Where you live becomes a part of who you are. In most cases, goods and services provided locally are your window on the consumer world. The location of goods and services is only part of the story associated with the quality of life of a place. The entire living experience relates to the quality of life you enjoy in your localities. In many cases the older neighborhoods, since the 1960s, have experienced disinvestment, outward migration and job loss.
The recent Amazon relocation to New York has been aborted and one of the all-time business recruitments ended with suddenness. The criteria included considering the “sense of place” and “amenity package” of the locations as part of the selection process. Many cities applied, and I believe that both Pittsburgh and Philadelphia were contenders. It was a highly sought-after economic development goal for many of cities and states.
Not every barn needs a group of kids saying, “Hey, here’s a vacant barn! Let’s put on a show.” Similarly, not every railbed needs a trail. I am sure that many people use the trail system in the Philadelphia area and support the conversion of railbeds to trails passionately. I admit that the trails are used quite often by people.
People think that when change happens, it happens quickly and swiftly. That is not the case in most situations. Being an agent of change, I have gotten used to it and try not to take it personally when I am attacked for “not knowing what I am doing.”
The revitalization of Phoenixville has led to the increase in value of the commercial properties, as well as some of the surrounding residential properties. When the streetscape amenities were installed, people looked differently at the town and the price of real estate. Between the years of 2003 and 2010, assessed property value in Phoenixville increased by approximately $150,000,000 and grew at a rate of 25 percent. Now Phoenixville is about to take another giant leap in value.
Last Saturday morning my wife and I were going out to breakfast and she pointed at the Wendy’s on Route 30 in Thorndale and remarked about the fact that they used such big stones that people waiting for the bus had to stand on the road to wait for the bus. There was not a lot of room between the cart way and the curb, making it a dangerous bus stop.
We have passed my first initiative challenge in attempting to bring train service to Phoenixville. On September 11, 2018 Borough Council approved without comment or question that we should proceed with the investigation to determine if we are able to create passenger rail service to Phoenixville.
I was reading that in order to get a minister held in Turkey back there were economic sanctions (steel tariffs) imposed upon Turkey. Drastic change for the country of Turkey, and their currency took a tumble losing 14 percent of its value. People are panicking, and we are only talking about steel tariffs.
As the previous scenario is unfolding in the news, you have to start to wonder just how fragile are some of these economies in some of these countries?
I had left Phoenixville in 2012 after working for two years for Manny DeMutis and returned this past February and found that there had been a lot of changes that had taken place in my absence. I had been in Pittsburgh for a couple of years, working on a Transit Oriented Development (TOD) project, and coming home on weekends did not afford me a whole lot of time to do anything. Plus, I have been spending a lot of time in Europe, as I expanded my practice, which further restricted my availability.
Recently I returned to Philadelphia after being in Pittsburgh the better part of the last three years looking after my father. Any of you that have elderly parents will soon find out choices in your life will sometimes take a back seat to what you have to do as a responsible family member. Although Pittsburgh, to me, is like being in social Siberia, I would not change a moment of sharing my father’s last days.
The inter-city rail connection from Phoenixville continues to move forward. For purposes of moving the project forward, the Phoenixville School District voted to endorse the effort. The remaining entity to approve is Chester County. All relevant data has been sent to the county and awaits their endorsement to move the project forward.
In recent weeks I have devoted a little more time to addressing issues relating to gentrification in Coatesville. It appeared to me to be where somehow many of the black people in Chester County ended up in one place. There is a spatial separation of minorities in Chester County. Minorities are not evenly distributed throughout the county.
I recently was asked to help the Movement Community Development Corporation in Coatesville, and I thought year-end I would update the progress they are making in the revitalization.
Coatesville has been an area that has drawn a lot of interest in subsidized housing over the years. The City is designated Racial/Ethnic Concentrated Area of Poverty (RECAP), which is not a real good designation to have bestowed. The housing in the area has vacant and underutilized properties and many tangled title properties. There are many rentals in the City, and the homeownership rate is low.
Manny DeMutis is a Phoenixville native who attended Phoenixville School District along with his two sisters Dodi and Ann. They currently comprise the 3D Group, which was responsible for the revitalization of Phoenixville. Manny is married to Kate and they have three daughters Hope, Paige and Ava.
The ultimate family man, he currently spends time traveling to Paige’s Field Hockey events in East Carolina or visiting Hope at Penn State. Because of the nature of his work, Manny spends most of his summers doing business in his beach chair at Cape May.
How do you breathe life into a dying town or a census district that has a lot of poverty and disinvestment? It is pretty tricky when you come to the realization that no one has invested in these areas or properties for a good amount of time. Stores are vacant and the housing becomes the refuge of the low-income population.
When most traditional downtowns were planned, normally there was a residential component to maximize the income of the buildings, and for practical purposes, enable additional rentable space for the owner. Now, with the movement of people back to smaller towns, the modern-day adaption is not quite like it was in the days when these downtowns were originally designed.
While in Rome last week I had an opportunity to visit the Coliseum which was kind of an adventure to me. After standing in line for 45 minutes we got to see the artifacts and some of the narratives that went along with the impressive ruins. There was one part of the tour that stuck in my mind.
The Borough of Phoenixville's access to passenger rail to Philadelphia ended through the dissolution of CONRAIL. The Mayor's Task Force for the Restoration of Passenger Rail Service to Phoenixville is spearheading the effort to restore service on the same rail line, now owned by Norfolk Southern.
Recently I have been asked to help a community group in Coatesville. The group of residents got together and formed a CDC, with a primary focus on the resident. They are separate from the current effort to revitalize Coatesville. They are what some call, an ancillary group — A group of people wanting to do good.
Regionalism, Urbanism, Smart Growth are all buzz words out there concerning revitalization. Many times, people get all their hopes and dreams defined and try to fit into the buzz words. Then there is an attempt to tell people what they want to hear, rather than what they need to do. If, when planning, there is no context to the planning study, you could find yourself running around in circles looking to establish something that is not what you want to do.