes to scale federal funding way back, cutting programs and positions across the board. 

Charles Reed / AP

 

Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers have been increasingly present in multiple Central Pennsylvania cities in recent weeks.  The activity has been affecting entire communities, according to advocates and attorneys in the area.

"This is not just happening once per month, this is happening every single day," says Gloria Vázquez Merrick, director of the Latino Hispanic American Community Center in Harrisburg, where she says knows multiple families with one or both parents now detained.

Keith Srakocic / AP Photo

 

Bob Gradeck can’t stand the term “data-driven.”

It might seem odd that the project director of the Western Pennsylvania Regional Data Center would recoil at a data-centric phrase, but Gradeck sees data as tools and not answers.

The WPRDC is the repository for more than 150 data sets from Pittsburgh and Allegheny County government, as well as organizations throughout the region.

 

Imad Ghajar and his wife Marwa Hilani were born in Aleppo, Syria, met there, and didn't have plans to leave.

Then the war happened.

"Even in the schools, there wasn't security," Marwa, 37, said recently, through a translator, at her family's new home in Lancaster. "In the middle of the day, there would be a bomb, and someone would die. The area was not safe ever."

The dust from the explosions also made their daughter's asthma worse, and it was increasingly difficult and dangerous to get her treatment.

 

You're invited to join Keystone Crossroads at the second annual Urban Ideas Worth Stealing conference. We'll discuss revitalization of our state's cities and towns in sessions on topics including:

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