Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Outlook '08: Scranton

My second story in two days about my hometown is a similar conglomeration as my Resilient Rochester Vol. 2 post. This past Sunday, while I was in town, the Scranton Times-Tribune ran a lengthy multi-physical section on the economic outlook for 2008 and beyond.

While in Rochester, the blog focus was solely on city economic rebirth of spinoff employment, my focus here centers around downtown livability, something not even imagined in that area until recently. (Illustration by Bob Sanchuk - Scranton Times-Tribune, Scranton High School Class of 1999)

Doherty Sees Vision Coming Together
by Stacy Brown, Scranton Times-Tribune

Article Key Points:

  • Mayor Doherty: "We’re at the stage now where downtown living is the step that must be taken if we are to grow as a city."
  • Mayor emphasizes the curb appeal the 500 block of Lackawanna Avenue project will enhance
  • City realized millions of dollars in free advertising from last year's "The Office" convention
  • Major defense and govt. technology consultant company SRA International opened two offices downtown during the fall

The picture of the Mayor accompanying the print version of this article sits above a caption proclaiming "There is a lot to do in our downtown today. It wasn't that way six years ago." While I wouldn't pump myself up at the expense of myself, the sentiment rings true. This past fall my brother and I took my mom out for dinner at a bourg Tapas restaurant (that won't be getting a free link since they double charged the value of the tip on my credit card). To walk downtown and have not only one nice restaurant, but options between nice restaurants and a winery with tastings in the downtown mall is a small slice of cosmopolitanism that wasn't existent three years ago, let alone six. I am proud to be from Scranton and happy to see that while they've embraced "The Office," they don't allow faux-fame to make a joke of out them.

Downtowns Hold Keys to City Revivals
by David Singleton, Scranton Times-Tribune

Article Key Points:

  • Ken Marquis, renovator of Casey Laundry property characterizes Scrantonians as serious about their city and taking a 'sincere, positive approach to change.'
  • Joint Urban Studies Center sees more similarities than differences between Scranton and Wilkes-Barre
  • Marquis cites a market for luxury downtown living as a positive statement about the city
  • Both cities have lagged in catering to their college communities

While I am all for taking potshots at Wilkes-Barre out of simple sibling rivalry ethos, the fact remains that the region feeds off of both. Wilkes-Barre has a disproportionately large central business district for its numerical city size, but what's lost is the reality that Luzerne County is significantly larger than Lackawanna. It serves as a southern regional center. It also bears repeating that Mr. Marquis has done an excellent job with the old Casey Laundry and the narrow Center Street alleyway that would be illegal by today's flawed zoning codes. (Photo Copyright 2006 - Justin Jackson)

Officials Say Train Coming, but When is Hard to Tell
by Boris Krawczeniuk, Scranton Times-Tribune

Article Key Points:

  • Timeline for start of construction of New Jersey Transit line through the Poconos terminating in Scranton is still cloudy
  • Outlook good for no environmental impact delays from federal agencies
  • Officials need to determine cost split between PA and NJ for 133 mile project
  • $11.5 million intermodal center is being built on Lackawanna Avenue to accommodate COLTS buses, cabs, possibly long distance buses, and the train
  • Doherty attributed as saying With gas prices on the rise, alternative modes of travel will gain support, and the federal government will realize it can’t keep building highways, though not quoted.

I thought I read that final line wrong, but I did not and it is refreshing. The first article chronicled here kept going back to the full parking lots necessary for people to enjoy downtown Scranton on foot. You know by now that to me, this is the ultimate in oxymorons. With critical mass living downtown, as the Brookings Institution is fond of pointing out, repeat customers arrive sans automobile. Kudos to Mayor Doherty for recognizing this and avoiding the urge to fight at the table of transportation funding simply to tout an ability to seize all potential public money. Another interesting thing brought up in this article is the estimate of 50 riders per day from the Scranton terminus. When the subject of a Scranton-NYC train line was broached with my brother, who works in Northern New Jersey and has taken NJ Transit trains, he expressed sincere interest in being able to move back to Scranton and commute by this more efficient mode of transport. (Photo Copyright 2006 - Justin Jackson)

Medical School Likely to Have Huge Impact
by Daniel Axelrod, Scranton Times-Tribune

Article Key Points:

  • First medical school in Pennsylvania to open since 1962 expected to open its doors in the current Lackawanna College (former Scranton Central High School) in fall 2009
  • 27 people hired including 10 faculty
  • Officials negotiating with Scranton School District for land on Pine Street behind Mercy Hospital (near old Scranton High School)
  • Study states school will generate $45 million and 744 full-time jobs for Northeast Pennsylvania by 2015
  • Region will need between 31-46% more physicians by 2025

Only positives here. Who wouldn't want a Medical College plopped down in their center city within reasonable walking distance of the three biggest hospitals in a 20 mile radius? One wonders if the mention of the Florence is to provide student housing. A magnificently urban building which fell on hard times after Adams Avenue was rerouted to create the Midtown housing project, the Florence was renovated after I left town and appears to be fully integrated into the hideous 60's era insult to the poor, the only building to survive the 'urban renewal' at Adams and Pine.

Internet Marketing Helps Sell City
by Stacy Brown, Scranton Times-Tribune

Article Key Points:

  • Chamber of Commerce: Marketing is easier than it was five or ten years ago
  • National Westminster Bank was temporarily in the Oppenheim Building before moving to Montage area (sprawl), they now miss the diversity of downtown, shopping, eating, walking for employees
  • Old Globe building and Oppenheim Building now fiber optic equipped
  • Existing tenant-ready space has dropped and is dropping according to Realtors
  • Normandy Holdings LLC plans to build 32 apartments along Oakford Court behind 317 Linden as a barometer to gauge demand for ambitious St. Peter's Square project

I liked much of what I read in this article including vindication of people's preference to enjoy a downtown when employed downtown. What worries me is the assertion that the Joyce's development would be a gated community with 100 parking spaces. A gated community does not send the correct signals in a downtown whatsoever. Generally these reek of exclusivity instead of integration or inclusion of urban life. Also if one vacant lot is traded for a 100 space surface parking lot, again not much is accomplished from the downtown vibrancy standpoint. I know that someone at Mr. Joyce's offices visited the blog this morning, but as of yet, he has not responded about my historic consideration concerns. I just want him to to know that I am not trying to be adversarial, I appreciate almost all urban development, but would just like to make sure it's well thought out and respects the public realm. (Photo Copyright 2006 - Justin Jackson)

While Scranton looks like it is on its way back, there is business to tend to in Rochester. As you can see in my updated sidebar, I've launched my Rochester New Urbanist group at Meetup.com. Our first meeting will be on April 17th at 7PM to give the group a chance to meet each other in person, lay out on the table our experiences in and expectations of new urbanism, and to plan future meetings. A key point on the agenda is to get new amateur enthusiasts familiar with the literature at their fingertips in the public library system. I am taking up to 12 RSVPs now, but will look into larger meeting space should the need arise. All are welcome to attend, not just Meetup members, but I really need an R.S.V.P. for reasons just described. (Photo by Karen Rzonca - CC A-N-NDW 2.0 License)

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