UGI Responds, I’m Unimpressed!/UGI_Utilities/status/155286257566617600

My response?!/ccocca/status/155364704930377728

Seriously.  You spent $40 million on infrastructure last year?  You want a cookie?  How much of that was spent in Allentown?  Five city residents died last year because you’re not moving fast enough or spending enough money.

How does that $40 million compare to the dividends you’re paying out? Let’s tweet about that.

How Much Will UGI Update Allentown’s Infrastructure Before This Happens Again?

There was another gas explosion in Allentown today.  Thankfully, no one was killed.  The fact that the explosion happened while the cast iron pipe was in the process of being replaced doesn’t make me feel any better.  How long until all remaining 100-year-old cast iron pipes in the natural gas infrastructure are replaced by UGI?  It hasn’t even been a week since this post about the sinkhole on 1oth Street and the degraded infrastructure below our residential neighborhoods.

The related articles below are recent looks at UGI’s financial health.  I have an idea for the powers that be:  take some of those extraordinary dividends and use them to fix the effing pipes.

New Sinkhole the Latest Plea from Allentown’s Degraded Infrastructure

Read the story here.

Some important highlights as they relate to the health of our community. Emphases added:

The 6-inch cast-iron water main is 107 years old, said Rick Dougherty, the city’s chief supervisor of water distribution.

“We’ve replaced a lot of the mains in the area over the years,” Dougherty said.

Allentown is fighting aging infrastructure throughout the city, as cast-iron pipelines and water mains from the turn of the century begin to degrade. A 12-inch cast-iron gas distribution line dating to 1928 is the prime suspect in the Feb. 9 explosion that killed five people and leveled half a city block in Allentown.

And although some gas and water pipes are replaced every year, it’s a daunting and costly task — with one gas pipeline safety group estimating the expense at $1 million for each mile.


I think most city residents rightly suspect that the gas and water lines beneath us need to be replaced. $1 million a mile? Fine. The new arena, which I support with a few reservations, will cost $159 million. UGI has something like 79 miles of gas line under the city, the degradation of which was a known issue 20 years ago. Yes, the cost of upgrades will be passed on to consumers without some kind of other chunk of money (ours anyway) earmarked to offset it.  How many miles of water piping need to be replaced?  Whatever it is, let’s do it.

It’s a good thing we’re in line for a hefty Community Development Block Grant.  Ooops.

In the meantime, the new sinkhole, which formed over the last 36 hours or so, is becoming national news:

Cities and Prices (and Hockey), continued.

Friend of the blog Jon Geeting shared my Free Market post from yesterday with some good insights and responses at his blog today.  This is the kind of online discourse I really enjoy: people of good-will engaging each other respectfully across platforms. I encourage you to take part in the conversation at Jon’s blog, but I do want to share a small excerpt from my own response:

It’s fine by me that Rite Aid provides cheaper goods and medicines to Center City residents, and God bless them for it. But on the ground in Allentown, based on conversations I had downtown over the weekend, some civic leaders really are worried that it’s going to be hard to lure and place that kind of store in the near future. They’re not worried the same way about replacing the dollar store (which is also needed). Another question: why isn’t Rite Aid simply moving across the street or up or down a block? Why isn’t the efficiency of the market making it compelling for Rite Aid to stay in the city? And if Rite Aid won’t stay, why should we be confident that Walgreens will come? If the market worked exactly the way we wanted, there’d be no such thing as food deserts, or, in this case, prescription deserts, right?

For me, the immediate issue is also framed by the experiences some folks had at the three “arena open houses” last week.  For months, people have been complaining about the lack of transparency that seems to be guiding the hockey arena project.  Last week, open houses were held in which various stations were set up and the public could talk with city officials, developers, and the owners of the former Philadelphia Phantoms.  One of the problems with this format, well-intended as it might have been, was that there was no chance for real public discussion.  If I’m being cynical, I might suggest a sort of divide and conquer strategy at work.  In any case, the Rite Aid concern came to me from downtown religious and civic leaders following these open houses, and they are worried.  So am I.  I’m not at a point where I feel confident that the market, as such, won’t create a healthcare desert in Center City.

Thank you, Jon, for picking up this discussion!

The Free Market Works Best When (Or Hockey, Rite Aid, Thai Proverbs and Doubting Government and Business)

I’ve been thinking a lot about the free market lately.  In part, I’m wondering why Center City Allentown has one good drug store (Rite Aid), and why that one good drugstore is being displaced by the coming AHL hockey arena (I generally support the arena project), and what that drugstore is going to put up its next shingle in the suburbs, and where that leaves Center City residents no longer able to walk or take reasonable transit routes to a drugstore of any kind, and what all of that says about the degree to which markets are efficient at providing basic needs.

One might argue that the arena project would not be happening without governmental canoodling and the creation of a special tax district downtown.  Sure.  But that doesn’t explain why there’s only one viable option for prescription drugs within a reasonable distance for residents who either walk wherever they’re going (we all say we want walkable cities!) or take transit (we all say we want more people riding buses).  Some arguments will come and go from the fiscally arch-conservative side: the people downtown are poor because the government’s meddling keeps them poor.  If it weren’t for government, those people would have better jobs, cars, nicer places to live, better healthcare options and so on.

And yet, at a time when rental prices and retail space downtown are likely to be at their lowest points ever (so much vacant space, but lo, an arena project looms), I don’t see a whole hell of a lot of savvy business types flocking into even the nicest, newest spaces the city has to offer.  If ever there was a time to come in from suburbs to set up shop, surely it is now.  And yet. Indeed, the coaxing of various businesses with tax breaks and economically favorable statuses is a tweaking of the supposedly pure state of equilibrium the market is thought able to deliver.  We’re in an economic mess, say some, because of government meddling.  In the process of wars on poverty and building great societies, lots of people got screwed.  These are not of themselves outlandish hypotheses. But when some fiscal conservatives take the next step to say that government has no real, legitimate role in trying to fix the mess it has created, I get confused, Columbo style.

Government makes mess.  Government perpetuates mess. Government never should have made this mess in the first place, so now government has no role in trying to fix it.

That doesn’t sound right, does it?  The real kicker: let business do what business wants and business will save everyone.

I’m not anti-business by a long shot, but I am very anti-dogma.  Enron was a business.  All those big banks that helped bring us to the brink of ruin were businesses.  Wall Street is a business.  Yes, Congress is a business. Like government, business can do harm and business can do good.  Like government, business can be generative.  Like government, business does not deserve our total, utter, faith and trust.

Here’s when the market really can cure all that ails you:

  • Perfect information is universally available, obtained, and understood on all sides of every transaction and hypothetical transaction.
  • Every consumer or investment choice is made by perfectly rational beings with the same exact meta-goals.

So, in other words…yeah.  Sounds good on paper.

Unfettered beliefs in the efficiency and tangential goodness of markets or government aren’t tenable forever.  At the local level, we long to believe that a rising tide will lift all boats, and, to a degree, I think it will.  But I also read a Thai proverb today that gave me pause:

At high tide, the big fish eat the ants.  At low tide, ants eat the fish.

I’m not calling anyone an ant.  But isn’t this idea basically the fear behind the fear the well-horned have of the Occupy movement?  And isn’t it the fear most people caught somewhere in the disappearing middle have in general, that when push finally comes to shove, when things get REALLY bad, it won’t be push and shove but blocks on fire, looting, violence, chaos?

Even if high tides lift all boats, low tides come regardless. Will we trust the government, the market, or will we invest now in each other, in communities, in partnerships, in new ways of being neighbors?

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).

How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Phantoms

The future home of your Allentown Phantoms.

The Daily Cocca is proud to welcome Eric Sylvester back to our guest-blogger chair.  Because all signs point to a proposed minor league hockey arena in downtown Allentown becoming the new home of the former Philadelphia Phantoms, I asked for Eric’s take on the team.  Eric’s my go-to hockey guy, and with good reason.

Eric asked if he could write a piece about the 2004-2005 season, a time when big league hockey was locked out and a talented, neglected AHL team took the professional sport, and its near-professional fans across the country, on a wild, redemptive ride.  Why is any of this important to me or to Allentown hockey in 2013?  On a personal level, Eric’s a peach and I wanted him to a little bit about his beloved fandom.  (He really did meet his girlfriend on WordPress, by the way, so you are beholding the power of blogging on two levels, here).  But I’m also interested in the way sports narratives can galvanize communities.  We’ve heard so much in the past few weeks about the kind of identify formation that happens at places like Penn State, but Eric was isolated hockey fan in Iowa who connected to a minor league team in South Philly.  I don’t mean to overplay the sports-as-life narrative, because we’ve seen how devastating that can be.  But in the right times and right conditions, fandom can bring communities together in positive ways, even across state lines and team loyalties.

Eric, thanks for the piece.


How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Phantoms
by Eric Sylvester, Special (Like a Pretenders song) to The Daily Cocca

One of the best things about blogging is getting to hear the stories of a multitude of different types of people.  I’ve made friends in the hockey community, the political ring, and some genuinely hilarious people through blogging.  I even met my girlfriend, Emily, via this blog (that’s two shameless plugs for your blog already, babe).  Editor’s Note: she smiled and DIDN’T hit me.  I’m surprised, too.  Editor’s Note #2: Upon reading this, she called me a “jerk” and hit me.  THAT’S the Emily I know.

Chris Cocca is one of these great people I’ve had the pleasure of befriending since I started the blog.  It’s always awesome when we get a chance to randomly talk, primarily because we share many of the same weird interests.  From our mutual love for comics to our shared affinity for vintage baseball facial hair, we tend to have some interesting conversations.

I guest-posted last year during the NHL Playoffs for Cocca and have an undying love for hockey.  So, naturally, when he started talking about the possibility of the Philadelphia Adirondack Phanotms AHL hockey team moving to Allentown (Chris’ hometown), I had a story to tell.

You see, the (then) Philadelphia Phantoms were the story of the 2005 hockey world.  Why?  Because the 2004-2005 NHL season was lost to a lockout.  As the only hockey fan in my small hometown in Iowa, I was mercilessly teased by my friends.  They knew how much hockey meant to me and reveled in the fact that they got to watch their beloved NBA while I was deprived of my favorite thing in the world.  I look forward to hockey season more than Christmas, and that year Christmas wasn’t going to come.

But there was hockey in 2004-2005, just not the hockey I was used to following.  The American Hockey League, America’s highest level of minor league hockey, would still play their season.  With minor league hockey as my only option, I thought  I was going to be subjected to a subpar league for a full season.  Still, I said, bad puck is better than no puck at all.   Mediocre players playing mediocre  hockey in empty arenas is still hockey.  I soldiered on and said my prayers to the hockey gods every night, begging for the return of the NHL.

I kept tabs on the affiliate of my Colorado Avalanche, the Hershey Bears, who never seemed destined for a playoff berth (they missed a postseason spot by ten points).  My Colorado Avalanche didn’t exist and their affiliate franchise was done for the season .  The most depressing year of my fifteen-year life lingered on.  Even though there would be no proxy-Avalanche to lift my spirits in the playoffs, something else happened; something I wasn’t expecting.

I fell in love with the Philadelphia Phantoms.  This wasn’t some throw-away hockey team playing in the minors.  They had some SERIOUS firepower, and featured a bevy of future NHL superstars.  Led by goaltender Antero Niittymaki (now with the San Jose Sharks), the Phantoms featured future NHL All-Star Jeff Carter, eventual Flyers’ captain Mike Richards, and future Stanley Cup winners Patrick Sharp and Ben Eager.  The Phantoms grinded their way to the Calder Cup Finals with a style of play reminiscent of their big-brother Philadelphia Flyers of the mid 70’s: tight checking, strong defense, phenomenal goaltending, and (most of all) local fan support.  When the Phantoms completed the surprising four game sweep of the Chicago Wolves to win the Calder Cup, 20,103 fans filled the Wachovia Center to witness the glory.

Yes, the Wachovia Center.  The home of the Philadelphia Flyers.  While my friends were busy mocking me for watching a league that “nobody” cared about, the Philadelphia Phantoms sold out an NHL arena.

Before the AHL playoffs, my frustration with a league that was shut down by greed (and at hockey-ignorant friends for taking so much pleasure in my misery) was hard.  But I realized I wasn’t alone.  The Phantoms became my retreat from a rural Iowa community that will never understand the connection hockey fans feel with each other, that hockey is as much of a culture as it is a sport.  There’s a communal imperative, a bond among hockey fans that’s unique in sports.  No matter who our teams are, we actively seek out each other’s company.  As die-hard acolytes of a sport less mainstream, these days, than NASCAR or golf, we’re a rare breed in fandom.  As much as we love the game, and we LOVE it, it’s simply one aspect of being a fan.

The Phantoms celebrating their Calder Cup championship in front of a sold out crowd.

Deprived of an NHL to relate to, the lockout season started as especially difficult time in my life.  While I was the only hockey fan in my school, I still could talk a little hockey with some of my sports-loving friends.  One might catch the occasional game on ESPN (or at least see a highlight), and might seek me out with questions or for my brand of expert analysis. Hockey was, and is, so much a part of who I am that my classmates would rush to talk to me on a Monday simply because they had attended their first hockey game over the weekend.  When the NHL season was lost I thought I’d  lost my identity.  I was no longer “the hockey guy”; I was the “guy who lost hockey.”  As an angst-y fifteen-year-old, this was incredibly hard. And but for the Philadephia Adironack Allentown Phantoms, it would have stayed so.

In a year filled with pain and suffering for hockey fans across the world, I joined Philadelphia in embracing the Phantoms.  I identified with them.  The Philadelphia Phantoms were the minor league team in a city with an NHL team.  The little brother.  Mostly forgotten.  They were the angst-y kid overlooked by the cute girls.  Then, with the lockout, everyone knew me as the person most directly effected by the loss of a season and of a sport no one else cared much about  in the small radius of our high school and town.  In a strange way, the lockout didn’t take my identity at all; it bolstered my connection with something I thought I alone understood, and my reputation as someone with something at stake.  That’s powerful esoteric sauce for kids figuring out who they are.  (See: Cocca, Christopher; his love of Oasis).  At the same time my identity formation was rising, the Phantoms went from Philadelphia’s forgotten team to the biggest story in hockey; among my friends and peers, I was the biggest story in hockey.   The Phantoms were the greatest hockey team in the world, and I was the world’s biggest fan.




The Daily Cocca is happy to report that Eric is a well-adjusted college student preparing to lead our children into the 21st century as a teacher and weekly screener of Happy Gilmore.   When the Phantoms come the Allentown, the local support Eric talked about will be crucial.  So many of us have been rooting (and working) for downtown revitalization for so long, rooting for the Phantoms will require no adjustment.  To the doubters or people less connected with the history of the city, we’ll need your help, too.  Great things are already happening downtown.  This could be a rallying and tipping point that helps foster a new stage of smart growth.