As I muddle through the plethora of options on flood recovery and mitigation in Downingtown, I have been struck by the FEMA and PEMA staff's professionalism. We have been able to make inroads in flood recovery due to their involvement and participation.
Recently I was asked to help with the flood relief effort in Downingtown. As in many cases, I am helping at no cost. Unfortunately, the Borough of Downingtown is up against it with the flooding this year. There have been two floods, and the lower-income areas that have typically been located in flood plains and industrial areas were hit hard.
The Borough Building was flooded and the flood mitigation plan was destroyed. My mission was to expedite the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency (PEMA) buyout program.
What I have found interesting is the debate over what is being taught in schools. For example, when I was young, in Fords, New Jersey, school #14, we said the "Lord's Prayer" right after the Pledge of Allegiance. Then someone would be required to read a bible passage in front of the class. It was almost putting you on the spot. You had to be able to read, and if you went up there and stumbled around, it did not reflect well for you.
The first time I tried to work on passenger rail service to Phoenixville (Greenline project), I thought we had a good chance of completing the project, and, at the time, the Citizens for the Train group was in high gear. There was a contribution from Liberty Property Trust to do the initial study, and there was participation from Norfolk Southern as we negotiated for the line.
As I toured America the last month or so, I saw that many cities were ghost towns. If there was a large office concentration, those buildings stood vacant. Corresponding retail was either completely closed and all of the inventory pulled off the shelves or closed without notice of closure with inventory and fixtures remaining inside. It was hard to tell if the stores with inventory remaining would ever open.
I have finished my trip across the country trying to assess public/private space in the cities.
I was gone from May 15 to June 15 and stopped in many cities along the way. I took the southern route to head west and used a northern route to return.
I perceived that the virus has had different outcomes in many of the cities. A common factor was the vacancy rate, and it appeared to be exacerbated by communities that experienced civil unrest. There is considerably less foot traffic in almost all of the towns.
As social mores and values change, so do the programs offered by various agencies of government. Things become popular, and there are buzz words that are used and not fully understood. One of the things that have been given more prominence recently in the news media is the concept of “equity.”
I think that having my basic existence upset at this stage of my life was a surprise. I never thought I would spend a year indoors.
Traveling in Italy looking for a house, I became aware of the virus and just got out in time. Upon arriving back in the U.S., I went to Florida for a while and then again, under emergency action, hightailed it home with one quick stop at a Holiday Inn in Walterboro, South Carolina as at that stage of the virus, the US was putting the clamp on travel.
There are many ways to do things in the public sector, and sometimes proposed programs work, and sometimes they do not. I have made my living using programs that do not necessarily work for everyone. There is usually a substantial discussion on why things work or do not work. Many of these issues are dealt with in planning documents.
Pennsylvania Department of Transportation recently provided a passenger rail analysis concerning a one-seat ride from Reading to Philadelphia. The proposed service corridor includes SEPTA's Main Line from Center City Philadelphia, SEPTA's Norristown Line to Norristown, Norfolk Southern’s Schuylkill River Bridge, and the Harrisburg Line to Reading. The proposed station stops are Valley Forge, Phoenixville, Royersford, Pottstown, Birdsboro, and Reading.
My rail project has taken a lot of twists and turns along the way. As you do these kinds of projects, circumstances change regularly and attitudes toward the potential of success are re-evaluated. After much back and forth, Penn DOT completed a study (synopsis article in issue) assessing the potential for the line. Two and a half studies were done previously with the Reading Group creating an AMTRAK operator Plan, the Mayor's Task Force from Phoenixville using SEPTA as the operator, and an AMTRAK ridership and route analysis, which was part of a larger report.
Many of the downtowns in the Delaware Valley have experienced adverse effects on business because of the Covid-19 virus. The lack of access to customers because of various shutdowns has created many landlord-tenant issues that need to be addressed before businesses can get back on track.
The shutdown also impacted the apartment tenants who have been unable to work. Evictions of longer-term tenants would be an unexpected occurrence but with the lack of the ability to earn a living, some of these issues are beginning to surface.
The shutting down of restaurants and bars has had a lethal effect on small towns that have a healthy food and beverage industry as part of their revitalization strategy. The atmosphere, the events, and the areas used as a common gathering space for festive recreation add to why downtowns have been successful.
The Governor issued an order, and it should be obeyed. If the evidence shows a threat, perhaps it is a good action, and I will not go through the dynamics of the spread of the disease. My ideas are not mainstream and not intended to get too Thomas Dolby with everyone.
If anything, the virus has forced companies to rethink the staffing and meeting strategy of the organization. I had never even heard of Zoom until the virus, and now it is part of the lexicon in a way that Xerox is to copies.
This article is the third and final article in my series on housing history and results. The first article, entitled Spatial “Separation Resulting in Racial Segregation,” dealt with the history of systematic racial exclusion built into the mortgage and credit laws and regulations. The second article, entitled “Hyper-Segregation – a Public Created Entity,” addressed that most minorities were squeezed together in the cities far away from white people to create hyper-segregation. This article will deal with what I have concluded is the potential answer to addressing the problem.
There has been an uptick in towns and cities, allowing open-air dining to increase capacity/distancing issues in restaurants. There was a need to react quickly in a situation where there is a possibility that losing the downtown retail trade that was developed is possible.
It brings into focus how slow things move in government. If these kinds of decisions can be made in a crisis, why does it take so long when things are not in emergency mode? It is puzzling that programs can be developed, making decisions at lightning speed when it usually is a long process.
In my last article, I wrote about the policies and guidelines that have led to the spatial separation of racial minorities. Laws led to segregation as a result of specific neighborhoods being designated as "red" (high risk) through the Home Owner's Loan Corporation (HOLC) starting in 1933 and the policy was perpetuated through the FHA and the VA loan programs.
Many people, some whom I don't even really know, have asked me for help dealing with the recovery programs during the COVID-19 crisis — So much so I posted the rules of the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) on my website and sent them to the site, so they did not have to write everything down. In most cases, it was a single form with a bunch of attachments that would be done by their accountant.