Jan 3, 2017

The Color Line Of Allentown's NIZ

I do not purport to be politically correct.  However, I do have some grasp of Allentown's realities.  Before the former merchants and their clientele were removed from Hamilton Street, for the arena and NIZ development, I called the emerging program classist.  When I debated the issue on channel 69, the NIZ proponent referred to the former merchants and their customers as a cancer.

In yesterday's post, I predicted that the former demographic, mostly black and hispanic,  would again dominate, after the initial wave of gentrification in the new district failed to sustain itself.  A local black entrepreneur, Alfonso Todd, reminded me in a comment that they too are millennials.

Yesterday, when I wrote that I don't believe that gentrification will succeed in Allentown,  that really referred to a mostly white, middle class enclave feeling comfortable at 7th and Linden Streets.  I believe that Todd sees more of an integrated grouping.  I believe for that to happen, the minority middle class would have to be substantially larger.  He believes that a larger event calendar would facilitate more urbanization.  I can see that, but I'm not sure that it would translate into more actual middle class center city residents.  I hope that he's correct, because his vision would be much more successful in the long term than mine.

I know that there are others who could approach this topic with more sensitivity, and perhaps in a more colorblind fashion.  However, the best I can do is provide a forum for the uncomfortable truths among us.

Todd at one of many events he promoted, photo by molovinsky


alfonso todd said...

Thanks, Bernie, but to be honest, I believe we are on the same page. It's much less about race and class and more about the the educational and social economical disparities. Everyone in Allentown KNOWS this but few speak about it unless it's in negative terms or i will benefit a non-profit type of funded program. I have been saying for years that all A-town needed was a good PR company. Crime is everywhere but we allow people to make it so much worse due to the fact it is in Allentown, PA. Again, we have to stop allowing the public and press to define us and we need to start defining ourselves, as a city.

As far as events go, yes, I believe we need a grand city-wide event! Something that will bring tourism but will also cultivate pride and production from local residents. Years ago, I created an event called UPWARD BOUND, ALLENTOWN. We did it for 3 years. We blocked off the streets between 6th and 7th, used the old mall step platform (now it's the Center City Building) as a stage, and had a large amount of vendors participate. They ranged from the Lehigh Valley Zoo to Capital Blue Cross and Blue Shield to McCain Schools and the list goes on and on. The music was as eclectic as the crowd! We had everything on stage from Hip Hop to Rock, to Alternative to Classical to Show Tunes... But the most important parts were the people! They came from as far away as NYC and Philadelphia or were as close as the next block over. Local residents became entrepreneurs and would obtain their business licenses, come out, cook food or sell their wares. It got to the point that they would call me 6-7 months ahead of time to make sure they had locked in their vendor spaces.

Organic growth, community inclusion, and tourism. The 3 items needed that can stop the downward spiral of Allentown. I have said these same words for a decade. I said it when I moved here 13 years ago, I said it when I ran for City Council, and I am saying them now. I hope someone will finally listen.

Alfonso Todd

Scott Armstrong said...

The main problem with Allentown is a corrupt local government that has allowed the neighborhoods to decline, and poverty to concentrate at unsustainable levels while money is made on Hamilton.
In order to improve the city the voters will need to elect honest people who care about the city. Not holding my breath for that. Then these honest elected officials will have to restart the Rental Inspections Program for systematic inspections of city apartments every five years, or redraft similar legislation to achieve a the same goal.
Feeling good about Allentown is a faith based form of urban improvement.If Allentown wasn't improved by all the phony good news generated these past few years by the local media, self serving elected officials, and their cronies, and related money men then what leads anyone to think more of the same would move the needle in a positive direction.
By the way, the urge to move to quieter, cleaner, better maintained suburbs, with better schools is a desire shared by every race and creed. One has to be a real city person to stay here. I am one.
Allentown can be fixed but it won't be done without the basics of good government.

doug_b said...

I agree with you Michael, A-Town will revert to / be representative of the people who live there.

The key to the success of A-Town is that it grew organically. A time when there were local merchants, down towns, lots of local commerce, manufacturing. There were even local railroads. I remember a lot of dad's walked to work or took a bus withing the city limits. This model is gone - from all cities in the US.

Allentown is a relic of times gone by. With narrow streets, aging infrastructure (gas mains, water mains, sewers - as these age the costs will either bankrupt the city, or the taxes will drive everyone out), and 100 year old tiny homes (compared to today's standards) with no off street parking, squeezed onto postage stamp sized lots - are only for those who are destitute.

I see no way to gradually 'gentrify' downtown Allentown. And why? It's lost all it's charm, appeal, economy, history. I think it's doomed to be cheap rentals, until they literally fall down. I expect that to be 50 - 75 years.

Having 'festivals' and selling tacos ain't gonna bring it back.

alfonso todd said...

So the only thing you all walked away with is Allentown needs to have the "basics of good government" and that "festivals and tacos" won't bring it back.... It's so much bigger tahn that.

First of all, good government has to be obtained and maintained and the politics in Allentown itself is what is actually killing it. People have been talking about "good government" for years and with each Mayor there was a complaint or downside (depending on who you ask. As for "urban feel good" ways, THIS is not the same. I speak of pride because in reality that is what is missing. The "powers that be" knew that allowing empathy to grow rampant in Atown would allow them to do basically anything they wanted and it worked. It's why people don't vote, get involved, or participate. Call it wahtever you want because you think "good governement" is the answer, but guess what? Sometimes the people nor the area cannot wait for good government. Sometimes we have to take it upon ourselves to make things happen which is what many have attempted to do with or without the city's support. Either way, apparently, if our past is anything like our future it would be far easier to get empathy out of the city than to get people in our city's power structure to do the right thing.

And as far as "festivals" are concerned, I am talking about CITY WIDE events like Musikfest or currently like Easton's Baconfest. Events that bring in tourism that have people who spend money in the shops, restaurants, and with vendors. This formula has worked everywhere from Phoenixville to Easton to Bethlehem... But now Allentown needs an EVENT not a festival with "tacos"... (Sheesh, your Trumpism is showing) It's so funny when people like to say how impossible it is and how it won't work, yet they have no true answer but to "wait it out" or "allow the dark cloud to pass over".

By the way, I LIVE in Allentown on 4th and Turner and have been here for YEARS. My neighbors are hard working and perhaps not in the upper income bracket but not worth any less than the folks who are.

You may not like those of us who live here and may put us all in one category, which is your choice, but don't think for a minute that while you folks talk the most negative about a city that you, supposedly, used to love (without any inclination or attempt to bring it back), that there aren't those of us brainstorming and working towards the goal of actually bringing it back to the way it needs to be...

TRENT HALL said...

It starts with jobs. Without businesses downtown that hire people, whether it be service, retail, or professional employment, no one in great numbers will want to live there.

In NYC, all the boroughs, despite much housing over 100 years old, is "gentrifying" all over the place, because sufficient businesses are still located there.

In DC & Baltimore, cities with minority "majority" populations, and virtually no manufacturing, people still want to live downtown because the jobs, albeit mostly government & public sector in DC, are still there. In towns like Detroit, which was very one dimensional auto/after market manufacturing, everyone but the poor left. No leadership, no vision, no transition to a sustainable community.

Pittsburgh, a major steel & manufacturing town, which saw those industries leave, resurrected itself, via universities/science & tech into a destination city now for many millennials......something Detroit failed to do.

In the 1960's/1970's many people in Allentown looked at the coal regions (Pottsville/Wilkes-Barrie and such) and said such decline wouldn't happen in Allentown because we were much more diverse in types of jobs......Bethlehem Steel/Mack/Air Products/PP&L/textiles/yadda yadda.

Modern travel/communication/globalization/tax incentives from southern states, both domestic & foreign, changed that. Population demographic changes, and the migration of children of the 1950's/1060's successful Allentown middle class, now educated with college degrees, left Allentown after graduation, never to return, hasten the decline.

If the consensus is that the downtown Arena development type solution isn't & won't work, then clearly other approaches have to be tried. Scott is correct....it starts with sound schools to attract intact families and smart government. Otherwise, Allentown will be a fly over, drive pass community, not a viable alternative destination for those otherwise looking at Philly or NYC.

ironpigpen said...

If are politics are local, would Trumpism be the practice of a one-party city, such as Allentown, always electing the same cast of Democrat characters over and over and over again?

JoshLCowen said...

Good discussion folks. Respectfully, I don't think good public relations is the answer. We have that now.....it's called 'spin.' Really good public relations tells s good and truthful story.We don't have one yet.
Respectfully again, festivals aren't the answer either, but I have no objection to them. In fact, I love them.
The answer is found in one word: fatherhood. Until Allentown, and America in general, demands of young people the sexual responsibility necessary to create whole and happy families. Those families are the backbone of thriving neighborhoods. Two generations ago families poorer than today's which live on public assistance programs struggled to make ends meet, sent (forced?) their kids into college and now bask in the pride of their accomplishments. There is no reason we can't start that track again.

Scott Armstrong said...


Allentown is the county seat, we have all the related jobs here already, we have three hospitals downtown, plenty of teaching jobs at our schools, we have PP&L,Talen Energy,two colleges, KOZ zones and a huge monetary investment from the state that is providing jobs to skilled labor. One can get in their car in any Allentown location and quickly get to any job site within a hundred mile radius with ease.The jobs are already here or close by with a great highway system at our feet!
Time for the voters to awaken from their slumber! Only that will save Allentown!

doug_b said...

Understand, I'm not trying to put anyone's ideas down. I lived in A-Town - from 1949 till 1971 (actually was in college from 1964 thru 1971). I was in Hess's at least 100 times. And Leh's (now a welfare center) and Zollingers. Also ate the smorgasbord at the Americus Hotel, many times. Ate at the Hotel Trailer, Walps, Village Inn... etc, etc.

You guy's have fallen in love with the past. All that is gone. You're trying trying the reconstruct something that is no more. Just a Romantic idea.

You are rearranging the chairs on the Titanic - hoping it will make it all better. All those blue collar and Dutch people are dead.

Your ideas of better schools won't work. Improve the schools - well you need parents (2) that care about their children enough to give them good values and manners. So far our government (since LBJ - the Great Society) has done nothing but make it worse. It will take an entire generation to make any change.

alfonso todd said...

You all keep talking about parenting and fatherhood and people taking advantage of educational opportunities... Those are the things that cannot be controlled by a City nor should it be an excuse for a well managed municipality to fail. Apathy, single parenthood, and the like are all apart of life and exist in cities that are bigger and smaller than Allentown, PA. Many of us are not clinging to yesterday's Allentown because many of us don't remember it, but alot of us are trying to utilize and improve what it has become.

And while many tell us that our ideas won't succeed, many of us, still continue to put the word out and move forward anyway...

(I can't believe in 2017, people are still on the "wait and see" vibe... SMH...

TRENT HALL said...

Alfonso......yes, it's no longer an Ozzie & Harriet society...we get that. But successful schools tend to have common features.....lots of intact families, lots of parental interest (whether single parent & regardless of gender) and support of the PTA, lots of interest in pushing their kids to stay in school and achieve and graduate. And successful schools attract families/involved citizens who want to remain in the area.

Now for the second part.....you cite "well managed municipality" as a necessary component to revive Allentown. Isn't that one of the major crux's of your "opponents" arguments? That however lovely "EVENT" functions may be, they are ephemeral, and don't substitute for sound economic growth policy that will encourage & sustain a revitalization of Allentown. The NIZ/Arena concepts seem to prosper only the already wealthy developers & sports teams owners and the promised prosperity they are supposed to deliver is akin to supply side "trickle down" economics that already have been proven to be nonsense. To make an impact, sufficient jobs & customers for the restaurants require attractions several nights a week to draw people in, not several times a month. Casinos operate 360 days a year...not several days a month.

As Scott said....Allentown does possess resources, and many are the same resources which other cities have smartly engaged to promote revitalization which benefit many levels of citizenry, not just the politically connected. Leaders of citizen groups like yourself need to study those examples and then build coalitions with other groups and exert pressure on elected officials to follow up on those suggestions, rather than simply more of the same "land deals" and Harrisburg type grants to the few, doing the same old things that were tried before and don't work well today & only enrich a few. There are successful cities.....just look where our kids & grandkids are moving to and living today.

alfonso todd said...

And while you all keep saying to look to the suburbs as the answer, I continue to say look at Allentown and practical ways it can be improved. We must work with what we have, NOT just believe it's all for naught and we should just burn it down and call it hopeless. And while you talk about intact familes, parental interest, etc, tell me, how do you implement these features into policy? The school board must focus on the schools and the City can assist but that shouldn't stop a City from progressing.. In fact, it can't. All I hear are problems with no answers, just excuses. We need to move forward and beyond the apparent and repeated issues of Allentown. We KNOW the problems, let's implement some practical and cost effective solutions...

Scott Armstrong said...


Thanks for all you do for the city.

JoshLCowen said...

--Alphonso's dismissal of the value of intact families is distressing.
--Trent seem to ridicule 'trickle down economics' yet that is what works. The only three periods of real economic growth came when taxes were lowered for all which created wealth that did, in fact, find it's way down to everybody: Kennedy, Reagan, and GW Bush tax cuts worked. Bush tax cuts stopped in its tracks the sure doom that was predicted in the wake of 9-11. Remember the talk about a generation or more to recover? Yet in no time the economy was humming and unemployment was under 5%...and the concept of 50-somethings never working again wasn't even thought of. Finally, if wealth 'trickled UP' from the poor we would be a rich nation...because we have rarely been poorer....just look at the public assistance numbers.

TRENT HALL said...

Josh, you are completely wrong on your facts.

Reagan virtually bankrupted the country....cutting taxes while increasing military spending created the largest deficits in our history, which underly the deficit today. It was a clear example of the supply side, trickle down voodoo economics that only helps the rich get richer.It also created the greatest concentration of wealth for the 1%, rendering the demise of the middle class. Clinton managed to reverse the trend somewhat, and actually left GW Bush with a surplus, which he quickly squandered with his ill advised Iraq war.....undoubtedly the greatest foreign policy disaster in our history. For while our Vietnam error only managed to wreck havoc on that country, our Iraq adventure has totally destabilized the whole Middle East.
Under Eisenhower we had tremendous growth.....and a tax structure that reached up to 90% on the super rich.
Your supply side Republican heroes in Kansas & Indiana have destroyed those states.....creating tremendous deficits while slashing education, highway construction & healthcare/hospitals. Trickle down has never worked...anywhere. As Napoleon said......"Religion is what keeps the poor from murdering the rich." We must stop the acceleration of all the wealth being concentrated in the very few and instead shore up the middle class. Money in the hands of the middle class creates more business & spending and rises the entire economy.

Iman Trek said...

So where is your story on the first black superintendent of the Allentown School District??? I noticed you and Bernie conveniently neglected to bring that up???