Allentown Holding Public Meetings on Arena Plan

From The Morning Call:

Allentown to hold three public meetings on arena project,
Question-and-answer sessions with planners are set for Nov. 29, 30 and Dec. 1.

November 12, 2011|By Devon Lash and Matt Assad, Of The Morning Call

After months during which Allentown Mayor Ed Pawlowski and city officials have been criticized for planning perhaps the largest public project in the city’s history behind closed doors, the city has announced three open houses, beginning at the end of the month.

English: The AHL Philadelphia Phantoms during ...
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The format is purposely intimate. Rather than a pulse-less PowerPoint presentation during a public meeting attended by hundreds of people, aspects of the arena project will be divided into stations, where people can question arena planners face to face.

Read the rest here.  A few people made their way to The Daily Cocca today searching for info on these meetings. Sorry I didn’t have it up sooner (and thanks to my Dad for the tip).

Hell Freezes Over:’s PA Sweatshop Workers Endured Extreme Cold During Late Night Evacuations
Image by soumit via Flickr

Thank you, Spencer Soper, for staying on Amazon.  An excerpt from yet another Amazon expose filed by Soper at The Morning Call:

On Nov. 27, someone activated the fire alarm in the Amazon warehouse at 3:26 a.m., forcing an evacuation, according to court documents. Amazon maintains the evacuation lasted approximately one hour and 45 minutes. The fire department responded and no fire was discovered.

As is routine in most emergency evacuations, workers were not permitted to get their coats when alarms sounded unless they happened to have them within reach. Many warehouse workers don’t have a regular work station and store their coats in a break room, so they had to leave in what they were wearing. Because of the physical nature of their jobs and warm temperatures in the warehouse, many employees wear only T-shirts and jeans or shorts while working, several employees said.

Multiple warehouse workers suffered injuries as a result of cold exposure that night and were taken to a nearby hospital for treatment, according to Amazon’s account filed in response to Grady’s lawsuit. Those employees returned to work the next day, Amazon said in court records.

A warehouse worker complained to OSHA about workers being exposed to cold during a fire alarm evacuation that night, according to an OSHA file of the incident.

“There were people passing out, having asthma attacks and I do believe a man had a seizure,” said the worker, whose name was redacted in OSHA records.

The same worker and a second one complained about another fire alarm evacuation Dec. 4 that lasted roughly two hours.

“There were pregnant women, men and women in T-shirts and shorts, some with sleeveless shirts and shorts,” one complaint states. “People were passing out and feeling ill left and right. … I am absolutely disgusted with this company’s practices and I do believe OSHA should visit this building and give them some sort of coaching on how to better handle the situation before there are more people suffering from hypothermia.”

I’ve been boycotting Amazon since Soper’s first investigation in September.  I tend to believe workers claiming injury at the hands of giant, careless corporations.  I tend to believe that bureaus like OSHA are well-intentioned and ineffectual.  As a progressive, I tend to distrust the intentions of big business and the deliverability of meaningful correctives by many well-meaning (and many ass-covering) agents of our government.  I have some progressive friends who need to believe at an ontological level that if OSHA doesn’t find anything at Amazon, everything must be fine.  I get all the reasons for that. I get why so many progressives still find it hard to admit Big Labor’s own part in undoing the early advances of the unions.  But being politically honest and being truly progressive means moving past that and realizing the degree to which the agencies we’ve authorized to protect us from unchecked greed have failed in profound and simple ways.

Amazon, you can bet that this story isn’t over.  Plaudits, loud, loud plaudits to you, Spencer Soper, for staying on this.

Does SteelStacks Have Its Head in the Sands?

Bethlehem Steel
Image by Marty.FM via Flickr

Yes. Yes it does.

The skinny:

Once upon a time, Bethlehem Steel built something called America.  It also won some wars. Later, Bethlehem Steel went bankrupt and a lot of people got screwed. Around here, this is no footnote to the decline of American industry.  This is the whole sordid tale writ large in the Steel’s iconic blast furnaces, now owned by Las Vegas Sands, who also owns and operates Bethlehem’s Sands Casino on the former Bethlehem Steel grounds.

The blast furnaces are one of the biggest unprotected pieces of American history I can think of.  The feds don’t own them, nor does the Commonwealth nor some historical society or the city itself.  They’re owned by the casino corporation and not the people.  As such, they’ve been a big bargaining chip for the Sands.

We’ll give you access to your precious furnaces.


If what, exactly?

The usual.  You’ll see. 

Being the very picture of corporate beneficence, the Sands sold land to the Bethlehem Redevelopment Authority (that’s another way of saying “the people,” or “the public,” isn’t it?) for $1 so the city could develop its plans for an arts and cultural center.  That arts and cultural center, SteelStacks, continues to come to fruition.

But here’s the catch, reported by the Allentown Morning Call: Under the terms of the $1 sale, public fomenting of anything disagreeable to the casino is not permitted, including, say, labor rallies and public debate about the efficacy of casinos as economic incubators (or dire social externalities).  From the Morning Call piece:

In the 15-page deed signed last week, the Redevelopment Authority agreed that labor unions can’t organize on the property. There also can’t be activities that would promote “a theme” that a “reasonable casino operator” would consider “offensive.”

Similar restrictions were written into the deals with nonprofits ArtsQuest and PBS39 for their properties at SteelStacks.

According to the Call, PBS39 (the P stands for “public”) has said their deal will not interfere with  programming and editorial choices.  That sounds like shorthand for “we’ve got an army of lawyers and a ton of cash you don’t know about,” which, of course, they don’t.  I wonder who at the Sands has the job of monitoring 39’s broadcasts?  Do they get nervous when Bruce Springsteen concerts from the 70’s run in the wee hours of the night during pledge campaigns?

As the Call points out, any talk of unionizing the Sands workers is prohibited on SteelStacks grounds by the terms of the casino’s “generous donation.”   My, how history repeats.  Just over a hundred years ago, labor toiled under management with similar attitudes and political muscle on this very spot.  This isn’t ironic, friends.  It’s Orwellian.

I should point out that many people blame part of the Steel’s downfall on the eventual excesses of power-hungry union heads. This narrative has been applied across all sectors of American industry and with reason. But it’s also the case that before the unions came, the hands that built America had no protection, no voice, and no organizing strength. The same is true for the casino’s workforce on these grounds even now.  And if you’re inclined to believe, as the numbers show, that casinos in low-income areas like South Bethlehem do more economic harm than good to people on the margins, this is all the more egregious.

Give us your tired and your poor so we can bilk them.  

Give us your jobless so we can bilk them, too.  

Give us your free-speech so we don’t scrap your history.

In the freest country in the world, what kind of choice is that?

In Allentown, Sustainabilty Can Be the New Cement, the New Silk, the New Steel. It Can Even Be the New Hess’s.

Totally a salamander.

If you were into civics as a kid, “gerrymandering” is one of the words you learned in 10th grade and still remember. You probably even remember the practice’s namesake, Elbridge Gerry, and that he endorsed the creation of oddly-shaped voting districts that favored his political party in the early days of the Republic.  The practice produced a cartographic chimera of sorts, the so-called Gerry-mander, and the practical side American political science began in earnest.  For all the time they must have spent outside, you’d think that early 19-century Americans would have known that salamanders don’t have wings but do have arms.

Today, I came across a map of Allentown that Damien Brown edited to show the city’s different sections (East Side, Center City, Downtown, South Side/South Allentown, and West End):

Now, if you live in Allentown, you know that a small pocket of South Whitehall Township (those white polygons) cuts into the West End on the east side of Cedar Crest Boulevard from Washington Street to Parkway.  A closer look:

What’s the story here? What political machinations are afoot??? Just the long-term visioneering of Allentown industrialist Gen. Harry C. Trexler, patron of the Allentown Parks System, the Golf Course, the Trexler Nature Preserve and lots of other things we take granted.  The space that is now Trexler Park was, before his death, a family summer estate in South Whitehall Township.  This land and the land immediately around it (including the Golf Course) only became part of the city because of Trexler’s work and generosity.

Longtime Lehigh Valley residents know most of this already. What I didn’t know: Trexler is probably also responsible for preserving the Lehigh Valley’s home-rule culture.  His mistrust of Philadelphian power (antagonistic as it was to the Lehigh Valley’s Pennsylvania Germans) led him to champion the development of a regionally-based economy.  It makes me stop and think: even as we recall Allentown’s decline from unique, mid-sized, industrial and commercial base of economic power to a city searching for a new identity and a sustainable economy of the future, if not for Trexler, the plus side of the Lehigh Valley’s history might not have happened at all.

In pioneers like Trexler and, later, the Rodale family, the Lehigh Valley has fine models for conservation and sustainable business.  Even though the national economy is groaning, it is also greening.  100 years ago, Trexler and others converted a vacant, run-down city lot into what we know today as West Park.  Leaders from all aspects of Allentown’s public life need to keep taking these cues and continue embracing the opportunities financial trouble brings.  If we need to build, we must (and can) build sustainably.  If we need to tear down, we can do it beautifully. I imagine a city that is increasingly walkable in all quarters, and one where junked lots and vacant parking lots become a patchwork of parks and public spaces.

No one knows how long the current economic crisis will continue.  What we do know is this:  the days of retail excess are over, and rising generations want walkable, bikable, beautiful urban spaces in which to live and work and spend.  We want sustainable, hyper-local options, we want good news for the city and we want to be part of that transition.

On a long enough timeline, chronically closed spaces will green themselves, but cities across the country are starting from scratch with new sustainable ethics and visions. Thankfully, we don’t have to start from square one.  If stakeholders are committed, our region, led by our cities, can be a national example of the new economy even it was once a beacon of the old.  And unlike silk or steel or cement or retail, sustainability is a business for all times and all seasons.

It’s Still Too Soon for the Ironic Use of “Not” on the Front Page of a(ny) Newspaper

When I was in college, I believed my life’s work to consist of two major projects: 1) fundamentally questioning the epistemological prejudices of the 17th-century philosphes (pompous jerks) and 2) bringing back the ’80s.  By the time I graduated, I’d seen the US beat Russia in hockey and Hulk Hogan regain the WWF championship. Goal #2 totally nailed. Goal #1 turns out to be a longer deal.

Almost ten years later, the ’90s revival is in full swing like clockwork.  I like to think I play a part in this, however small (watching The Fresh Prince on TVLand totally counts).  I know I can be a bit of a nostalgia snob, but without nostalgia snobbery, how will the world know it’s not too soon to dust off Hypercolor?  That was a trick question, friends.  It’s never too soon for Hypercolor.  See what I mean?

It is too soon, Morning Call, for this:

Don’t get me wrong, I like the idea behind the headline.  There’s definitely a MySpace joke in the mix here somewhere.  Can you come up with a better headline sticking to these central elements: nostalgia for 2005, MySpace’s current woes, nostalgia for 1991, and something funny about a municipality throwing away everybody’s snow chairs?  Do so in the comments.  Hint from a nostalgia snob: the (NOT) construction is very, very tricky.  As the root of everything snarky and ironically detached about our society, can it ever actually be satirized?  Herein lies the problem with this headline.  It’s much too late to use (NOT) in a sort of topical way, but as the original of the ironic species, (NOT) also seems somehow immune to further satirization. I’d say it’s the Chuck Norris beard of snarky catchphrases, but not even a roundhouse kick from the Chuck Norris of snark (Jay and Eric, I want you to wrestle for that title) can touch it its lovely whiskers.  (NOT) is an untouchable, the great Source Wall of everything we wink about.  You leave MC Hammer out of this.