The Morning Call was kind enough to print an op-ed that I wrote on the improving state of our local cities. Click here to read it or scroll down. Thanks to the Morning Call for publishing my piece and for their continued support of urban revitalization!
Lehigh Valley Town Square
Modern cities are changing, and the change is for the better
By Michael Schlossberg
August 27, 2008
How many of you have stories that sound something like this: You grew up in a city. The streets were safe, the schools were first-rate and people looked after each other. But somewhere along the way, things changed. Your favorite hang-outs were knocked down and nothing was ever rebuilt. The school district declined. You became afraid to walk the streets at night. Wanting better for your children, you moved to a suburban community.
Does this sound familiar? But, our urban centers have changed.
Consider crime. In Allentown, thanks to additional police officers and better technology, violent crime has dropped dramatically -- about 25 percent in the past two years. This is not to say that the city's crime problems are fixed, but the city is absolutely moving in the right direction. In Bethlehem, many violent crimes dropped 11 percent in the past year. Meanwhile, our boroughs, places like Macungie, Nazareth and Emmaus, have virtually no serious crimes. Some haven't seen a murder in decades.
What about taxes? Suburban areas may have lower taxes, but not for long. Taxes were kept low there by rapid development. But as the economy slows, development slows with it. A great example is Bethlehem Township. For the first time in 15 years, it may have to raise taxes, possibly by 10 percent. The tax disparity between urban and suburban communities will not exist for much longer.
The benefits to urban areas are innumerable. Residents have access to full-time and professional police and fire protection, as well as nearby medical facilities. Everything is closer together; residents don't have to drive everywhere or they don't have to go far. Urban residents have access to mass transit. Allentown has one of the best parks systems in the state. Boroughs like Macungie (which has three parks within one square mile) offer recreational opportunities that are within walking distance for virtually every residents. And, with parks, playgrounds, schools, clubs and other kids, urban living creates an place that allows children to be with each other, as opposed to playing video games.
Our urban cores also have a sense of community that suburban communities can never hope to duplicate. Urban areas are a hotbed for political activism and neighborhood involvement. They are also the home of other organizations, everything from garden and book clubs to community facilities that are the home for dozens of local sports teams. These groups often make dramatic improvements to their hometown.
Americans of all races and socioeconomic sectors are moving back into cities. Statistics show that the rate of wealthy residents leaving cities is rapidly slowing and in many cases, richer people are finally moving back into cities. This does not mean the end of the diversity in urban centers, far from it. What it means is that large portions of the populace have realized that urban environments are not places to fear, but are places to thrive. Places where you can raise a family.
Proof of this renaissance can be seen by just reading the news. It is virtually impossible to do so now without hearing a story about activism dedicated towards improving our urban cores. Be it the Hamilton Street Visioning, Seventh Street Revitalization, North by Northwest in Bethlehem, Greater Easton Development Partnership, Borough Business Revitalization Program or other groups, governments and citizens alike realize that the key is a long-term revitalization effort.
I'm not saying all cities and boroughs are paradise. There is still much work to be done. But cities are on the rise because neighbors have learned that they do not have to sit back and let their homes be lost to crime and neglect. Indeed, that is the worst thing they can do. For urban communities to come back, they require community leadership and an active citizenry. Thankfully, in the Lehigh Valley, we have no shortage of either quality.
Michael Schlossberg is a borough business revitalization coordinator for the Greater Lehigh Valley Chamber of Commerce. He can be reached at MikeS@lehighvalleychamber.org.