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.

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.

Jessica Kourkounis

 Welcome to Labor Day weekend. In case you have an extra day to catch up on your urban reads, we have lots to share.

Distressed cities

Kimberly Paynter / WHYY

The court has spoken, and the Chester Upland School District needs a roadmap toward financial stability.

In a 10-page order released Thursday, Judge Chad Kenney of the Delaware Court of Common Pleas asked Chester Upland receiver Francis Barnes and the Pennsylvania Department of Education to share information about an updated financial recovery plan.

Marielle Segarra / WHYY

The German city of Bottrop is known for its coal mine, Prosper-Haniel, which employs 5,300 people and will shut down by 2018.

Bottrop's unemployment rate was eight percent at the end of May 2015, compared to a national average of 4.7 percent. Many of the city's 116,500 residents live in poverty, according to the city. 

Laura Benshoff / WHYY

 In the Chester Upland School District, local leaders kicked off the new school year with pomp and circumstance. The mayor of Chester gave a speech. Balloons hung in front of Toby Farms Elementary School, where officials greeted families and a DJ played music out back.

The cheery touches provided a backdrop for local officials to put a positive spin on what has been a slew of bad financial news for the district.

Pennsylvania's property valuation system is, arguably, the least regulated in the country.

Nearly all state governments either handle valuations themselves or require cities or counties to do them at regular intervals between one and 12 years, according to a survey by the International Association of Assessing Officers.

New York requires municipalities to maintain assessments within a certain range market value.

Lindsay Lazarski / WHYY

We have updates on some of the issues covered in our first year of reporting including the first city to emerge from Act 47 and new protections for the homeless.

Lindsay Lazarski / WHYY

  It's been a good couple of years for Lancaster. The city was featured in The New York Times this summer, ranked as the 'sexiest small city in America'and deemed an e-city by our Internet overlords at Google.

Mark Duncan / AP


Cleveland, Ohio, working with the nonprofit OneCommunity, is installing a super fast broadband network. It will initially connect downtown, the high tech corridor, and University Circle. Internet speeds will reach 100 gigabits; that’s not only really fast, but unnecessary for most users. The city says that’s precisely the point — novel Internet speeds could lead to innovative uses, new companies, and ultimately economic development for the city.


Nanticoke is the first city and 10th municipality in Pennsylvania to complete the Commonwealth's Act 47 program for distressed municipalities.

Matt Rourke / AP


At least 50 Pennsylvania municipalities legislate against sleeping or camping in public places.

Lindsay Lazarski / WHYY


It's Friday and we bring you water, transportation, notable city quotes and the impact of the budget impasse on school districts.



The school year is soon to begin, and districts across the state of Pennsylvania are faced with a troubling proposition: How do you stay afloat when a very large chunk of your budget is nonexistent?

School leaders face this question as first-year Gov. Tom Wolf, a Democrat, and leaders of the Republican-held state House and Senate continue to disagree about how to frame the state's spending plan.

As the first day of classes draws near, districts have not received any of the state aid that would typically begin flowing in August.

biker in traffic
Emma Lee / Newsworks


At Keystone Crossroads, we write a lot of practical stories on urban design, policy and politics. But today we're indulging our literary side.

We've compiled quotes that remind us of cities in Pennsylvania, and make us think about the big picture.

Ashley Hahn / PlanPhilly

 A few years ago, when Philadelphia was on the homestretch of rewriting its zoning code, there was a brief kerfuffle over one of the rules that was under debate.

The rule was related to stream buffers, or riparian buffers, which require a certain amount of space to be set aside between new development and the banks of the city's rivers and streams. Specifically, how big should they be? Environmental advocates favored a bigger buffer, and developers, of course, favored a smaller one. The city eventually settled on 50 feet. (Then briefly disagreed, then agreed again.)