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.

John Minchillo / AP Photo

 

While Washington, D.C. prepared for the inauguration of Donald J. Trump, more than 300 mayors gathered blocks from the White House for the U.S. Conference of Mayors.

They chatted, they swapped cards, they exchanged insight on engaging seniors, dealing with hunger, and and how to pay for infrastructure.

While Pennsylvania mayors said they’re largely hopeful that the new administration will work with cities, they’re not holding their breath.

collage of pictures of Trump supporters
Lindsay Lazarski, Jessica Kourkounis, Margaret Krauss / Keystone Crossroads

Keystone Crossroads will be checking in with Trump voters from around the state throughout his presidency. This is the first installment in an occasional series called "I Voted Trump," telling the story of the next four years through the eyes of the new president's supporters.

Lindsay Lazarski / WHYY

 

More than 2,500 municipalities and 67 counties just released their budgets for the upcoming year. So what are the trends? What rises to the top?

It's tough to say in any kind of comprehensive, precise way because, well, Pa.'s governance is really fragmented.

Statewide data also tends to publish on a two-year lag and submissions are inconsistent in number, content and form.

That said, here’s what we found:

Gaming revenue impacts, explained

Eleanor Klibanoff / WPSU

 

At Monday night's State College Borough Council meeting, council members voted unanimously to make State College a sanctuary city. Sanctuary cities are places that do not cooperate with federal immigration authorities in the pursuit and detainment of people who may be in the country illegally. 

As councilman Jesse Barlow explained it, State College "will not voluntarily assist in any effort by the federal government to apprehend, detain or deport community members." 

Jessica Kourkounis / Keystone Crossroads

There’s been some talk in Harrisburg and around the state about tax incentive programs lately. Two programs in particular are standing out. The Neighborhood Assistance Program is firmly moving forward. The Keystone Opportunity Zones however, seem to be walking along a fine line.

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Matt Rourke / AP Photo

 

It started as a pothole.

A driver blew a tire in the Borough of Ephrata at 6 a.m. on Election Day and alerted the public works department.

By the time the sun came up the following day, the sinkhole was 30 feet wide, said Paul Swangren, superintendent of Ephrata’s public works and water. By some estimates the hole was 20 feet deep. After swallowing the intersection of West Pine Street and Park Avenue, it threatened two apartment buildings and almost ruptured a natural gas line.

Marc Levy / AP Photo

 

Most challenges to gun-control ordinances in recent years in Pennsylvania have been dismissed outright — generally, because the plaintiffs lacked standing after the courts overturned a state law known as Act 192.

Lower Merion Township’s effort to ban the use of guns in its parks is different, however, because one plaintiff in the suit challenging that ordinance resides in the township.

While Montgomery County Court ultimately upheld Lower Merion's ordinance, an appeals court issued a 2-1 decision a couple weeks ago against the township.

Emily Previti / WITF

 

Some counties in Pennsylvania go without updating their property values for decades, far longer than the six-year maximum wait recommended by the International Association of Assessing Officers.

Almost everywhere else, revaluation is either handled at the state level or required at a set interval by state law, according to IAAO surveys.

Lindsay Lazarski and AP

 

If you've been spending time with family this holiday season, you may have come face-to-face with a truth Pennsylvania cities know all too well: it's hard to escape a nickname. Everyone knows Philadelphia is the City of Brotherly Love and Pittsburgh is the Steel City, which makes sense. The state itself is nicknamed after a keystone, the center, wedge-shaped stone in an arch that connects and supports both sides. It earned that nickname because it was in the center of the 13 colonies and was so key to the creation of the United States.

Lindsay Lazarski and Jessica Kourkounis / WHYY

 

The Keystone Crossroads team reflected on our body of work over past year and picked these highlights.

Take a look. Feedback is welcome. So are suggestions for next year's coverage.

READ MORE Keystone Crossroads is a statewide public media initiative reporting on the challenges facing Pennsylvania's cities. WPSU is a participating station.

Gene J. Puskar / AP File Photo

 

Moving people from one place to another means traffic: highway jams, crowded buses, overworked subways; and let’s not get into the bike lane squabbles. But one transit option remains blissfully serene: cable-propelled transit systems.

It’s a broad category of conveyance that includes gondolas, aerial tramways, funiculars, and in western Pennsylvania, inclines: cars that move up and down a set of tracks, driven by cables.

Photo Courtesy Pennsylvania Housing Finance Agency

 

Across the United States generally, and Pennsylvania cities specifically, there's a constant, gnawing issue that worries elected leaders, social service agencies and the poor alike. There's not enough affordable housing and it often feels like there never will be. 

But there would be a lot less affordable housing available if it weren't for the creation of the Low-Income Housing Tax Credit program in 1986. LIHTC was created during the last major tax reform effort undertaken in this country under President Ronald Reagan. 

Ian Willms / Keystone Crossroads

 

What a difference a two hour drive can make.

Students in Erie, Pa. attend a public school district that’s teetering on the brink of collapse. 

Staffing has been downsized to bare-bones levels. Many of the schools are badly in need of repairs. And the superintendent has proposed shuttering all high schools.

The city district, though, is surrounded on all sides by better-resourced suburban schools that serve less needy children.  This is the hallmark of Pennsylvania’s K-12 landscape: stark resource discrepancies between schools in different zip codes.

Charles Rex Arbogast / AP file photo

 

During the 2016 presidential primaries, candidate Senator Bernie Sanders proposed an ambitious plan to make state colleges and universities tuition-free. On the campaign trail, the Democrat from Vermont spoke about how increased access to higher education would improve the nation's workforce. 

The idea didn't gain much political support (though it was very popular amongst his supporters). The consensus seemed to be that free college tuition was a good idea, but the chance of actually getting it funded would be next to impossible. 

Alex Brandon / AP File Photo

 

Pittsburgh is a pretty good place to talk about why reliable infrastructure matters, said Dennis Yablonsky, CEO of the Allegheny Conference on Community Development.

Gene J. Puskar / AP Photo

 

The Pittsburgh Tenants Union has been "a long time coming," said Ronell Guy, executive director of The Northside Coalition for Fair Housing. The resident-focused community development organization is spearheading efforts to create a city-wide tenants union.

“For the last 15 years, I’ve been trying to organize residents to stand up and have a voice in this city. The city of Pittsburgh is in a complete housing crisis,” she said, adding that the wait for affordable housing units can be years-long.

AP Photo

 

The last eight years were pretty good for the relationship between Washington, D.C. and Pennsylvania's major cities. President Obama made visits to Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, and the Democratic leadership in both cities worked closely with his administration. Sure, there's always room for more funding and more cooperation, but their progressive policies met little resistance from the Commander in Chief. 

Courtesy of Stockton Williams, ULI

 

The traditional narrative goes like this: After World War II, upper and middle class white families fled the inner cities for the suburbs. They were chasing the "American Dream" of white picket fences, two car garages and shopping centers you could drive to. The children of those Baby Boomers grew up, fought back and now, are moving back to the cities.

Ryan Loew / For Keystone Crossroads

 

Moving goods on barges is big business, but the lock system those barges rely on teeters on the brink of failure.

Deckhands Jeremy Groves and Dustin Frazee descend from the towboat D.L. Johnson to inspect their cargo: a single barge of coal. They circle the barge, walking along its edges — the gunnels — to make sure everything looks okay. Satisfied, they pick up kevlar lines and loop them around the barge’s timberheads. A 40-ton winch aboard the D.L. Johnson pulls the barge snug against the boat. That way, the cargo won’t wander as it’s pushed down the upper reaches of the Ohio River.

Jose Luis Magana / AP Photo

 

Time is running out for Pennsylvania coal miners. By January 1, 13,000 coal miners could lose their pensions and thousands their health care. Legislation called the Miners Protection Act would avert the loss of benefits, but the U.S. Senate has yet to schedule the bill for a vote.

Donnie Samms is director of Region 1 of the United Mine Workers of America, an area which includes Pennsylvania. He said it’s crucial for Congress to pass the bill and support miners. Spending years underground takes a huge toll on a person’s body, he said.

Looking At Addiction As A Health Crisis

Dec 1, 2016
Jessica Kourkounis / Keystone Crossroads

 

For the past 20 years, Rep. Gene DiGirolamo, R-Bucks, has been a vocal advocate for drug and alcohol rehabilitation in Pennsylvania. And he’s been pushing the public and lawmakers to stop looking at addiction as a crime.

“Addiction has to be looked at like a disease and it is, like other diseases, highly treatable, and treatment works,” he said.

Lindsay Lazarski / WHYY

 

The holiday season came a little early this year for community development organizations that got a piece of $7 billion in tax credits allocated by the Department of the Treasury last week. The New Market Tax Credits program helps low-income or economically distressed cities attract investors in commercial projects. 

Matt Rourke / AP File Photo

 

The Federal Aviation Administration is due to release rules for drone operation over populated areas in a couple weeks. Interest is high in many sectors, including local government.

Jessica Kourkounis / Keystone Crossroads

 

It might seem like some cities only just stopped reeling from the last recession. Now many officials want to prepare for the next economic downturn.

An expert panel offered some insight recently at the National League of Cities summit in Pittsburgh.

One way to prepare is through something called stress testing — basically, financial modeling to help governments budget resiliently.

Lindsay Lazarski / WHYY

 

Lewistown, Pennsylvania, sits halfway between State College and Harrisburg, nestled in the Seven Mountains. To get to Lewistown, you can drive in on Route 322, a twisty, turny, two-lane highway, where the speed limit for trucks is 20 miles per hour. 

Or, you can take Amtrak and enjoy old-timey Lewistown Station, the first building built by the Pennsylvania Railroad, back in 1849. Today, it's a one-room waiting area staffed by volunteers who sell sodas out of a mini-fridge and Pennsylvania Railroad memorabilia off the walls. 

Hiroko Masuike / AP

 

When Ken Rosenberg thinks about self-driving cars, a particular incident comes to mind.

"One of the autonomous vehicles stopped in the middle of the road. There was a chicken running around the street, and the car didn't know what to do. But it wasn't just the chicken, a woman in a wheelchair was chasing the chicken. The car just basically shut down."

Mel Evans / AP Photo

 

If last week's election taught us anything, it's that polling and predictions don't always match up to the final outcome. By 2020, we may have resorted to reading signs in tea leaves or the stars to guess who the next president will be. 

Or, should we just watch Luzerne County?

Margaret J. Krauss / WESA

 

Most people will never hold office, and for some, voting is as political as it gets. But more than a quarter of Pennsylvanians are working on their own versions of civic duty, through volunteering.

Theresa Cygrymus looked around the hall at Prince of Peace Parish, a Catholic Church on Pittsburgh’s South Side, and shook her head.

“It’s already nine o’clock, usually we have stuff cooking already.”

Lindsay Lazarski / WHYY

 

Santiago

On this episode of Grapple, we’ll talk about immigration and our country’s changing demographics with journalist Maria Hinojosa. We’ll also hear from University of Pennsylvania political scientist Dan Hopkins about what contributes to the rise of anti-immigration politics and how it played out in the 2016 presidential election.

LISTEN HERE

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