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.

Vlad / Flickr


Most people associate fall foliage with Vermont, New Hampshire, maybe even Massachusetts. But if you're a leaf peeper — the technical term for foliage lovers — you'd be wise to put Pennsylvania on your list.

"Our friends to the north have a number of trees and beautiful foliage," says Michael Chapaloney, the executive director of VisitPA. "But we have nearly double the number of species of trees, so you're going to see a greater variety in Pennsylvania."

Keith Srakocic / AP Photo

  Gil Penalosa evaluates intersections, neighborhoods, and whole cities by asking one question: can an 8-year-old and an 80-year-old go for a walk here and feel safe? If the answer is “no,” there’s work to do.

Penalosa is the founder and chair of a Toronto-based non-profit called 8-80 Cities, which advocates for urban biking, walking, parks, trails, and public spaces. He sees the walkability of a city as intimately tied to public health, sustainability, economic development, quality of life, and just about every other measure of urban vitality.

Lindsay Lazarski / WHYY


The state's Community Revitalization & Improvement Zones (CRIZ) program in a select few cities has created some major competition and a little jealousy. That's because the program allows chosen communities to keep some state tax revenue to reinvest for development. 

But the first year's results are underwhelming.

Lindsay Lazarski / WHYY


 TGIF: Time for football, fall foliage and urban reads.

Cities making change

Tech companies are no longer interested in  just the Silicon Valley. College communities like State College and Pittsburgh are looking to serve as "university cities," providing a talent pool for these businesses. Pinball machine and kegerator included. 

Albuquerque Mayor's Office


The city of Albuquerque, New Mexico has a new initiative placing panhandlers into day jobs. A driver picks up people who might otherwise spend the day panhandling and takes them to work sites. The jobs can be things like picking up litter and other beautification projects for the city’s public works department, and pays $9 per hour for an 8-hour day.

Pennsylvania Environmental Council


As the industries along urban waterfronts have faded, big cities like Philadelphia and Pittsburgh have come up with robust master plans — and significant funding — to connect people with their rivers.

But what can smaller municipalities with fewer resources do to revitalize their waterfronts?

Marie Cusick / StateImpact Pennsylvania


The Marcellus Shale runs under 60 percent of Pennsylvania. But the areas where drilling takes place feel the economic effects more than most. On Thursday, those counties received $8.1 million in state funding to support 44 local projects that address housing availability, community development and rental assistance.

AP File


This week is history. Happy 75th Birthday to the Pennsylvania Turnpike... and the budget stalemate is taking its toll. 

Highway history

Nora Lichtash / WCRP


Places like Philadelphia and Pittsburgh have made a name for themselves as perpetually affordable cities that stand in contrast to places like San Francisco and New York, where real estate prices are ballooning. But increasingly the availability of affordable housing in Pennsylvania cities is shrinking, too. As these cities grow for the first time in decades and neighborhoods revitalize, the changes are pricing out longtime residents.

Ted S. Warren / AP Photo


When Pennsylvania police try to solve a crime using DNA evidence, they have to wait for results from a state database. That can take between nine and 18 months, says Fred Harran, director of public safety for the Bensalem Township Police Department and vice president of the Bucks County Police Chiefs Association.

To speed things up, the 40 police departments in Bucks County have banded together to create a county-wide DNA database that provides results within 30 days.

Foster parents, homeless shelters, families facing eviction – they all depend, to varying degrees, on programs and funding bound to the state and federal government. 

County governments coordinate some of those programs and pass through the money to social service agencies that run others. 



Breezewood, Pennsylvania has been called the "town of motels," the "travelers' oasis," and, most colorfully, "an Emerald City to the Pennsylvania Turnpike's yellow brick road." Most people greet this town-turned-rest-stop after driving through the spectacular beauty of Pennsylvania's mountains, and it's a jarring sight. There are gas stations, truck stops, hotels, motels and a single church. The town exists to serve motorists.

John D. & Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation


On Tuesday, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation announced the 24 recipients of its annual "genius" grants. Each year, the foundation gives no-strings-attached funding, currently $625,000 paid out over five years, to "talented individuals who have shown extraordinary originality and dedication in their creative pursuits and a marked capacity for self-direction."

Lindsay Lazarski / WHYY


Recently, in Lancaster County, an Urban Outfitters store opened near a Gap, creating jobs for dozens of people. The problem?

"There's no housing in that area," says Ray D'Agostino, the executive director of the Lancaster Housing Opportunity Partnership. "So, they'll build transit to bring people in from the surrounding areas, including outside the county."

AP File


It's a beautiful day in the neighborhood and we have a lot to explore. Grab your favorite cardigan and enjoy.

 If you build it....

Lindsay Lazarski / WHYY


The report comes from Government Executive, a business magazine for senior executives and managers in the federal government's departments and agencies, and the International City/County Management Association. They released it in advance of the ICMA’s upcoming annual conference in Seattle. 

What’s Next in Local Government? is 24 pages. It’s a quick read, but we'll save you the trouble. Here are the highlights:

•    Case management made more manageable? Maybe.

Lindsay Lazarski / WHYY


Pennsylvania cities have transformed vacant lots into community gardens and urban farms. Pittsburgh has considered building tiny house communities. But what about using abandoned lots for urban earthships?

Irina Zhorov / WESA


On October 3rd, Pittsburghers will walk up and down the formidable stairways of the hilly South Side Slopes neighborhood with maps in hand. The StepTrek, which started more than a decade ago, raises awareness and funds for the Slopes’ aging stairs.

Irina Zhorov / WESA


Modern urban planning sought ways to make life easier. Often, it involved wholesale demolition of large swaths of a city in the service of big “renewal” projects. In many cases the planning didn’t include public input, and the projects were one-use, whether retail, business, or culture.

Wulf Rohwedder / Keystone Crossroads


On the Elbe River in Hamburg, Germany, there's a riverfront district called HafenCity. It's made up of slender pieces of land that are divided by canals and connected by footbridges. The district is lined with modern glass buildings and futuristic-looking public spaces, but also historic red brick warehouses that have green copper roofs and look like little castles.

Lindsay Lazarski / WHYY


Building codes seem simple enough: build buildings that are safe to live in. To keep up with changing technology, most states update those codes every three years.

But Pennsylvania has gone six years without updates as the state wrestles with a law that creates an unusually high bar to approve changes. Each individual update must be voted on by the Review and Advisory Council and passed with a two-thirds majority. The council has one year to read and vote on close to 2,000 changes.

Act 1

AP Images


This week: no budget approval, big crowd concerns ... sounds like the movie "Groundhog Day." Here are fresh new reads about urban challenges, and solutions.

Ideas worth stealing

Kathy Willens / AP Photo

  Immigration laws are set at the national level, but Congress continues to struggle with passing meaningful immigration reform. While some communities have channeled the frustration of the standstill to pass their own restrictive laws aimed at immigrants without documents, other states and cities are working locally to serve and integrate their immigrant populations.

Municipal identification cards are one initiative that a growing list of cities have introduced or are exploring.

Diana Robinson / WITF

A judge has ruled the corruption case against former Harrisburg Mayor Stephen Reed will go to trial.

Reed faces corruption, bribery, theft and other charges for allegedly hoarding city-owned artifacts and bribing people to approve public borrowings that, ultimately, nearly bankrupted the municipality.

Lindsay Lazarski / WHYY

  Michael Catania walks on a rocky beach at Petty's Island. He picks up a flat stone and flings it out into the Delaware River. The stone skips a few times toward a shipping terminal and the church steeples of Philadelphia's Port Richmond neighborhood.

"I feel like a little boy when I come here," said Catania, chairman of the New Jersey Natural Lands Trust.

Wooden stakes protrude from the ground. The remains of an old pier line the perimeter of the beach. Plastic bottles, old tires, a TV, and bricks sliced in half — one side "key," the other "stone," litter the shoreline.

Gene J. Puskar / AP Photo

In case you hadn't heard, the Pope is coming to Philadelphia and the whole city is a bit on edge.

Mayor Michael Nutter has said that "this will be the largest event in the city of Philadelphia in modern history."

Eleanor Klibanoff / WPSU


Jersey Shore, Pennsylvania, is hundreds of miles from the boardwalk and the beach, but mere steps from the Susquehanna River. And while no one has made a reality show about this sleepy town yet, they do share one similarity with their namesake: flooding.

So when Michael and Lurie Portanova bought a strip of buildings downtown in 2012, they weren't surprised to learn that they'd have to buy flood insurance, for about $3,000 a year.

But no one told them about a recently-passed law called the Biggert-Waters Act.

Jared Brey / PlanPhilly

There are some neighborhoods in Pennsylvania cities where half of the properties are blighted or tax-delinquent or both. Between Pittsburgh and Philadelphia, there are about 60,000 such properties. But getting them into the hands of new owners who can make them useful for the neighborhood again has been difficult.

Irina Zhorov / WESA

 Rob Walters, a riverkeeper, launched his boat across from a staging area for barges on the Monongahela River, about 20 miles upriver from Pittsburgh’s downtown. His first mate, a Portuguese water dog named Rio — meaning river in Portuguese — whimpered in excitement. He counted about 30 barges before he turned on his boat’s engine and headed towards the city.

“Usually the general rule of thumb is biggest boat wins. So the barges really are the rulers of the river,” he said as he navigated between the moving barges.