In case you missed it: This week’s best reads from Pennsylvania cities

     Panelists Rina Cutler, Toby Fauver, and Craig Peiffer discuss complete streets design for vehicles, pedestrians, and bicyclists, as well as inexpensive projects cities like Reading and Philadelphia have tried in the past at the inaugural Keystone Crossroads conference Urban Ideas Worth Stealing.  (Lindsay Lazarski/WHYY)

    Panelists Rina Cutler, Toby Fauver, and Craig Peiffer discuss complete streets design for vehicles, pedestrians, and bicyclists, as well as inexpensive projects cities like Reading and Philadelphia have tried in the past at the inaugural Keystone Crossroads conference Urban Ideas Worth Stealing. (Lindsay Lazarski/WHYY)

    ICYMOC: In case you missed our conference, we summarize the important bits. 

    Urban ideas worth stealing

    This Tuesday was the inaugural Keystone Crossroads conference, titled ‘Urban Ideas Worth Stealing.’ We brought together 150 community leaders, urban thinkers and residents to talk about the challenges facing Pennsylvania’s cities. 

    There were six breakout sessions focusing on issues like creating multi-modal transportation, overcoming government fragmentation and bringing historic preservation into the 21st century. We’ve curated all of the tweets from the event and offered take-aways from the individual panels. 

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    Over lunch, Governor Tom Wolf delivered a keynote address that called for a reimagining of cities. He said Pennsylvania, as a state, has not always been encouraging of urban development. 

    “The public policy environment in Pennsylvania and in most places in the United States is absolutely, positively hostile to cities,” said Wolf. “If we had a level playing field…we’d have a great system. But public policies actually mitigate against healthy development for cities.” 

    It’s not just public policies on the state level. Nationally, there has never been a Department of Urban Affairs or a cohesive urban development strategy. Despite the fact that 40 percent of Americans live in a city larger than 50,000 people, those cities get remarkably little public support.  

    But, hey, if they won’t help us, we’ll do it ourselves. Over the next week or so, Keystone Crossroads will be featuring blog posts and video content about conference takeaways. Steal an idea from a city across the state, or across the county. Offer ideas of your own in the comments, and we’ll be sure to highlight how others could take advantage. This is one type of theft that’s actually encouraged. 

    Speaking of theft…

    The FBI must love Wawa, because they can’t seem to get enough of the Southeast corner of the state of Pennsylvania. 

    A seventh person pleaded guilty in the ongoing investigation in Allentown and Reading. This time it was a private citizen, an executive at an engineering firm. Matthew McTish used political donations to get lucrative contracts for his company, something he said he felt forced to do to keep his firm competitive. This is a practice known as “pay-to-play” and it’s a no-no in the eyes of the feds. But, in many Pennsylvania cities, it’s not technically forbidden. 

    If you’re having trouble keeping up with what’s going down in Allentown/Reading, I don’t blame you. We’ve got an updated run-down of the charges, the players and the schemes at the center of this months-long investigation. 

    A little further south, a former chief of staff to former Governor Ed Rendell pleaded guilty this week to federal corruption charges. John Estey agreed to help a corporation use campaign donations to push legislation in Harrisburg. That’s illegal, as is pocketing a portion of the donations for yourself, which he also did. Unfortunately for Estey, that corporation was actually the front for an FBI sting. 

    Both current candidates for Attorney General had connections to this scheme. Josh Shapiro, the Democrat, accepted a campaign contribution from Estey. John Rafferty, the Republican, voted for the legislation pushed by the bogus corporation and Estey. With the current state of the AG’s office, neither of these involvements are particularly shocking. 

    But this may not be the end of the scandal. Estey reportedly wore a wire, perhaps for years. Stay tuned. 

    PennLive columnist John Micek, for one, is sick of all this. In a scathing, and rather funny, column that points the finger mostly at Democrats, Micek says corruption is too widespread in Pennsylvania. This is a problem, not just for the funds lost and the justice abridged, but for the public’s faith in government. 

    Corruption, Micek writes, “gives fuel to the fodder…that Harrisburg is pretty much Sodom and Gomorrah on the Susquehanna facing zero chance of a meteor strike anytime soon.” 

    Capitol troubles

    Don’t hate the player, Micek. Hate the game. It can’t be the city of Harrisburg’s fault that the state government is so sleazy. Except, well, it might be. 

    Isolated state capitols tend to be more corrupt, according to a 2014 study in the American Economic Review. There’s less attention, both from citizens and the media. And protesting the state government is a lot harder when you have to gas up beforehand. What if we moved the state capital (back to) Philadelphia? Or how about Pittsburgh? 

    Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto says thanks, but no thanks. “I like having a buffer between state politics and our local government called the Allegheny Mountains. Harrisburg politics may be more akin to the eastern part of the state, around Philadelphia.” 

    Based on the scandals above, that’s not really a compliment to Harrisburg. And the city has had it’s fair share of troubles, to be sure. But it’s not all bad!

    Well-lit and lead tested

    Harrisburg is currently trying out some “ideas to steal.” The city is doubling down on lead testing and remediation efforts. Considering only 14 percent of children in the state currently get tested for lead, that’s an investment that will go a long way.

    They have also replaced many streetlights with energy-efficient LEDs, and once an accounting error gets cleared up, that will result in financial and energy savings. 

    And the city is getting 30 fiberglass dinosaurs this summer, painted by local artists. 

    Sure, Philadelphia may be getting a 1000-foot water slide, but imagine how many palms you’ll have to grease just to get to the front of the line. Harrisburg has dinosaurs and lead testing and energy efficient streetlights, and most of all, they’ve got the state capitol. Corrupt or not, it ain’t going nowhere.  



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