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.

Keith Srakocic / AP Photo


In Pennsylvania, seven out of 10 workers don't have a college degree. That's a demographic that has been particularly hard hit by unemployment and wage declines since the 1980s. 

Lindsay Lazarski / WHYY


By 2050, 70 percent of the world's population will be living in cities, according to aUnited Nations estimate. Mayors could be more influential than ever.

Lindsay Lazarski / WHYY



On a Friday night in Altoona, the Blair County Convention Center was packed to the rafters with Donald Trump supporters. There was an overflow room downstairs and a crowd waiting outside that couldn't get in. Trump discussed everything from ISIS to Supreme Court justices. 

But it was the talk of jobs that got the crowd excited. 

"We are not going to let your jobs leave, folks," Trump said, to a roar of cheers. "We're not going to let it happen. They're not going to Mexico. They're not going anywhere else. 

Carolyn Kaster / AP Photo


What do Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton and Vice President Joe Biden have in common? They both have roots in Scranton, and they both love talking about it. Biden poked fun at this tendency during his speech Monday at the Riverfront Sports venue in downtown Scranton. 

"If you listen to Barack [Obama], you'd think I was a kid that just climbed out of a coal mine with a lunch box from Scranton," he said. "I'm the kid from Scranton." 

Min Xian


While all Democratic eyes are on Philadelphia, Republicans were lining up a few hours north, in Scranton. On Wednesday afternoon, Republican nominee Donald Trump made an appearance with his running mate, Mike Pence. The 2,000 seat auditorium at Lackawanna College was full of proud Trump supporters, ready to hear about jobs, trade and immigration reform.

Two of Trump's most enthusiastic supporters in Congress, Pennsylvania Representatives Tom Marino and Lou Barletta warmed up the crowd.

Becca DeGregorio


 Duncan Ackerman, a Penn State senior majoring in Community and Economic Development, has spent the whole summer getting to know the store owners in downtown Lock Haven. He rattles off the names of restaurants, hair salons and stores in the small Clinton County town.

"Next to the Texas, we have the Willets Copiers, we have the Masonic Temple ... we have Nerd Haven, we have a vacant storefront, then we have Vape Haven."

two girls
Kevin McCorry / WHYY


In the waning days of the school year, a group of students at Strong Vincent High School in the city of Erie sat around a large wooden table in the library, discussing how they feel their school is perceived out in the suburbs.

Nathan Stevens, a white junior, was one of the first to chime in.

"We're a city school and the surrounding districts are higher income and they always think that they're better than us," he said. "That's just how it works around here."

Whitney Henderson, an African-American sophomore, spoke next...

People with signs at state capital
Kevin McCorry / WHYY

Urban school districts in Pennsylvania face a particularly cruel logic.

They serve the poorest, most needy students, yet, when it comes to state funding per pupil, most of them don't make the top of the list.

That dynamic has come to a head in the city of Erie, where leaders of one of the largest school systems in the state are contemplating closing all high schools...


Over the weekend, Turkish president Recep Tayip Erdogan gave a televised speechabout the country's failed military coup.

"I have a message for Pennsylvania," he said. "You have engaged in enough treason against this nation. If you dare, come back to your country."


About 17,000 school-aged refugees move to the U.S. in an average year, an estimate that's a few years old and likely growing along with overall resettlement activity.

But no one is tracking how young refugees fare in school here.

Georgetown University released a study earlier this year looking at education access by students with limited English proficiency.

It focused on undocumented immigrants.

AP File Photo


The dust has settled on the 2016-17 Pennsylvania budget, and, as usual, debates over education funding and policy dominated much of the negotiations.

Last year this time, Democrats and Republicans were still miles apart on budget talks, and it took until March to come to resolution.

This year, a final deal was hashed out a mere 13 days late.

So how, in sharply divided government, do you get a deal done — almost on time?

By compromising, and punting on the most controversial elements.

Branden Eastwood for Newsworks


Early Sunday morning, a gunman opened fire in a gay nightclub in Orlando, Fl. Omar Mateen killed 49 clubgoers and injured at least as many in the deadliest mass shooting in modern U.S. history. Mateen was killed at the scene after a prolonged hostage situation.

There were tributes offered across the country, from the White House to the Tony Awards. Over 1,000 miles north of Orlando, Pennsylvania residents reacted to the news with vigils, fundraisers and security concerns.

The parade must go on

Esther Honig



Everything you need to know about Ambridge, Pennsylvania is in the name. Once home to the American Bridge Company, Ambridge sits about 15 miles north of Pittsburgh, across the Ohio river from Aliquippa. To an outsider, it looks like any former steel town. But for Paul Hertneky, it's something else entirely. 

"Sons and daughters lucky enough to feel attached to a distinct hometown know it works its way under our skin and into our being," writes Hertneky in his new book, "Rust Belt Boy: Stories of an American Childhood." 

Jessica Kourkounis


Education advocates across Pennsylvania are celebrating the fact that the state is about to commit to a new student weighted formula for distributing state aid.

But not everyone is happy.

One advocacy group says proceeding as planned will continue to shortchange many school districts.

For the past few weeks, Kelly Lewis has been crisscrossing the state trying to help certain school districts understand just how unfairly they've treated by the state for the past 25 years.



The Viewmont Mall, in Dickson City, has spectacular views of the Wyoming Valley: rolling green mountains, clusters of neat homes and Scranton's bustling downtown. But there are a few mountains that look a little different than the others.

"See the sort of messy piles up at the top?" Michele Dempsey is pointing across the valley from her car. "Where it looks, like, black? That's where the active face is, that is where they are putting garbage."

Man digging.
Brad Larrison / for NewsWorks

Tommy Joshua was working in the garden when a guy from his neighborhood rode by on a bike and gave him some bad news.

"Some dude, some like arbitrary man," Joshua said, "told me straight up, 'Yo dog, they got a plan to like, take this whole jawn over. You're doing all this in vain.'"

Lindsay Lazarski / WHYY


  A few weekends each year, hotels in Centre County are at full capacity. During Penn State home football games, Artsfest or move-in, good luck getting a hotel room. Last weekend's graduation was no exception. 

"We booked the Nittany Lion Inn the day [registration] opened, the first day we could," said Jim Sauter, whose son was graduating. "It's about $400 a night, usually about $159, $179 a night." 

Jessica Kourkounis


The advocacy group Public Interest Law Center says the commonwealth's own data point to the need for at least $3.2 billion in added state funding.

When the state's bipartisan basic education funding commission published its report last year, it came up with a new formula for distributing new state education dollars. The formula acknowledges that districts face added burdens, for instance, when educating students in poverty, or those still learning English.

At Keystone Crossroads' inaugural Urban Ideas Worth Stealing conference, civic leaders shared some of the innovative projects cities have taken on in recent years.

Jeffery Parks, founder of Steel Stacks, told the story of reimagining the defunct Bethlehem Steel site into the Lehigh Valley's premiere arts and music venue.

Matt Rourke, Chris Knight / AP Photos


The Pennsylvania school code says teacher layoff decisions can only be made according to who has the least seniority.

The Republican-held general assembly passed a bill this week to change that, but it's facing a veto pledge from Governor Tom Wolf.

The bill does two main things. It changes the conditions under which layoffs can happen and it changes which teachers should be laid off.

Emily Previti / WITF


Lead-based paint remains in homes in cities nationwide, including many in Pennsylvania, despite long-standing awareness of health risks to young children.

So Hamilton Health Center, located in one of Harrisburg's most distressed neighborhoods, already does free lead-exposure screenings for children under six.

But a new partnership with the city will mean new equipment for the center to facilitate faster testing and response.

How does a man who has spent his life in a town of fewer than 1,400 people become a big fan of cities? Well, he becomes a businessman — and then the governor.

On Tuesday, Governor Tom Wolf delivered the keynote address at Keystone Crossroads’ Urban Ideas Worth Stealing conference in Harrisburg, a half-day event to discuss how to improve cities across Pennsylvania. And his message was clear: Cities have been getting a raw deal.

Lindsay Lazarski / WHYY


The city of Reading was one of 16 U.S. cities recognized by Smart Growth America (SGA) recently for creating exemplary 'complete streets' policies in 2015.

Lindsay Lazarski / WHYY


In a handful of Pennsylvania communities, it’s illegal for private landlords to rent to people convicted of a felony drug offense within the past seven years.

That could change if one woman’s lawsuit is successful.

Her name is Darcy Smith. She lives in Gallitzin, a 1,600-person borough in Cambria County.

AP File Photo


Pennsylvania's protracted budget negotiation ended nearly a month ago, but the fight continues over how $150 million in new education spending will be divided amongst the state's 500 school districts.

Gov. Tom Wolf's plan to restore funding to districts hurt most by past cuts suffered a major blow last week. And now he faces another critical veto decision.

Lindsay Lazarski / WHYY


For a while now, Keystone Crossroads has been running a series called "Ideas Worth Stealing." It's a look at what we can learn from how people in cities around the U.S. and the world are solving urban problems.

Eleanor Klibanoff / WPSU


If you had $50,000 to improve your community, what would you do? Would you invest in infrastructure, build a park or fund a non-profit organization? Or might you try something a little more creative?

The Knight Cities Challenge pushes urban thinkers to do just that: think creatively about how to engage their community. There are 26 Knight Cities around the country, including Philadelphia and State College, and anyone in those cities can submit a project to the challenge. The winners, announced Tuesday, get a portion of $5 million.

Lindsay Lazarski / WHYY


The fight in Harrisburg over how $200 million in new Pennsylvania education aid should be divided continues.

Although Gov. Tom Wolf allowed the state budget to become law in late March, he vetoed the fiscal code that, in part, served as a roadmap for how new education funding would be distributed.

As passed by lawmakers, the fiscal code directed all new education money through a student-weighted funding formula, as recommended by a bipartisan commission.

Emma Lee / WHYY


Two Trains Running, a play by August Wilson that is about to finish a run at Philadelphia's Arden Theater, takes place in the late 1960s, at a restaurant owned by a black man. The city is planning to seize the restuarant through eminent domain, and he fights to get what he considers a fair price. The characters talk about their struggles with racism, making ends meet, and a changing city.

Last night, during a panel discussion hosted by the theater and Keystone Crossroads, Philadelphia residents said there's a lot about the play they can relate to.

Matt Rourke / AP Photo


Legislation dealing with pensions has, for decades, received a once-over by actuaries working for the Public Employee Retirement Commission, or PERC.

The point is to have PERC actuaries' objective analysis. That's  apart from information provided by bill sponsors and actuaries working for potentially-affected retirement systems.