When A Little City Is Hurting, What Can Be Done?

10 Mar

Large cities and their troubles get the ink in these hard times.  New York City has seen the most attention, with downtown Manhattan perhaps starting the ball rolling.  Literally billions of dollars flowed into that area, designed to help banks and the financial sector as a whole. The economic stimulus package was designed to get projects, and money, started in communities all over the nation, but larger cities definitely have the ability to bring light to their causes and needs. Who brings up for those small cities in despair?

Reading, Pennsylvania, all of 10 square miles and 88,000 people, sits one hour north-west of Philadelphia.  A rich history lies within Pretzel City’s borders, one of factories and hard-working immigrants who generation after generation have longed to build better lives for their families. It’s also in staggering trouble, with 12.3% of the population now unemployed.  They’re looking for jobs, but those jobs just aren’t there.  Macroeconomic change away from manufacturing has decimated the city, and region, over the years, and the service sector which popped up in its place halted due to the recent economic troubles.

Why should we care?  The and aspirations of one little city of 88,000 people doesn’t matter much to the commonwealth or country, now does it?  Well little cities all over the nation are experiencing similar hardships, and that impacts everyone. Even those who’ve attempted to insulate themselves by moving away or never daring to enter have realized that their fellow brethren who sit at home without work are part of a greater community of people, dependent upon one another. State budgets, including Pennsylvania’s, have felt the strain of less people paying taxes. People then turn to their local communities, churches, and the government when they find their own budgets hurting.  This puts even more of a burden on all, and the cycle continues.

A city in crisis, what’s to do?  Who knows?  A large development project called RiverView was proposed about a year ago by the sketchy Giannasca Development Group LLC, set to encompass thirty-two acres along the Schuylkill River. It’s a mixed-use development set to take over a largely industrial area, but has been held up and has slowly shrunk due to what’s happened to the nation’s financial standing at large over the past year. Still, there is hope for it to succeed, provided it balances the current needs of the city with the needs for this 20th century city to officially move into the 21st.

Other smaller projects slowly proceed, such as a convention center hotel, a middle-class apartment building, and some townhomes.  However, much much more is needed and it’s a complete overhaul of the development of Berks County. One silver-lining to the downturn in the housing economy has been the slowing pace of the sprawl reaching across Montgomery, Chester and Berks counties.   When the economy turns around,a  master plan must be in place to curb sprawl, funnel projects towards city and borough centers, and provide more mass transport opportunities.  It’s long-term, it’s not fun, but it’s necessary. This coupled with a renewed interest in urban education would do wonders to transform to region to the north of Philadelphia.  Hopefully this can be coupled with a renewed spirit to rebuild our cities nationwide. The creation by the White House of the position of Director of Urban Affairs was definitely a step in the right direction.

In the end, people are caught in a vicious cycle. Unemployment begats personal cutbacks in spending, less spending creates less need for worker’s services, and then more workers lose jobs.  This cycle can be stopped.  It’ll take a concerted effort by government and people, but it can be done. What will you do?

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