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.

You are invited to the Keystone Crossroads Community Forum.

Pennsylvania’s cities and towns are full of promise, but plagued by problems. Chronic issues such as crumbling infrastructure, underfunded schools, and dwindling tax base are holding cities back.

What can Pennsylvania’s cities, large and small, do to address their problems and fulfill their promise? We’d like to hear what you think.

People walking down State College street
Kate Lao Shaffner

State College's Highlands residents are used to sounds of partying on weekend nights. The neighborhood borders Penn State's University Park campus and downtown. It's made up of fraternities and apartment buildings, but also single-family homes ranging from grand stone and brick historic mansions to more modest mid-century houses. The residents are quite the mix—college students, retired professors, and young families all call the Highlands home.

But it's not hard to tell who lives where.

Man at voting machine
AP file photo/Matt Slocum

Seeking a better understanding of Pennsylvania's issues and proposed solutions? Sometimes, complicated jargon and concepts can get in the way. That's why we started Explainers, a series that tries to lay out key facts, clarify concepts and demystify jargon. Today's topic: municipal mergers and consolidations.

Pennsylvania is one of only ten states that doesn't allow for unincorporated territory. That is, every piece of land is governed as part of a municipality.

Man standing in church being renovated.
Lindsay Lazarski/WHYY

Walk a few blocks in Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, or any of Pennsylvania's old cities, and you're bound to see a house of worship. In Old City Philadelphia, these could be churches the founding fathers attended. In other neighborhoods, they could be former ethnic churches that served specific immigrant communities.

Image of homeless person
Lindsay Lazarski/WHYY

 You'd never know it from the road, but in the woods in Allentown, there's a small monument to just how resourceful people can be, when they have to be.

Weeds and wildflowers obscure the path leading to Davina Delor's shelter. She built it herself after landing here in April - her fourth campsite since 2010.

That's when Delor, 42, lost her job, quickly followed by her apartment and car.

"I'm still looking for work. I get little odd jobs here and there, but nothing that pays. Nothing that will get you an apartment or anything like that," Delor says.

Report gives Pa.'s economic performance a C-

Aug 28, 2014

The Keystone Research Center released its annual State of Working Pennsylvania report today. 

The report looked at economic indicators like job growth and wages and income and compared how Pennsylvania stacks up to other states as policy shifted toward government spending cuts on a national and state level after 2010.

The Keystone Research Center gave the state an overall grade of C-.

Portland street corner toilet
AP Photo/Rick Bowmer, File

"Five Questions with..." is a regular Keystone Crossroads feature where we seek to glean wisdom and ideas from some of Pennsylvania's top urban thinkers and doers. Elizabeth Goreham is the mayor of State College.

Q: Tell us about an amenity or service that you've seen in your travels to other places that you wish you could bring back to your city/community?

Tionesta Art Village
Kelly Tunney

Visitors to the town of Tionesta are greeted by this sign: "A Special Place With a Relaxed Pace."

The Forest County village is nestled among heavily wooded forests; a quaint lighthouse stands guard over the Allegheny River, which borders the town.

But financially, the town has seen better days. Once home to manufacturers like Evenflo, the baby bottle maker, Tionesta watched its economy start to tank in the 1990s as factories moved out.

Then a fire took out a prominent block of the downtown in 2003.

"Five Questions with..." is a regular Keystone Crossroads feature where we seek to glean wisdom and ideas from some of Pennsylvania's top urban thinkers and doers. Richard Alley is a professor at Penn State University. He was part of the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which was recognized with a Nobel Prize in 2007.

Q: Tell us about an amenity or service that you've seen in your travels to other places that you wish you could bring back to your city/community?

Joann Wheeler
Kelly Tunney

Oil City suffered the fate of many other Pennsylvania communities that were once driven by prominent industries. It was once the hub of the nation's oil production and home to major companies like Pennzoil and Quaker State. But the companies moved away and the days of Oil City's prosperity are gone. Oil City has had to find ways to reinvent itself. And it's chosen to embrace art—and artists.

Charles Montgomery, author of Happy Cities, standing in road
courtesy of Charles Montgomery

Charles Montgomery's book Happy City: Transforming Our Lives Through Urban Design looks at the intersection of urban planning and happiness. Keystone Crossroad's Kate Lao Shaffner spoke with the Vancouver author about long commutes, Walmart, and the importance of social interactions.

Your book Happy City essentially combines the study of happiness and urban design. What got you interested in writing this book?

Sketch us your personal map of Pennsylvania

Jul 23, 2014
"My Pa." map by Sue Shaffner
Sue Shaffner

Two weeks ago we published a controversial map of Pennsylvania drawn by WHYY's digital artist-in-residence and Pulitzer Prize winning cartoonist Tony Auth and asked for your submissions.

A few readers took us up our challenge and sketched us their versions of the Commonwealth. As promised, here are the maps we received and a few that were drawn during our first community forum last week.

Casino table
Lindsay Lazarski/WHYY

10 years ago, Pennsylvania legislators signed a law allowing casino gambling. With slots revenue down across the Commonwealth, people are wondering whether casinos are a good bet or just a quick budget fix.

It's 4 p.m., and a horse race wraps up at Harrah's Philadelphia Casino and Racetrack. The casino is located on the former site of the Sun Shipbuilding & Drydock Company, a factory that employed 35,000 people at its peak during World War II. The factory shut down in the 1980s.

Not in the Municipal Budget? Try Crowdfunding

Jul 17, 2014
Meagan Tuttle on park swings
Kelly Tunney

You've likely heard about crowdfunding on web platforms like Kickstarter. It's where people submit an idea and anyone can sign up to help fund it.

But crowdfunding isn't just a tool for raising money to produce a movie, manufacture a gadget, or make gourmet potato salad. Communities are turning to this funding model for civic projects.

Are historic theaters worth saving?

Jun 25, 2014
Rowland Theatre
Kelly Tunney


At its heyday, the Garman Opera House in Bellefonte featured such performers as Harry Houdini and comedians George Burns and Gracie Allen. But financial troubles and a damaging fire left the building sitting empty for several years.

And now the building is gone.

Despite organized community efforts to save it, a developer demolished the building in January to make way for new construction.

One in a series explaining key terms and concepts of Pennsylvania government.

Pennsylvania's Act 47 – the Municipal Financial Recovery Act guides how the state intervenes when a local government can't pay its bills or debts.

The goal is "recovery" – pursued through a plan developed jointly by state and local players.

Chicago "Bean" sculpture
Nam Y. Huh / AP

WPSU is launching a new project called Keystone Crossroads. We’ve partnered with three other public radio stations in Pennsylvania to explore the problems facing the state’s cities and communities and potential solutions. Chris Satullo is vice president of news at WHYY, the lead station in the project. He says not all good solutions come from close to home. And that travel can teach you what your hometown is missing. 

What does the next governor of Pa. need to know about your community?

Jun 23, 2014

Humor us for a moment by imagining the following situation:  You're sitting at your kitchen table sipping coffee, devouring a huge pile of golden brown waffles, and catching up on the latest news — when the next governor of Pennsylvania walks through your door and sits across from you.

Somehow you sense you only have 30 seconds before either Tom Corbett or Tom Wolf disappears into thin air, 30 measly seconds to tell him what he really, most of all needs to do for your city or community. What would you tell him? 

Boarded Pittsburgh Building
Irina Zhorov / WESA

Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto announced that he wants to use the city’s stock of aging buildings as a tool for economic development. Beyond Pittsburgh, too, Pennsylvania has no shortage of old buildings and some cities have long used them as a selling point.  A new study measured the impact of maintaining older buildings in urban areas and concluded that for cities lucky enough to have them, leveraging them can bring improve development.