‘We get in our own way.’ Community forum brings together residents in Reading

    Participants said the city has a lot to offer.

    Last night, as the sun set and the temperature dropped nearly 10 degrees in an hour, the residents of Reading would have been forgiven for ditching our community forum. But more than 80 people showed up to tell us about their hopes and fears for their city. We’re so grateful.

    Since Keystone Crossroads launched in June 2014, we’ve been holding community forums across the state, in collaboration with the Penn Project for Civic Engagement. So far, we’ve been to Altoona, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, Harrisburg, and as of last night, Reading.

    We ask residents the same questions that drive our project: what are the biggest issues facing your city and  community? And what are some possible solutions?

    It’s remarkable to see how much these cities have in common.

    Participants in each of these forums said their community assets are too often obscured by negativity.

    Last night in Reading, residents said the city has a lot to offer, and they want their children to come back to Reading after graduating high school and college. But they’re afraid that will never happen if the city doesn’t change its dysfunctional image. Too often, one participant said, residents focus on what’s going wrong in the city rather than what’s going right, and how things could get better. 

    Participants offered specific ideas for reform in Reading, which is one of the nation’s poorest cities.

    One participant said Reading would benefit from more middle-income housing within city limits to attract “professionals.” Another suggested that the city “seize blighted properties, get rid of slumlords, bring everything up to code, and make it more affordable for youths and young families to live in the city.”

    Participants hoped city and state governments would make Reading more accessible via bike lanes and public transportation. They suggested investing in youth inside the city, through Little League, or by taking old factory buildings and making an indoor skate park.

    Like residents of many other cities, participants worried about rising pension costs and the fact that many of the new jobs created in the city only pay minimum wage.

    reading pa map1200

    Map caption: We asked attendees to fill out a personal map of Pennsylvania. This was one of the submissions.”

    Despite their fears, participants’ overwhelming message about their city was one of hope. They wanted reporters to write about the positive things happening in Reading, including its schools. They named a number of community groups that are doing great work, including Wood-to-Wonderful, which makes wooden toys for children in need; Olivet Boys and Girls Club; Goggleworks, a community arts center; and the Community Prevention Partnership of Berks County, which focusing on preventing addiction, violence, teen pregnancy, school dropout, and other issues.

    Ideas from the forum will directly guide our future Keystone Crossroads coverage.  The project will host another forum in the Easton area in the next couple months.

    You can read more about the forum from the Reading Eagle (paywall). 

    For more on the forums and our project, follow us on Facebook, or on Twitter @pacrossroads.

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