Friday, May 23, 2014

Let them Booze

The Morning Call is reporting that Tunes at Twillight will no longer be BYOB.  This is just puritanical hand wringing.  Is there any proof that alchohal has created dangerous stuations?  If not, let people have their freedom.  Open container policy brings crowds of people to Bethlehem during music fest, Central Park in New York, and along river walk in Savanah, GA.  People love the freedom to have a drink and take a stroll.  Don't restrict that, in fact encourage it.

If liability is the real concern, then sell BYOB wrist bands.  The proceeds of the sale would be to purchase lability insurance.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Good Day for a Win: Rose Garden will not be Bulldozed

The express Times reports that the Bethlehem Rose Garden will not be bulldozed to make room for a temporary parking lot.  Good news for anyone who cares about public space! Also, a special shout out to Cathy Reuscher, the only Bethlehem Council Member with the good common sense to oppose the plan in committee.  Hopefully the administration of all our core cities take notice of what went down in West Bethlehem: we are done making way for cars to destroy our public spaces.

Build More (Densly)

A string of interesting newspaper articles today.  First this from the Morning Call reporting that Whitehall was not able to build a new loft-style apartment complex because of restrictive parking zoning regulations.  Once again, the thing that stops development, the thing that limits an increase in density is some primal obsession with accommodating the automobile.  This has got to end.  Municipalities need to change their mind set to understand that in the 21st century, population groups are going to demand workable cities which means density.  Cars (and policies meant to accomodate cars) are going to have to play second fiddle or not at all.

Then, a second article from the Call reporting that the Valley real estate market is heating up again.  Good!  But instead of doing more farmland conversions, lets think about redeveloping our core cities and changing zoning ordinances to permit greater urban density.  This is the message both from the Lehigh Valley Planning Commission.  The NIZ is doing amazing things for commerical real estate in downtown Allentown, but, the itself does not provide an incentive for residential development.  For the downtown to be a true success, residential developers are going to have to start moving middle class folks downtown to both live and work.

Think that is a pipe dream, not so fast.  The New York Times just had a front page article today indicating that for most people, the economics are now such that it is cheaper to rent than to buy.  The Valley's core cities should double down on this good news and encourage the development of mid-rise and high-rise apartments.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Great Entertainment Lineup Coming to Allentown

I don't think that it would be possible to have a better entertainment line up coming to Allentown this Summer.  First, there are the Eagles.  Enough said.  Number one best selling band of all time.  It was a hell of a get for a mid size city, but it just goes to show how powerful the draw of the new arena is.

What about all the talk that people will be too afraid to come to the downtown with all of its drugs and gangs and what not.  Once again, an utter myth spread by a few haters.  The arena actually had to suspend sales during the American Express advance ticket purchase window because they were going sell out before tickets could be purchased by the general public.  Then, once they did go on sale, they sold out in under two hours.  That's a huge show of support for the downtown.

The next show is Cher.  I'm not a huge fan myself, but over on the WFMZ website there were about 20 comments with people from all walks of life absolutely psyched about the show---and not just that---but about the fact that Cher was coming to their own backyard.  That's what the NIZ is all about, making Allentown vibrant enough that the town is self supporting of everything you need to live.

And, finally, it was just announced that a rodeo is also coming to town.  I think that's great.  The lehigh valley is still, in many ways a rural and agricultural place.  Just like the Great Allentown Fair, the rodeo ties people in the city to the country side.  Its a great throw back.

At this point, it is getting harder and harder for the haters to hate.  Allentown is coming back stronger than ever.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Transportation Tuesday: the Rosegarden and LVCI Doubling Down on Stupidity

A quick note about the concept of Transportation Tuesday.  I think that by any measure, any sane person would admit that the non-car transportation infrastructure in the Lehigh Valley is absolutely attrocious.  Not only that, but virtually nothing has been done to improve that fact.  This while cities all over the U.S. are preparing for a time when the car will no longer be king.  For reasons of consonance, I am picking Tuesday to browbeat public officials about the fact that they ought to be making better transportation choices.

Enough said about the philosophy, lets talk politics.  This week's Transportation Tuesday post considers the news out of West Bethlehem that the city is about to bulldoze under part of the rose garden to make room for a temporary parking lot for a middle school.  Are you fucking kidding me?!  Martin Towers and its massive parking lots are less than a mile from the site that this about to happen.  Why not make the teachers park at Martin Tower and walk in.  Hell, the kids walk further than that to get to school.  Here is my whole article about the situation.  Like it or not bulldozing under the rose garden for a temporary parking lot is the type of trade off you have to make when you run a town where you value the car more importantly than any other mode of transportation.  There can be no clearer and more causal link of cars destroying public space and undermining urban aesthetics than BULLDOZING A ROSE GARDEN to make way for a PARKING LOT.  Dumb.  And this from a city that calls it self the most walkable in the Valley.  Jokes.
Bike Infrastructure in Europe.

And then there is this from the ever assinine LVCI:  Urbanologists without Cars.  In a bit of crack reporting, LVCI runs down all the ways in which it is inconvenient to live in the Valley without a car.  No shit? tell us more!  From this he concludes that we should double down on car infrastructure.  Whoaaa there Spartacus.  Us "urbanologists" want to change the development patterns so that a car is not required.  We want to live in a downtown where there are parks, and vets, and doctors, and all that stuff you mention in walking distance.  That is our promised land.  We don't have that now because people like LVCI thought it would be good to structure the world in such a way that you NEEDED a car to get to essential services.  Good (maybe) if you are wealthy an live in the 'burbs.  Bad if you are poor and in a city and need access to stuff like, I don't know, food.  My grandparents, (probably like LVCI's) lived in Allentown and they got along fine without a car.  This isn't some mythical utopia we are vying for, just a workable city that existed pretty well in Allentown for a long time.

Monday, May 19, 2014

What Social Equality Looks Like to Millenials

A few days ago, someone in the comment section accused this blog (and Job Geeting) of asking big government for a hand out.  That's absurd.  As I replied, this blog (and Jon Geeting's which proceeded it), is largely premised on the fact that government ought to deregulate the housing market by stopping absurd subsidies to wasteful suburbs.  That is exactly what has happened in Allentown.  As I pointed out yesterday, Allentown has created a real estate free market where tax money flows back to developer to be used to finance the construction of new real estate.  That and minimal zoning restrictions has allowed Allentown to amass nearly a BILLION dollars of real estate investment.  Like I said, Allentown should be the wet dream of free market republicans and the libertarians.

What does this have to do with social equality?  Well, a strong case can be made that starting in the 1950s, the federal government and states undertook a conscious effort to segregate minorities in cities from the Lilly white suburbs.  If you read the transcripts of the senate debate about the mortgage interest tax deduction, Southern Democrats actually note that a benefit of the program will be to help middle class white folks escape "animals" in the cities.  Yikes, (bad quote isn't it Bernie? lol).  The fact is that the suburbs received TRILLIONS of dollars of tax subsidy over the years in a process that was meant to segregate a white middle class suburban majority from minorities who were to be left in cities.  Don't believe me, try to remember how the media depicted cities in the 1980s, you know when Philadelphia fire bombed a residential block or the film "Escape from New York."
Oh look, a black guy with a gun and a chain.

Now, I will concede that there were social programs around the edges to try to help populations left in cities.  But, here is the thing, I think most millennials are willing to concede that in many cases, government programs are ineffective.  Social programs are often a band aid over a much, much larger cultural problem.  What was that problem in America---it was racism that led to an incredibly unfair housing policy that sent middle class folks to the suburbs with their money and their cultural institutions.  The cities were left to rot with strongly derided "social programs" providing a modicum of relief.  When these social programs failed, the middle class sneered even harder form their suburban fiefdoms.

How to fix the problem?  Ronnie Reagan maybe got something right, maybe, sometimes government is the problem.  That is why Allentown's free market, zoning-light NIZ district is such a big deal.  For the first time, in a long time, it is encouraging people to come back to the city.  It is only when the middle class returns to Allentown, with their tax money and philosophy of stable civic organizations, that things are going to turn around for everyone in Allentown.

This is not to say that millennials are some sort of uber-generation bent entirely on social equality.  They want cities because cities are cool and interesting places to live.  But, here is the thing, they don't demand a lilly white playground like the suburban white flightiers before them.  And because of that single important fact everyone's ship in a city will rise.  By ignoring race and class, rather than dwelling on it, the millenials will do more for everyone than the previous generations could even dream.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Its Official: One Billion Dollars of Development

Its hard to know where to start on an article like this.  The idea that Allentown, Pennsylvania could have brought in nearly a billion dollars of investment money even five years ago would have been laughable.  The city was on the ropes.  Not anymore.  Now Allentown is the place to be, its the place to go out, and pretty soon it is going to be the place to live.

The first place to start might be to address some of the negative criticisms.  There are a lot of questions about what will happen after the NIZ run outs.  First off, that is a long way down the road.  The NIZ is in place for 30 years and will drive development during that entire time.  Why?  First, you need an explanation of how the NIZ works.  The law is complicated, but essentially this is how it goes:

1.  NIZ taxpayers pay their rent as normal.

2.  That local and state taxes are sequestered at the state level and returned to the ANIZDA board.

3.  ANIZDA uses the money to pay off the construction loans of the new development.

When you zoom out, what the NIZ is really doing is creating a free market, it is saying, if you build within the geographical boundaries of this zone, you can use your own money to finance the construction of your own building---the state will bow out of the market.  That's smart.  That's a free market---that what hardcore Republicans and libertarians have been gunning for for years.  People like J.B. Rilley couldn't compete with all the tax breaks and incentives that had previously been going to the 'burbs, but, because Allentown now has a free market, he (and other developers can compete).

The consequence:  ONE BILLION DOLLARS in investment.  The best part is, there is no way the tax payers are left holding the bag.  Once the NIZ ends, tax revenue is returned to the state---the new real estate development should be totally financed by that point.

Once again, this is a huge win for Allentown.  Haters are gonna hate but they are now in the minority.  My generation, the millennials, want vibrant cities.  For all we care, the strip malls of suburbia and McMansions ought to decay into dust---it would look better anyway.

Great job Allentown.