Keystone Crossroads

building construction
Min Xian / WPSU

The development going on in State College right now is expected to increase the number of housing units in the borough by about 20 percent. And largely they’ll be downtown student rentals.

While many Pennsylvania municipalities struggle to sustain their downtowns and shrinking populations, the State College area faces a different set of challenges. The place that’s home to Penn State is seeing growth. But not everyone thinks it’s the right kind.

Jovan Weaver, principal of Wister Elementary School.
Jessica Kourkounis / WHYY

Season two of the Keystone Crossroads podcast “Schooled” looks at one elementary school in Philadelphia that sparked debate when the district turned it over to a charter organization. WPSU’s Emily Reddy talked with the host of “Schooled,” Kevin McCorry, who followed the school through its first year as a charter school under principal Jovan Weaver.

Farmland on the road that runs between Titusville and Corry School Districts.
Kevin McCorry / Keystone Crossroads

In the past, the Keystone Crossroads reporting project, which WPSU is a part of, has looked at the issues facing education in cities. Kevin McCorry is the education reporter and the editor of the project.

Eleanor Klibanoff in front of the city of Scranton.
Lindsay Lazarski / WHYY

In this special broadcast of Take Note on WPSU, you’ll hear excerpts from a new show from Keystone Crossroads. It's called “Grapple,” and it gives voice to people living and working in distressed communities across Pennsylvania. You’ll hear conversations that help tell the story of America’s profound economic and social changes. Including how places have changed over time to what distressed communities are grappling with today. 

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...

two students walking down sidewalk
Matt Rourke / AP Photo

A survey of Pennsylvania superintendents and school business officials offers a bleak portrait of the state of education in the commonwealth.

With mandated costs growing faster than revenues, districts across the state report that they are planning to cut staff, increase class sizes, and curtail programs and extracurriculars — all while hiking local property taxes...

CONTINUE READING

People walking down the street in Allentown.
Lindsay Lazarski / WHYY

When Allentown's hockey arena opened in November 2014, business owner Josh Tucker was over the moon.

It was opening night, an Eagles concert, and Tucker stood across the street from the arena, watching thousands of people spill onto the sidewalk from new restaurants and bars.

"It is the biggest happening in 30 years in downtown Allentown," Tucker said. 

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.'"

A current lawsuit alleges that Pennsylvania has broken its constitutional obligation to provide a "thorough and efficient system of public education."  As part of a collaborative series for NPR, the new education reporter for Keystone Crossroads has been looking into education funding.  WPSU's Emily Reddy talked with Kevin McCorry, who says there are huge funding disparities among Pennsylvania's 500 school districts

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. 

Wikimedia

 

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.

Matt Rourke / AP Photo

 

It's back to school without a budget. In this week's city reads: school funding, affordable housing and the importance of volunteers.

School budgets

We are number two. Michigan is number one. The ranking reflects the number of school districts with credit ratings have been downgraded to "speculative." To blame? An "entrenched" budget stalemate in Harrisburg, charter school payments, and pension costs.

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

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.

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