Friday, March 27, 2015

Allentown- The Gentrification Debate

I came across an interesting read on 'The Brown & White' (Lehigh University's student newspaper).

PPL center sparks debate on gentrification
March 26, 2015: Michael DeCrosta, a sociology graduate student and Bethlehem local, called the efforts a prime example of gentrification, or the act of development to the point of local displacement... ..concerns remain about what the development is doing for Allentown residents."
This whole thing is a damned if you do. Damned if you don't situation. We know as a city Allentown was sliding downhill for a very long time. Then this project comes along and Allentown as a city may end up doing better. But what about the people living there both then and now?

I tend to lean on history as a means to find a better solution. Allentown was once home to dozens and dozens of skilled and unskilled jobs (mostly in the small privately owned businesses) that no longer exist. These jobs once paid enough a family could live on. This is no longer the case. Here in Allentown, along with the rest of the world, things changed a lot since then. The good paying jobs are now with huge companies which have located themselves into huge expansive malls and office/industrial complexes in the suburbs. Robots have replaced tens of thousands of well paying jobs workers once held (skilled and unskilled alike). This is not only true here in Allentown but nearly in every other city throughout the United States. Therein lies the problem in a nutshell.

How Do We fix That?
City government seems to think we can't. So instead is trying to lure the suburban dwellers to the city. This may help the city overall or not but does little to solve the root of the problem for those currently living below economic levels within the city. What we are seeing instead is a trickle down service sector type economy. A few large players have benefited with about a billion dollars in taxpayers' funds while prior entrepreneurs and businesses were not only excluded but pushed aside in the process.

Now just supposing about five of ten million had been set aside for already existing small private businesses & future business owners. What too then if they had a shot at these huge influxes of tax deferred loans?

Smarter planning: Do we need yet another hotel or would the likelihood of a pharmacy downtown succeeding financially be a better choice Do we need another restaurant or would a couple of strategically placed neighborhood bodegas likely work out financially better over the next few years. Should we have spend $30 million on just one new high rise rental building or instead used the money to acquire blighted properties. Turn them around and sell them to more permanent responsible home owners. Should NIZ have targeted a certain amount strictly geared towards a production/manufacturing company.

All the things I mentioned are building from the ground up instead of the other way around. The key here is to encourage small ownership. This would result in those who would have a greater vested interest, minimize our loses if they should fail and provide a possible independent way for people to make a living for themselves. Suppose we had setup a service center instead to help get people started.

Let's take for example a Hispanic mother who'd be interested and do extremely well opening a small daycare for her kids and others;. However she has neither the expertise nor financial resources to jump through the hoops. Had $20,000-$30,000 been set aside to provide her with the help needed to get one started she would not have only benefited the neighborhood, but then find a means to support herself as well

What if another $20,000-$30,000 was set aside to help someone start up a roofing or painting business of their own. The lists goes on and on, but you get the idea. In each and every case the goal is to help people find a way to make a living for themselves if only had 10% of the billion dollars been set aside for such purposes. Instead these same people may very well have to rely on the crumbs handed down to them with these part-time minimum wage service jobs.

Would my plan have worked?
Maybe.. maybe not, but we didn't even give it a try. It's still not too late.

Why not set up a NIZ office specifically for this purpose. Start off with let's say a million dollars and see how it goes. Yeah a million sounds like a whole lot of money but it's only 1% of what's nearly committed to this NIZ project so far.

Gentrification Is Not The Same As Revitalization

As far as I'm concerned a chain is only as strong as it's weakest link. If Allentown and other cities are to move forward they can only do so if they are willing to begin from the ground up. Human nature is to give up trying if they think the deck's stacked against them and no one cares. Either we can continue with the direction we've always taken or try a different path.

As I stated I'm prone to look at history. From what I've observed trickle down economics is like building a structure before the foundation has been laid in which for it to firmly to stand on. What say you?

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