Jan 13, 2012

The Longest 90 miles

I think that one of the longest 90 miles stretches in United States has to be between New York City and Allentown. Although only two hours away, it's a different world. In Manhattan, a one bedroom apartment rents for $3200, in center city Allentown, $650. In Manhattan there are a million office workers earning in excess of $100,000. In Allentown, they couldn't fill the BrewPub. In Manhattan, it costs $750,000 to buy a small one bedroom condominium. With this frame of mind, many New York investors came to Allentown and purchased apartment buildings. They thought because they were paying less than the price of their Beamer, for each apartment, how could they lose? They gave the tenants self addressed envelopes and told them to send the rent. They learned how they could lose, and many of those buildings are now for sale or empty. This brings to mind an urban minded blogger writing about the Lehigh Valley. He wants all of us to move into center city and take public transportation. He wants the city government to insist on tall buildings and high density. He has the New York City frame of mind. Blogger Jon Geeting is heartened by the current NIZ development. As one developer candidly admitted, it's only possible with your tax dollars. Only when Allentown begins being developed with private money, as in New York City, will it be meaningful.


Capri said...

I'll suggest, alternately, that it requires both private and public investment. You yourself cite the failure of many private investors who have spent $ to buy and in many cases renovate Allentown properties to little individual or collective success. Most people know I am 100% against this stupid arena project in downtown, but I don't think Jon is THAT off base in wishing that investment in center city be of the smart growth variety. I think you'd be hard pressed to find a community that embraced smart growth concepts and later regretted doing so.

Finally, I'll just say that as another young professional whose employment options in the Lehigh Valley are limited to nonexistent, it's sad to see Jon harped on for being a New Yorker. I'm lucky that as a consultant I can be "based" anywhere, but that won't last forever and I face a real possibility of having to leave the LV to further my career despite the fact that my family, friends, husband's career and family, and community involvements are largely here in this area. Jon is from the LV, still spends much time here, and would likely be living here if professional opportunities were more plentiful. Instead of being lambasted for being an out of towner, Jon should be recognized as someone who is connected to and concerned with the future of the area, despite residing elsewhere. I don't think anyone needs to agree with Jon's positions or even his hostile blogging tactics, but I also think that he doesn't deserve to be dismissed as some wacky carpetbagger.

michael molovinsky said...

capri, it was never my intention or thought to imply that jon's opinions matter less because he lives in nyc; to that regard, i changed the text in the post, omitting that reference. my point was that he's applying large city strategy to essentially a large town. nyc has an endless stream of well heeled newcomers waiting with their wallets, for the opportunity to live there. as i said, it's the longest 90 miles.

Monkey Momma said...

The thing is, Jon Geeting is not particularly relevant to Allentown. He does not live here. And, he does not work here. It doesn't matter why - it just is the plain and simple truth that he's about as relevant to Allentown as the Pacific Ocean. Reading and blogging about a place is much different than living and/or working in a place. The point is, Allentown is NOT New York. Not by a long shot. And it never will be! Nor should it be!! Why on earth would we want to apply NYC ideals to a town that bears little to no resemblance to NYC?

The key to improving ANYTHING is to first confront the reality of a situation. I am convinced that the folks running this city have yet to do this critical step.

Anonymous said...

MM -

The longest 90 miles? Let me give you the longest 8 miles - the drive from Allentown to Bethlehem.

For many years, Bethlehem has recognized the uniqueness of its urban architecture as something that cannot be replicated in the suburbs. They have sought to preserve the physical - and even emotional - links with their past, including industrial areas.

In Allentown, our leaders tear down historic architecture for whatever the suggestion du jour is. Those who wish to build on our past and preserve some of what is left are branded as naysayers. Our leaders wonder why their plans continue to fail, yet residents re-elect those who promote whatever new scheme is brought forth by their political party's leadership.

While Allentown's leaders are always willing to use our money to get more suggestions from consultants, they never seem to take that 8 mile drive to see something actually works.

Anonymous said...


Clearly John needs to live a little. You do a disservice to judgement if you take his sort of uninformed intellect seriously.

Scott Armstrong

Anonymous said...

The definition of "smart growth" is simple: growth as seen through the idealistic eyes of leftwingers who know what's best for the masses. They want to pack ex-urb cities like Allentown with tall buildings filled with 'their' tenants; but 'they' want to live in our suburbs while they commute to their New York City offices on 'high speed' trains paid for with YOUR money.

John.Jay said...

I wanted to publicly say that Jon is not alone out there. I am also interested in the possibility of a denser urban environment and using public transportation / walking / biking to get around the downtown. Like it was in the city's glory days with the street cars!

My blog addresses issues or urbanism and optimism from a slightly different perspective than what john is doing, but we both want the same thing:


Thanks also to Mr. Molovinsky for facilitating reasonable debate on this page. This conversation about the downtown is what Allentown needs!

michael molovinsky said...

john, glad to host your comment and i visited your site, very nice. i would like to take this opportunity to remind readers that websites will not appear as links, unless you insert the html code in your comment.
John Jay's Blog

Anonymous said...

Not hard to imagine Allentown's current leadership and their idea to transform Bethlehem, had they the opportunity.

1- Bulldoze both sides of Church Street, from New to Main.

2- Bulldoze both sides of Main from Church to Broad.

3- Build an arena.

Thank goodness they were no where around Bethlehem when the decisions needed to be made.


Anonymous said...

Anonymous said...
MM -

"The longest 90 miles? Let me give you the longest 8 miles - the drive from Allentown to Bethlehem."

If someone was to ask my opinion, I'd say that the difference between Allentown's direction and Bethlehem's result is the mayor. The man in the mayor's chair in Bethlehem when this same issue was brought forth (1974- 1980) was mostly Gordon Mowrer, who I do not believe gets the credit that he deserves for recognizing a bad idea, and using his influence to go in another direction. Hindsight is 20-20, but had someone like Ed Pawlawsky been in office during the seventies, Bethlehem's downtown might look radically different than at present. The uniqueness factor is a really good point; I always like to point out that "life-style" place near Center Valley. What they (designers) did was replicate downtown Bethlehem, or maybe even Allentown as it once was, in a corn field. Convenient parking, quaint street layouts, small-scale buildings, with architecture harkening back to the glory years of urban style, the 1890 - 1930 period. Notice that, even though they could have adopted any style architecture they wanted, they did not opt for anything futuristic, oversized or grandious. Bethlehem's choice, to build on what makes it unique as opposed to leveling the downtown and turning it into something like every other city was obviously the correct one for Bethlehem.

Allentown is rolling the dice, in the attempt to tear down and rebuild. Then again, things appear so bad in the downtown, many seem to have adopted the theory "anything has to be an improvement."