Living Here In Allentown and on Reverse Frontiers

At about 118,000 people, Allentown is the third-largest and fastest-growing city in Pennsylvania.  After long and short falls from its place as a national commercial and industrial leader, Allentown is again a city in transition, with a downtown redevelopment project (heavily subsidized, of course) poised to renew the economic vitality of the urban core.

Allentown is a mid-sized city, and here’s what that means to me:  big enough to be burdened with great responsibilities and blessed with great potential, but small enough that people — and partnerships — can make real differences.  Small enough, then, for me to take the success of my city personally.  Developers may be footing parts of the bill, but at 80 public cents spent for every private dollar, so am I.   So are the working poor, and I continue to demand real opportunities for everyone affected to have a voice in all this change.   Allentown’s size also means there are real opportunities for territorialism, silo-building, Richard-Coreyism, and real opportunities to have a personal stake in the subversion of those things.   Those former things are bad for my city, and I can be given to take that personally. It’s no coincidence that my spiritual tradition holds out a vision for a kind of city where those former things have passed away.

The opportunities in Allentown mean specific things for young Gen Xers and Millennials.

Creative class: we need you.

Come here.  Move here.  Create here.  Advocate here.  A hundred more of you could be the tipping point that creates thriving art and green scenes that you’ll build with the people here who are working hard at connecting around those kinds of issues now.  If developers and politicians assert with their branding and their braggadocio that Allentown is up for grabs, I’ll assert it with them.  And if it’s up for grabs for them, it’s up for grabs for us.  We need you to help us chart the course of Allentown’s civic identity in the 21st Century.  Help us see our iconography anew.  Help us celebrate our history by building a future together.  Join the good work being done here and stake your own claim on this reverse-frontier.

Someone found my blog today by searching the term “Generation X is broken.”  We’re not, and neither is this place.  We are poised to make a difference, to create and lead the change.  Come back from the hinterland and be part of something real.

For reference, Allentown is bigger than fellow mid-sized cities like Springfield, Illinois; Athens, Georgia; Lansing, Michigan; Ann Arbor, Michigan; Green Bay, Wisconsin; Berkley, California; and Burbank, California.  Like most of these cities, Allentown is part of a larger metropolitan area.  And we’re uniquely positioned within reasonable distances from Philadelphia, New York, Baltimore, and DC. We have unique colonial, consumer and creative heritage, an institutional art scene and an emerging network of eager independents.

See you soon.

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2 comments

  1. I believe this is going to be an exciting decade for Allentown and the entire Lehigh Valley area. We have successfully come out of the shadow of Bethlehem Steel into a multi-discipline economy: technology, manufacturing, distribution, etc.

    The area’s biggest needs are a youth movement and infrastructure improvements. Development focused on the ideals of New Urbanism can help make Allentown a desirable location for the 20 – 35 demographic while at the same time alleviating some traffic issues.. Money, leadership, and planning are necessary to transform our transportation network into something that can sustain our growth. Unfortunately, we seem to be lacking in each of these.

    1. Excellent comments, Scott. One of my hopes/issues is that some of the very things we need (leadership, planning) aren’t kept too close to the chest of a few connected people. I’m seeing folks in their late 20s through 40s trying to make headway in these areas, but we need more of them, and the more entrenched powers need to understand how much we need these voices.

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