Irina Zhorov

Keystone Crossroads Reporter

Irina Zhorov was WESA’s reporter for Keystone Crossroads, a statewide public media initiative focused on issues in older Pennsylvania communities.

Irina is a Philly native but joined Keystone Crossroads from Wyoming, where she covered energy, the Wind River Indian Reservation, and all things cowboy for Wyoming Public Radio. Her work has been recognized by Public Radio News Directors Incorporated awards.

Irina is eternally reading and trying to write books, gardening, biking, and plotting trips.

Keith Srakocic / AP Photo


A power company called FirstEnergy wants Pennsylvania lawmakers to once again regulate the electricity market in the state.

Ever drive along a road where signs welcoming you to a borough or township appeared more frequently than stoplights? Pennsylvania is broken up into myriad units, many with overlapping jurisdictions, different powers and responsibilities, and varying classifications. For example, I live in the municipality of Allegheny County, which is a county of the second class, in the city of Pittsburgh, which is a second-class city.

Carolyn Kaster / AP File Photo


Attempts to establish a national urban policy have popped up and failed throughout U.S. history.  

For example, in 1959, a Senate subcommittee heard testimony related to two bills. The first to provide for the establishment of a Commission on Metropolitan Problemsand the second to provide for the establishment of a Department of Urbiculture.

Michael Dwyer / AP Photo

  In Boston, any residential development that includes 10 or more units, receives financing from the city, is on city property, or requires an exception to current zoning regulations must designate 15 percent of market rate units as affordable housing.

The Inclusionary Development Policy was first implemented in 2000.

Irina Zhorov / WESA


In Vogt True Value Hardware on the Southside of Pittsburgh the stock of plumbing pipes includes copper and plastic. The owner of the neighborhood store, Shawn Vogt, shook his head no when I asked if he carries any lead lines.  

“It’s no longer legal,” he said. “That’s like an old fashioned thing.”

The store hasn’t carried any lead pipes in decades, he said.  

Carolyn Kaster


  Johnstown’s public pension plans are in bad shape and, according to the latest Pennsylvania Auditor General’s report, continue to get worse.

Matt Rourke / AP Photo


Ideas Worth Stealing: Every week, Keystone Crossroads will look to cities across the world for lessons in urbanism and municipal governance that could benefit Pennsylvania. No city does it all right, and we hope these examples from metropolises near and far inspire and encourage cities here to think outside the box. 

DNA from a genetically modified goat, a spritz of perfume, sculptures so small you need a microscope to see them.

They're all headed for the moon.

The MoonArk is a sort of eight-inch-tall portrait of humanity, with more than 200 artists and designers contributing to it. There's space reserved for it on one of the privately-funded Moon missions competing for the Google Lunar Xprize.

Matt Rourke / AP Photo


Housing choice voucher program participants often have a hard time finding housing that will accept their vouchers. Also known as Section 8, the program helps low-income families and individuals pay for housing in the private market, giving them more choice and opportunity in life.

Irina Zhorov / Keystone Crossroads


As Selena Strothers walked through her new two-bedroom home, a subsidized public housing unit in Pittsburgh’s Hill District, she intoned one phrase over and over, as a mantra.

“I just love it,” she said.

“This is actually our first home," she said. "We’ve always lived in the projects or rented... where we had a slumlord or something.”

Strothers, her husband and her 14-year-old daughter moved in one year ago.

Ryan Loew / Keystone Crossroads


The Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development is removing Clairton’s distressed city status.


Slowly but surely, local governments are catching up with the private sector and harnessing the power of the smartphone to connect with citizens. Apps are popping up that make city living easier, better. But ‘civic app’ can mean so many different things.

Forest Gregg has a nice breakdown at DataMade:

Elaine Thompson / AP File Photo

If you use a bicycle to get around town, chances are you’ve gotten frustrated asserting your right to be on the road and to feel safe while riding.While drivers complain that cyclists weave unpredictably and take up room on backed up, narrow streets, cyclists gripe that drivers speed or don’t keep sufficient distance from them, making biking a dangerous, stressful way to get around.

Michel Euler / AP Photo

When you think of Paris, a modern, innovative city is probably not the first thing that comes to mind.

Ryan Loew / Keystone Crossroads

In a two-chair barbershop in Clairton, Roger Mount shapes clients’ beards and hairlines. He does what he calls old school barbering, using a straight razor. “When you’re cutting hair like this it’s like an art, you try to make the bad look good,” he said while working on a client last week.

Emma Lee / WHYY


Last year, New York City lowered its speed limit to 25 miles per hour on 90 percent of streets. In London, a 20 mph blanket speed limit applies. Paris is looking to impose similar restrictions. And in the U.S., Seattle is testing out 20 mph speed limits in residential zones.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

On a recent weekend stroll at Point State Park, in Pittsburgh, visitors sunned themselves in the grass and along the low walls of the park. The park is a triangle of green at the very place where the Monongahela and Allegheny Rivers meet to form the Ohio River. At the tip of the Point kids splashed in a fountain, and a rainbow shimmered through the spray. Looking east along the rivers bridges stitched the city together with yellow seams. 

Map of city road conditions.
Christoph Mertz

Christoph Mertz spends his days looking at cracks in the street.

“Once you’re involved in something like this, you see every crack in the road, every pothole, you say, ‘ohhh, this is interesting,’” he said as he wove around sizeable potholes on the narrow streets behind Carnegie Mellon University, in Pittsburgh. A small camera mounted on his windshield much like a GPS device shot video of the pavement unspooling in front of him as he drove. He said he relished finding really deteriorated streets because “it’s a really good example for my data.”   

Irina Zhorov/WESA

Homer City Police Chief, Louis Sacco, is one of just three people – two active and one retired – in his pension plan. He drives around the tiny borough, about 50 miles East of Pittsburgh, with views of looming power plant stacks in the distance and a partly shuttered Main Street.

He’s constantly waving at passersby, many of them people he grew up with, people whose tax payments help fund his pension. What’s it feel like to be the guy in such a small plan? I ask.