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.

The map of Pennsylvania Congressional districts, released February 19, 2018 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.

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.

Min Xian / WPSU

The city of Altoona officially came out of Act 47 on Wednesday, bringing an end to its distressed city status. Altoona's successful exit is a big win for its local government and their collaboration with the state.

Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development Secretary Dennis Davin officially announced the rescission in Altoona's downtown Devorris Center. 

“On behalf of Governor Tom Wolf and the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, I’m officially signing the order which allows the city of Altoona to exit Act 47 today,” Davin 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.

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