Regionalization over rivalry: Why cities can’t function like football teams

    University of Pittsburgh play Penn State at Heinz Field during the first half of an NCAA college football game in Pittsburgh. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)

    University of Pittsburgh play Penn State at Heinz Field during the first half of an NCAA college football game in Pittsburgh. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)

    Urban rivalries push cities to improve, but can inhibit collaboration.

    For many years, there was no Pennsylvania rivalry quite like the Penn State-Pittsburgh football game on Thanksgiving weekend. Though the tradition laid dormant for 16 years, the fervor and passion was no less this past weekend when both teams took to the field once more.

    Last weekend’s Pennsylvania pigskin pandemonium — and this weekend’s Penn State/Temple matchup — got us thinking about the other rivalries that define Pennsylvania. Not just Sheetz vs. Wawa or Steelers vs. Eagles, but rather, the city-level sniping that can push rivals to be their best — or hamper regional progress. Join us while we over-extend a metaphor.

    Penn State: PhiladelphiaPitt: PittsburghTemple: Harrisburg

    Perhaps the ultimate Pennsylvania match-up is Philadelphia versus Pittsburgh, east versus west, gleaming city on the Schuykill versus hard-scrabble industry city at the confluence of three rivers. Both cities have international reputations, national importance and regional dominance. Neither can claim to be the sole urban center of the commonwealth.

    As Penn State is to football, Philadelphia is to cities. It’s bigger, better-known and usually the first thing that comes to mind for outsiders. But Pittsburgh, both the city and the football team, has seen a resurgence lately.

    Zagat called Pittsburgh the Number One Food Town in America in 2015. The New York Times bragged about ‘Dining in Steel City.’ And there have been some non-food-based victories as well: much sought-after millennials are moving in, industry is starting to return to the region and even old steel mills are finding new life.

    Between hosting the pope and the Democratic National Convention, Philadelphia has recently gotten some good PR as well. The distance between the two cities means that, besides occasional disagreements about how state funds are allocated, both can prosper in peace.

    It’s not like they’re exactly bumping elbows, unlike some of the more neighborly rivals.

    Penn State: AllentownPitt: BethlehemTemple: Easton

    These three cities make up the Lehigh Valley, a regional creation that offers opportunities for cooperation and collaboration. They share a chamber of commerce, tourism agency and minor league sports teams. Joyce Marin of RenewLV said she sees collaboration across the Valley every day. 

    “I’m thinking of the Lehigh Valley Food Policy Council,” said Marin. “We had one meeting where the health officers of Easton, Bethlehem, and Allentown all convened and we talked about the challenges food truck operators face when they have to get certain approvals to move from municipality to municipality.”

    The three leaders agreed to work with the other 59 municipalities in the Lehigh Valley to reduce some of that red tape.

    But in addition to collaboration and cooperation, these cities share another C: competition. 

    In 2009, the Allentown Morning Call reported that Allentown “Mayor Ed Pawlowski has ruffled many feathers himself for his dogged attempts to get all he can for Allentown, often in competition with Bethlehem.”

    Then, the issue was the new arena for the Lehigh Valley Phantoms, which Allentown did get in the end. But this is a perennial tension: both cities, and their surrounding municipalities, are struggling to regionalize 911 call centers, and there’s already competitive grumbling about who will get the expanded aquarium. Marin thinks a little healthy competition never gets in the way of bettering the region. 

    “The good part is that we all want to make ourselves better,” said Marin. “Here in the Lehigh Valley, there’s local pride but people are willing to share how they got to their achievements.”

    Penn State: ScrantonPitt: Wilkes-BarreTemple: Hazleton

    Recently, Scranton and Wilkes-Barre looked to settle their sibling rivalry once and for all. Both cities entered the national “America’s Best Communities” competition, and both cities were certain they would come out on top.

    “We’re looking to be number one and two at the end of the process and whatever order that comes in, we’ll be fine with it,” Joseph Boylan, vice president for economic development at the Wilkes-Barre Chamber of Commerce told Keystone Crossroads at the time. “But we’re thinking Wilkes-Barre will be number one.”

    Both cities were knocked out of the competition after the quarterfinal round.

    This rivalry has a unique historical twist. Luzerne County, where Wilkes-Barre sits, used to be much larger, containing what is today Wyoming County and Lackawanna County. Wyoming County broke off in the 1800s without issue. But when the wealthier “upper end” of the county, supported by Scranton’s coal mines, iron furnaces and railroads, wanted autonomy, Wilkes-Barre fought back.

    “Driving Wilkes-Barre’s actions was the apprehension of its entrepreneurs that the rise of a new county would undo their economic dominance,” writes Sheldon Spear in “Pennsylvania Histories: Two Hundred Years of Personalities and Events.”

    Eventually Scranton grew so large that they garnered enough political might to break off in 1878. Lackawanna County was the 67th and final county created in Pennsylvania.

    Despite this inauspicious beginning, the two cities have had plenty of opportunity to work together. The Wilkes-Barre/Scranton International Airport sits on both sides of the Luzerne/Lackawanna County line, and the two cities benefit substantially from that income. (Though Spear writes about a dust-up when Eastern Airlines accidentally called it the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre airport on their flight schedule.)

    Today, there is talk about cross-county regional transportation initiatives and the Luzerne County Community College just began offering classes in a new Scranton Center. The spirit — and necessity — of collaboration is catching on in NEPA.

    Corridors of power

    In 2006, Richard Florida wrote in Newsweek about “The New Megalopolis,” power corridors that concentrated growth and wealth. Think Boston to Washington, D.C., Chicago to Pittsburgh, or even Los Angeles to Tijuana, Mexico.

    Florida argued, “it makes little sense to dwell on countries anymore, when the real engines of innovation and growth are the New Megas.” On a different scale, the same argument could be made in Pennsylvania: with 2,500 municipalities, many experts agree that the future is in regional cooperation, based around the largest cities in the area.

    While Penn State, Pitt and Temple can fight it out on the field, year after year, without anyone nudging them to work together, cities find themselves in a different boat. Unfortunately, no one is driving hundreds of miles and paying hundreds of dollars to cheer on a city council as they merge water treatment systems with the surrounding townships. Though if a city finds a way to make that happen, they owe it to the spirit of rationalization to share that with their neighbors.  

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