Don Cunningham on downtown redevelopment, ‘Alphaville,’ and knee-jerk reactions

     The new home of the Lehigh Valley Phantoms under construction in downtown Allentown, Pa. (Lindsay Lazarski/WHYY)

    The new home of the Lehigh Valley Phantoms under construction in downtown Allentown, Pa. (Lindsay Lazarski/WHYY)

    “Five Questions with …” is a regular Keystone Crossroads feature where we seek to glean wisdom and ideas from some of Pennsylvania’s top urban thinkers and doers. Don Cunningham is president & CEO of the Lehigh Valley Economic Development Corporation.

    Q: Tell us about an amenity or service that you’ve seen in your travels to other places that you wish you could bring back to your city/community?

    A: Streetcars. How wonderful would it be to connect Allentown, Bethlehem and Easton with streetcar or trolley service? People could move from city to city in the Lehigh Valley without ever getting in a car.

    Q: What’s one urban improvement idea that you could categorize as “nice try but didn’t work”?

    A: The downtown urban pedestrian mall. In response to the movement of retail to suburban malls both Allentown and Bethlehem created “downtown malls.” In Bethlehem, they closed a road and created a pedestrian plaza. Great idea in Europe. In Bethlehem, it failed. Thirty years later we reopened it.

    Q: Describe a person in your community who is a “spark” — someone who seems to get things done and inspire people. (This does not need to be an elected official.)

    A: Alan Jennings who runs the Community Action Committee of the Lehigh Valley. He reminds us every day of the horrible income gap that is ever widening and to work to improve it. He pushes us to think of those that are often forgotten.

    Q: What flaw or habit does your city/community have that you would like to see it change?

    A: Knee-jerk reaction to oppose change and new developments. From the Phillies AAA baseball stadium to the new Flyers hockey arena to the Sands Casino, hotel and retail center to the redevelopment of downtown Allentown one must first battle the chorus of doomsday scenarios and public funding opponents.

    Q: Tell us about a movie or book that depicts, in a way that grabbed your attention, how a city can thrive or fail.

    A: “Alphaville: 1988, crime, punishment and the battle for New York City’s Lower East Side” by Michael Codella, a former NYPD beat cop. A front line tale of how NYC won back one of its worst Manhattan neighborhoods one shift at a time. Amazing to read what once took place where multi-million dollar condos now sell and upper middle class young people now stroll the streets.

    Is there someone you know who thinks hard about cities and knows how to get things done? Someone whom Keystone Crossroads should spend “Five Questions with …” Please let us know in the comment sections below or viaFacebook or Twitter @Pacrossroads.



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