Tag Archives: Pennsylvania

Pittsburgh’s PHLF Preservation Group Takes on Major Downtown Project

Check out the work being done by the folks at the Pittsburgh History & Landmarks Foundation, which they highlighted in this video.

Learn more about their history and their work downtown, which has gotten some recent publicity.

-KG

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Filed under architecture, Featured, Good Ideas, Real Estate, The Housing Crisis

Come to Pages & Places in Scranton

This year marks the third annual Pages & Places Book Festival in Scranton on Saturday.

The event is intimately tied to Scranton as a place, its creators say:

“Pages & Places grew out of two overlapping phenomena. On the one hand, there’s the obvious, ongoing revitalization of the city of Scranton, manifest in new construction and the rehabilitation of some of the city’s landmark architecture, in the influx of new downtown residences, and the reinvigoration of long-time and former residents who have committed to opening businesses downtown. On the other is the realization that thriving American cities—and there are relatively few in the early 21st century—require a vivid and interactive arts and culture scene. The Pages & Places Book Festival is our contribution to these exciting and necessary trends.”

 This year’s event features a host of panels speaking on everything from Coal Region writers to The Civil War to (Scranton native) Jane Jacobs and the death and life of Rust Belt cities, a panel co-sponsored by Rust Wire.

For more about the specific speakers and panels, click here.

One of the festival’s organizers, Bill Black, wrote a guest editorial for us last year about why he believes the festival is a key part of some exciting new things happening in Scranton.

Click here for tickets.

-KG

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Fed Research Shows Positive Trend for Pittsburgh

This post was written by contributor Lewis Lehe. -KG

Stephan Whitaker, a research economist at the Cleveland Fed, has noticed two salubrious trends in RustBelt demographics:

1) between 2000 and 2008, college graduates rose sharply as a share of the work-force in several urban areas

2) in the future, the graduate share will keep rising as older, less-educated workers retire

This news is good taken at face value, because research by Ed Glaeser and other urban economists suggests cities thrive as idea-generating centers. When educated people interact face-to-face, they breed businesses and insights.

Educational Attainment of Working-age Adults in Fourth District Metro Areas

Working-age adults (2008) Degree share 2000 (percent) Degree share 2008 (percent) Change (percent)
Erie 151,718 22.5 28.2 5.6
Akron 386,990 26.1 31.6 5.4
Pittsburgh 1,235,251 28.1 32.7 4.6
Columbus 896,440 32.3 36.9 4.5
Lexington-Fayette 161,486 37.1 41.5 4.4
Mansfield 67,839 13.1 17.4 4.3
Youngstown-Warren 306,892 17.5 21.7 4.2
Cleveland 1,223,369 26.0 29.2 3.2
Cincinnati 863,150 28.6 31.7 3.1
United States 167,282,883 26.5 29.6 3.1
Canton 226,427 19.1 20.8 1.8
Lima 80,257 14.9 16.6 1.7
Hamilton-Middleton 195,416 25.9 27.4 1.5
Dayton-Springfield 508,775 24.4 25.8 1.3
Toledoa 419,227 21.6 22.9 1.3

Things I thought were interesting

Whitaker finds that Pittsburgh stands out in both trends, because we are gaining lots of graduates (mainly PA locals and international immigrants) and because our older workers are very uneducated—probably because they grew up in a city with steel mills. He speculates: “If the highly educated cohorts in Pittsburgh continue to phase in, the city will eventually have a workforce like a university town rather than a former industrial center.”

I also did my own comparison and found that the number of college-grad immigrants Pittsburgh gained exceeds the entire population of Bloomfield. I think this is a good thought comparison because Bloomfield itself is split between young college grads and old people. Here is a picture I took in Bloomfield that captures the tension:

These trends indicate Pittsburgh will probably become a better place for people like me to live. More college graduates will produce wider cultural variety, more startups, and less-corrupt politicians.  I’m excited about that, but I believe there’s another side to this coin: Pittsburgh’s graduate share will rise in part because it is not a good place for working-class men and women to move. It’s not necessarily a bad thing when you take the whole universe into account, though. After all, in order for some places to be good at attracting working class men and women, other places have to be good at losing them (or at least not gaining them). But it’s worth keeping in mind.

In contrast, I thought this was worth highlighting: “Columbus and Cincinnati both experienced large increases in their populations of unskilled immigrants. In Columbus, the nondegreed immigrant adult population increased from just under 30,000 to over 46,000, and the equivalent population in Cincinnati increased from 19,700 to 29,600.”

Since unskilled immigrants are the working class of the working class, I say hats off to Columbus and Cincinnati for providing an attractive place for these families to live. Doubly so for Columbus as it is also a highly-educated city.

-Lewis Lehe

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Filed under Brain Drain, Economic Development, Education, Headline, regionalism

Political round-up: Why did the Rust Belt go red? And what does the election mean for the Great Lakes?

There’s been a lot written about last week’s midterm elections and I’m hesitant to add to it.

But I know I’m not the only person who noticed several of the states that swung from blue to red were in our region: Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, Wisconsin and Minnesota. Why is this? High unemployment? Higher turnout of white working class voters dissatisfied with Obama?

What do you think? We’ve got a lot of collective brainpower amongst our readers, I am curious to hear people’s thoughts. Also, what policies enacted by Obama and the Democratic Congress have benefited this region? The auto bailout? Extended unemployment benefits? Funds for the Great Lakes? Also, what does this mean for 2012?

On a related note, this article points out the election marks a major departure of members of Congress who have helped secure funds and protection for the Great Lakes.

“Rep. Bart Stupak, D-Mich., the first member of Congress to introduce legislation banning oil and gas drilling under the Great Lakes, is retiring. So is Rep. Vernon J. Ehlers, R-Mich., a leader in Great Lakes protection. Sen. George V. Voinovich, R-Ohio, a Great Lakes advocate on the other side of the Capitol, is retiring, too,” the story notes.

-KG

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Filed under Great Lakes, Politics, regionalism, the environment, The Media, U.S. Auto Industry

Erie Expatriates Seeking Jobs…in South Korea

This guest editorial comes from Kristi Gandrud, a native of my hometown of Erie, Pennsylvania, currently living in South Korea and working as an editor of a national English-language proficiency test. She created the Facebook group Erie Expatriates, which was inspired by one of my favorite Rust Belt blogs, Flint Expatriates.

What do you think about what she has to say? Do you know fellow Rust Belters who have sought work abroad? -Kate G.


When I was an undergraduate headed to Canada for my freshman year, I remember trying to get a money order to pay for my visa application in advance of crossing the border.  Standing at the counter in my credit union in Erie, PA, trying to persuade the clerk to make a money order out in Canadian dollars? I might as well have asked for Mauritian rupees. Before I left the credit union, half the staff had been called on deck to figure out how to perform such an exotic transaction. I shook my head at the apparent difficulty of using the currency of a country which, on a clear day, I could see from my bedroom window. Eventually getting what I’d come for, I left the credit union in disbelief of my hometown’s provincial ways, and made for the border.

Four years in Canada and one linguistics degree later, I found myself living in Seoul, South Korea as an ESL kindergarten teacher, far from the shores of that provincial hometown. I had, at some point in my undergraduate linguistics career, heard the drumbeat of the overseas ESL market, and registered for a one-year intensive Korean language class. When Koreans ask me how I got here, that’s what I tell them. I say, “Yeah…I studied the language in undergrad, so I got interested in Korea, and I just ended up here…”

But what I really want to say is: “Well, I come from a pretty economically depressed region of the US, and when I finished my undergrad, I had no viable options for a job in my hometown, and few personal connections for jobs anywhere else. I was able to get a job in Seoul that paid about $23,000 a year, included free housing and round-trip airfare, provided health insurance, and only required a bachelor’s degree,” –which is more along the lines of the truth. My Korean studies did help me move to Seoul, and my linguistics background did nudge me toward language teaching, but the main draw of the Korean labor market was stable, decently remunerated employment for my 22-year old self.

And it seems, I wasn’t the only Erie native to figure this out. Most obviously, there was my boyfriend (now husband) Chris: we were hired together by a major Korean ESL conglomerate, YBM, and were placed in different schools in Seoul. Chris was in as much of an employment bind as I was: he had just finished a one-year master’s degree in political science at the prestigious London School of Economics, but lacking professional opportunities in Erie—as well as personal or professional networks in London—he spent five months pounding the pavement before he finally gave up on getting a job in the UK, and heeded the call of the East Asian ESL-teacher experience.

Also somewhat obviously, there was Chris’s brother Nate. He finished a degree with top marks at Bard College—also, by all accounts, a well-regarded institution of higher education –but, lacking immediate opportunities to start earning an income, followed in his brother’s footsteps to Seoul. Nate now works as a kindergarten teacher at the same company where Chris and I worked, somewhat improbably given his double major in philosophy and history.

That, of course, is all in the family. But how about Emily, a girl from my graduating class at my high school? What are the chances that I would go thousands of miles from home, and meet a classmate working in the very same city, in the very same industry? And this didn’t just happen to me: Nate also met a classmate of his in Korea via Facebook, a girl in his graduating class who now works as an ESL teacher in Busan, on the southeast coast of the country. And what about the steady stream of emails from Erie residents that I’ve answered in the last four years: ‘My cousin is moving to Korea soon, do you think you could write to her with some advice?’ or ‘My neighbor’s son is looking for a job in Seoul, do you have any recommendations?’ or ‘My friend is thinking of doing a year abroad at Yonsei University, what do you know about it?’ When I can momentarily set aside my own gratification at having apparently developed a celebrity reputation in my immediate circle as the pre-eminent South Korea guru, I marvel at the unlikely number of Erie natives heading for the Land of the Morning Calm.

I won’t attempt a detailed review of the positively unfathomable, never-before-seen-in-human-history growth that the South Korean economy experienced from the 1980s to the present. Let’s just say that 50 years ago, it was the poorest country in Asia—malnutrition was widespread, and the infant mortality rate would make even the most hardened social statisticians cringe. (For reference: a Korean friend of mine who is in her mid-30s, the oldest of five children, grew up in a mud hut in the southern city of Gwangju.) Today, Korea’s economy is among the most developed in the world: it gained membership in the OECD, the rich world’s premier economic social club, in 1996.

If you don’t have a Samsung cell phone in your bag or pocket right now, you probably know someone who does. The last time I visited Erie, my father-in-law proudly gave me a detailed demonstration of his top-of-the-line, front-loading LG washer and dryer, and I must admit, they were quite nice. When my cousin from Pittsburgh wrote me to say that his Playstation soccer game contained a Korean league team called the ‘Pohang Steelers,’ I pointed out that, as home to steel manufacturing  giant POSCO, the coastal city of Pohang has taken much more from Pittsburgh than just the name of its football team. That friend of mine who grew up in the mud hut? She now lives in Seoul in a beautiful high-rise apartment with her successful lawyer husband and a three-year-old daughter. Can this country afford to employ legions of 20-somethings from depressed areas of the US to teach their kids English? You bet it can.

I’m living in Seoul now, and having gotten a master’s degree, have moved up a rung on the expat employment ladder: I work as an editor at Seoul National University on an English proficiency test. From March to July of this year, I spent a grueling 5 months in Erie trying desperately to find a job that would enable me to live closer to my parents, sisters, and grandparents. To no avail: even the interviewer at the temp agency told me the pickings were slim. I finally threw in the towel and decided to come back to a place where I knew employment, a decent wage, and health insurance awaited. This past week, I helped my father and sister-in-law book tickets to Seoul for Christmas. Since my brother-in-law, husband, and I will already be in here, it made sense to do the holidays in Korea.

A few weeks ago, I was on the phone with the good people at the Erie Federal Credit Union. I’ve been sending remittances home, and I wanted to check on a few of the details of the transactions. I explained to the teller than I was actually living and working in South Korea, and so I understood if my requests to deal in Korean won were a bit out of the ordinary. Fully expecting to don the outlandish mantle of the long-lost hometown girl, I was taken aback when the teller at the other end of the line said, “Oh, no, that’s fine. We deal with won all the time.”

Indeed.

-Kristina Gandrud

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Filed under Brain Drain, Economic Development, Editorial, Education, Headline, Rust Belt Blogs

A City’s Scale And Its Promises

Editor’s note: We at Rust Wire love cities like Cleveland, Pittsburgh, Buffalo and Detroit. But how welcoming are these places to everyone? This piece was contributed by New Yorker Frank Dix, a native of my hometown of Erie, PA. What do you think after reading his essay? Can someone who is gay ever feel truly at home in a place like Erie? This piece seems especially relevant in light of several recent high-profile suicides by gay teens.-KG

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People who have made a life in New York usually remember their hurry to get here. The draw of the city may have developed early, but plain ambition does not quite sum it up. Whether you grew up in Erie, PA as I did, some other Rust Belt town, or in another region altogether, what you get here –and in Los Angeles and Chicago, I hear – is the chance to dissolve into a new crowd, and perhaps later, with confidence, to piece together what feels like your own tribe. If you happen to be gay then you realize, over time, that your hometown might not promise either one convincingly.

Certainly, many small towns and cities, including Erie, are rich with at least a few examples of visible gay men and women who are genuinely part of the community, reliable as local fixtures. But even the richness of these few can feel strained in contrast to the options and space afforded to straight friends. At the same time, for young gay men and women, it requires extra work to imagine how their adult selves and future partnerships might compare to the daily lives of their parents, relatives, and family friends.

The next best thing – or at least what is available – is to turn toward the community and observe it a little more closely, for clues. Gradually, a certain cast comes into view, sometimes plainly, sometimes opaquely through hints and jokes: the hairdresser, the dance instructor, the choir director, the figure painter…that eclectic interracial couple seen riding around town in a Rolls Royce or peddling their tandem bike. Job prospects notwithstanding, you could probably get along just fine in this company, if bigger cities did not seem at once vast and better suited.

After settling in, it does not take long for New York to start delivering on its promises. Instead of the easy insult, on the whole you find tolerance, either sincere or grudging; there are consequences here. Instead of the rare, relatable professional you find entire, remarkably specific guilds of gay actors, bankers, journalists, and lawyers, each having a membership in the hundreds. A fresh, blank page replaces the well-worn scripts left at home.

That page does not stay blank forever. You rush to fill it in as though just given permission. Peers are discovered, friendships maintained, romances begun and tested, probably not for the first time but perhaps for the time in-earnest. Broadly speaking, these impressions of Erie and New York are probably not so different from what others might tell, gay or straight. The promise of excitement – and a compelling love life –takes hold of all sorts of people, year after year. Finding a personal rhythm within this scale is a victory, always. But there are tradeoffs.

In the very place you left, where, if intact, the bonds were tighter, chances were better that you would meet your partner earlier, maybe through a childhood friend or at one of a handful of parties or lounges. In a city the size of Erie, even running a simple errand means seeing a friend or an acquaintance along the way. That closeness is a reliable comfort for many; it once was for me.

Still, navigating the coming out process, and imaging maturity, has a way of guiding other thoughts. Within the broad sweep of identity, being gay can settle somewhere between a singular focus and an afterthought. New York, with its large and vibrant gay community, offers a rough parallel to the relative freedom straight people take for granted. While not cozy, the city is attractive, in part, because it extends an honest chance to discover and express your-self as a gay adult. Here, the common grievance is not a lack of examples or choices, but trouble building the kind of strong bonds that people enjoy in smaller cities. The act of balancing intimacy and opportunity, I’ve noticed, can play out a little differently for gay men…

Traveling back home on the Acela from DC on a Sunday last October, I could not have been the only New Yorker savoring memories of the weekend. Activists and everyday citizens in the tens of thousands had just gathered for the National Equality Weekend, to bring critical attention to the concerns of the gay community. In marching and rallying, it had never been easier for me to consider personally what it means to be a part of a community. An hour or so from New York, I decided to get a drink. Among the passengers in the snack car there were two fit young men, iPhones raised, Grindr apps glowing, perhaps deciding to find each other.

-Frank Dix

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Scranton, PA: More Than Just ‘The Office’

greetings-from-scranton-pa

Editor’s note: This piece is a guest editorial from William Black, an organizer of the Pages & Places book festival in Scranton, PA, in October. Here he describes a number of other developments happening in his hometown. -KG

If you know Scranton, Pennsylvania, as the setting of NBC’s The Office—the U.S. version of Slough, the depressed and depressing overcast English city in which the Wernham Hogg Paper Company was doomed to eternally, if comically, fail—then your impression of the city is sunnier than the one most Scranton area residents have held of their hometown for decades.

I say this as someone who, at age seventeen, fled the area as fast I could. The Great Depression was slow to reach what had been a boomtown built on hard coal and locomotives. As late as 1937 rich New Yorkers took the train to Scranton to shop on Lackawanna Avenue and dine at the Casey Inn Hotel, where one could still get real silverware laid across the fine china from a real linen napkin.

But when the market for anthracite did finally collapse, it signaled a long, nearly fatal tumult for Scranton. Beginning in the 1940s, the city lost, on average, 1,000 residents a year. The loss of population was so swift and so devastating that the city hasn’t had a downtown grocery store since the 1960s. A recent look at photographs from the 1980s confirmed my impressions of the time: the city was dreary and dirty, distinguished by sooted-over architectural details and an abundance of garbage in the streets and on the sidewalks.

Yet now there’s a palpable sense that Scranton’s time is just beginning.  Several of the city’s most significant architectural landmarks have been rehabbed or restored and will, within months, be occupied by several hundred new downtown residents, most of them between twenty-five and thirty-five years old. This month, the Commonwealth Medical College, the first new medical to open its doors in Pennsylvania in decades, is matriculating its second class.  The University of Scranton has begun construction on a large, and expensive, new science research center.

And Scranton has begun to carve out a new identity for itself as a center of arts and culture.

Much of the credit for the turn-around goes to Mayor Chris Doherty, who leveraged Scranton’s proximity to New York and Philadelphia, what’s left of the splendid boom era architecture, and its air of great untapped potential into $400 million of investment in a little more than eight years. That’s enough for a pretty attractive facelift.

But there’s something else going on, too, another force that has laid claim to a city with a reputation for drab isolation—a grassroots effort driven men and women between thirty-five and forty-five years old to remake the city in their own image.

Some of these men and women are developers who, growing up in the 1980s, have never suffered the deprivation that made earlier generations of Scrantonians, who lived and then died on the dwindling market for coal, cautious, even pessimistic, with their investments.  Some are entrepreneurs who have committed themselves to the kinds of boutiques and restaurants they used to leave town to enjoy.

What gives me the greatest hope, however, is the seemingly spontaneous, even reflexive effort by disparate people to build new and serious arts and cultural traditions downtowns.

Groups of college students whose classrooms are twenty or thirty miles outside of town have chosen central city locations to convene their writers and artists groups, and they’ve brought along a new generation of university faculty that has begun moving into the city, despite having to commute to school. A then-high school student with a fondness for old movies opened the Vintage Theater, which has become Scranton’s for-the-people by-the-people art house cinema and the new generation’s first choice venue for readings, salons, and other art-centric events.

And then there are the festivals.

Scranton has long been a city of ethnic festivals—Irish, Italian—but six years ago Marko Marcinko, a jazz musician who at a fairly young age was performing in New York City and in the Pocono region’s world class jazz scene with some of the biggest names in the business, launched the Scranton Jazz Festival, a three-day affair that has made good use of Marcinko’s connections and drawn increasingly large and enthusiastic crowds from New York, New Jersey, Philadelphia , and beyond.

More recently, the Pages & Places Book Festival, of which I am co-director, was created to make two significant contributions at once.  First, by doing what exceptional book festivals do, Pages & Places strives to offer a high end, daylong cultural event.  By “high end,” I mean that Pages & Places is bringing to Scranton the caliber of personnel and seriousness of topic that one would expect to find only on elite college campuses or at, say, New York’s 92nd Street Y.  This year, for example, Christopher Hitchens is joining Jay Parini, the author or editor of more than 40 books, in a discussion about the people, books, and debates that have most shaped American civic life.  Joseph Sebarenzi, who was president of the Rwandan parliament in the days after that country’s hideous genocide, will participate in a conversation about how societies rebuild, or reinvent, themselves in the wake of catastrophe.  An Icelandic novelist and an Argentine novelist and their translators will talk about the ways that ostensibly national literatures inform each other, in a panel moderated by their publisher, Open Letter Press’s Chad Post.

All this sounds pretty elitist, doesn’t it?

Well, it ought to. That’s the idea, in fact. The festival’s founder and driving engine, Liz Randol, recognized what was already afoot in Scranton and identified the lack: of a cultural event that didn’t just serve the city’s extant population but brought to town precisely the kind of people—heavy weight writers and intellectuals and the people who go out of their way to hear them speak—that wouldn’t otherwise visit a small post-industrial city.

But this is not at all to say that Pages & Places is disregarding of Scrantonians. Quite the opposite. The Places part of the festival’s title signals the other half of its mission.

Places operates in two essential ways. First, all of Pages & Places highbrow panels are set in familiar local businesses—bookstores, boutiques, bars, restaurants. Likewise, the festival’s planning committee and board of directors are made up not of arts and culture administrators but area businesspeople, in fact many of the very same entrepreneurs I referred to earlier. The goal of this approach is to offer a singular cultural event that is, from its conception through its planning to its execution, as integrated into the larger working of the city’s revitalization, and as available to its residents, as it can possibly be without compromising the seriousness of its content.

Second, Pages & Places has implemented partnerships designed to draw local and regional cultural institutions beyond their borders and into the community. These partnerships began as cross-promotional endeavors, but these relationships are now driving toward bigger and more substantive partnerships on events to take place downtown rather than behind the walls institutions.

Scranton is a smaller, and therefore a lot easier to impact, than other post-industrial cities still struggling to invent new and functional identities.  But those of us who are starting to feel really good about our city’s emerging new image.

William Black teaches literature and creative writing at Johns Hopkins University but has accepted a post as Writer-in-Residence at Misericordia University in Dallas, Pennsylvania, in order participate in Scranton’s revival.  He is Co-Director of the Pages & Places Book Festival to held in Scranton October 2. He can be reached at bill@pagesandplaces.org

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Filed under Art, Book review, Economic Development, Editorial, Good Ideas, Headline, The Media