By Howard J. Grossman, AICP
A book has been written by an author who many years ago visited this region, especially Wilkes-Barre, and presented fresh ideas about the urban community. Richard Florida wrote in 2002, “The Rise of the Creative Class,” and most recently a 310-page book titled “The New Urban Crisis” which spells out the dilemma facing many cities in this nation, but also looks at global cities. He points out the seven pillars of urbanism that should be considered to move cities forward, much of which should be studied in this region. The seven pillars include the following:
• Reform zoning and building codes, as well as tax policies, to ensure that the clustering force works to the benefit of all.
• Invest in the infrastructure needed to spur density and clustering and limit costly and inefficient sprawl.
• Build more affordable rental housing in central locations.
• Expand the middle class by turning low-wage service jobs into family-supporting work.
• Tackle concentrated poverty head-on by investing in people and places.
• Engage in a global effort to build stronger, more prosperous cities in rapidly urbanizing parts of the emerging world.
• Empower communities and enable local leaders to strengthen their own economies and cope with the challenges of the New Urban Crisis.
These pillars, for the most part, deal with issues that face the urban side of the Pocono-Northeast and deserve to be evaluated in depth throughout the region, irrespective of the size of many of the region’s communities. He points to the need to consider the use of land and that, in 2016, the President’s Council of Economic Advisors highlighted the deleterious consequences of land-use restrictions on the U.S. economy.
The book suggests that “less-advantaged working and service classes are falling further behind, unable to keep pace with rising housing costs.” Florida suggests that this trend is affecting the 350-plus metro areas in the United States. Therefore, much more attention should be placed upon this region’s metro area so that actions can be undertaken which can drive a regional future that will be truly competitive economically both domestically and globally. This region depends greatly on what results from our relationship to New York and New Jersey. Wall Street West, which had an active role in this region several years ago, does not seem to be a steady influence in today’s view of the regional economy. There is a need to reconsider ways to once again generate interest in this approach as a measure to bring attention to satellite facilities that can focus on the means to facilitate regional growth over the next few years. Does the region offer opportunities for the Generation Xers who can stay or move to urban areas, and Florida believes that this group of young people and families are headed back to cities. Whether this is true in this region awaits appropriate studies to determine a trend line.
Florida suggests that nationally, since the recession of 2008, the top 1 percent has captured a staggering 85 percent of all income growth. He reviews this process, noting that, as of 2013, the 1 percent was making roughly 25 times the average income of the remaining 99 percent nationwide. Inequality is a basic and fundamental problem, especially in what he describes as super cities, but also impacts this region, when our proximity to the major metros — New York, New Jersey and Philadelphia — is taken into account. There is a need to analyze regional data to think through how economic changes can occur in coming years in a more positive vein than perhaps has occurred in the recent past. Although the regional economy has shifted in a 40-to-50-year span to become much more diversified, the issues noted in the Florida book should be defined and utilized to help generate community values that can help improve the urban life of this region over the next few years. Urban, according to what is found in the book, suggests that suburban life has seen a decline in shopping malls, some loss of suburban factories, and other trends. Nevertheless, this national view may not be as poorly stated for the Pocono-Northeast as it is elsewhere, Caution, however, says that the region needs to become more urban and suburban conscious so that what is happening elsewhere does not represent a regional trend here. If cities and urbanization are a key, then what occurred that was called the Medillin Declaration in Columbia in 2014, perhaps should occur in this region in a domestic sense, bringing together 20,000 urbanists, city leaders and planners from 160 countries. Think of what that would mean to the economy of this region. Global trends would be evaluated and discussed as well as the domestic status of urbanization. It should be noted that in the recent presidential election, little mention of cities was noted, and this is an important message that portends an ominous trend.
Florida suggests a new Council of Cities be established nationally to advise the president on issues of national police, a system that may make sense regionally and in the Commonwealth. He points to Canada and Australia as places we can learn much from and apply to the United States. The path to progress rests with both urban and rural community improvement, but in Florida’s view, the telescope of progress is emphasis on urban communities. Pennsylvania is different since it has more rural people than any other state. The defining issue in the Commonwealth is blending both urban and rural into a viable landscape, as true in this region as any other region of the nation.