Monday, January 29, 2007

Is Bethlehem Getting a Little Too Uppity?

Riverport. Gambling. Musikfest. Is Bethlehem getting just a little too snooty? That's what Patty Metzgar says in a recent letter to The Morning Call.

But Patty's "evil twin" expresses another view in a hilarious online comment.

There is a new word in Bethlehem and it isn't "Grease." The word is "downscale," and I am sick of hearing it. We have "downscale" developments, malls, restaurants, shops, groceries and just about anything else. Subsidized housing, welfare, inner city slumlords and huge downscale immigration pressures from the more pricey areas to the east, namely Newark and NYC. Downscale too often equals "up crime".

I'm 51 and have lived here all my life. I worked a short time at an "downscale" shop before it was called that (Walmarts, The Dollar Store, etc.) Every day, customers would buy merchandise that was brought in from China and took away jobs from the very locals who were buying there in a twisted sort of Catch 22 in the marketplace. They were more than happy to pay a lot less because the store catered to a more downscale clientele who, by virtue of shopping there, vote everyday that they want China to keep manufacturing and selling us their cheaper goods while they buy the jobs right out from under themselves.

What really pushed this whole "downscale" mentality over the edge was an article I remember from a few months back about Walmart Greeters, which said it's downscale store is for the "welfare-educated," and "well-trodden in society's evil business world" shopper.

Will shoppers need to take an IQ exam at the door? Will mentally superior individuals be turned away? I guess you don't need an advanced education to select the lowest prices since your job to produce those very goods is no longer here on our shores.
Actually, I think Patty has a point. But it applies pretty much to the entire Lehigh Valley, which is increasingly becoming a bedroom community for Jersey and NYC commuters. Last night provided the latest example of our gentrification. I went to a new restaurant in downtown Nazareth, where I paid $16.65 for frickin' meatloaf. And I listened to a couple that moved here five years ago from Jersey decry the rapid loss of our open space.

I bet the meatloaf in Joisey is cheaper.


Chris Casey said...

Okay BOharE', the missus and I went shopping at that "upscale" market on Saturday night. I guess I'm going to burn in Ms Metzgers hell because we sampled a few things, and purchased some items we havene't been able to find elsewhere. Their fresh chicken salad was pretty good, and we purchased 2 pounds worth of rotisserie chicken roasted in Garlic Butter (Pretty Good!)
Was it pricey (AKA Upscale?) a little, but we purchased items we couldn't get just anywhere.
It's what we call a free market economy. We won't shop there regularly, but I can see us making it a monthly trip for special goods.
Truthfully, if they had opened that store in Downtown Allentown, it wouldn't last. Still too much work to do down there.

Bernie O'Hare said...

That's one mall I won't be visiting, not that it matters very much because I hate most malls. First, people who were actually protesting outside this fancy site about the way it was built. Second, its construction eliminated a few more acres of open space. Third, it's a phony little fantasy world. Fourth, it does appeal to the snob in us, and we tend to forget there people in the Lehigh Valley who are homeless and hungry. Fifth, it's not intended for shelps like me, but for high paid Jersey commuters who view the Lehigh Valley as a bedroom community. It is designed to keep those commuters away from the rest of us because, as you point out, we can't afford regular visits. Thus it promotes class divide and is one of the negative aspects of gentrification.

Chris Casey said...

You know, yhey had to hire union labor to come in and fix all the stuff the non-union builders screwed up! So that was a nice lesson for them to learn. Second, as much as I hate sprawl, what would you do, tear it down?
People keep electing enablers for developers, until they stop, what you going to do? Out here at the Berks Lehigh Border we are getting another Big Box store, supposedly a Wal-Mart, and they are shoving through a LOwe's on Hamilton Boulevard behind the Super Walmart. Bypass isn't even open yet, there will never be relief on Hamilton Boulevard.

Bernie O'Hare said...

What would I do? I wouldn't tear it down but I's "promenade" elsewhere. I won't patronize establishments like that. It's not just elected officials who are enablers. We all fall in that category if we patronize that kind of place, even if it makes us feel special. There already is a farmers' market. It's called the farmers' market. And it's in Allentown. A similar market is making a try in south side Bethlehem, unfettered by all the foo-foos and in a city. And businesses do quite well in downtown A-town, thanks to large volumes of pedestrian traffic.

Anonymous said...

And rail service will be the last straw for local sprawl as the Lehigh Valley fully morphs into a fullblown NYC/metroJersey exurb...replete with commuter rail service & lots of urban snobbery!

Then wait'll ya see the class divide & gentrification!

Bernie O'Hare said...

Anon, I'm afraid you're right. I like light rail, but am leery of passenger rail to NYC or Philly. A very real danger is that we will bear the financial burden of train service for Jersey commuters who are making it more expensive to live here. I don't mean to denigrate these folks, who are just like the rest of us. I just don't think LV natives with low incomes should bear the cost of transportation for Jersey commuters with high incomes. I know we are all transplants, when you come right down to it. But there is a financial disparity, and those Promenades and the proposed upscale mall in Beth Tp will just make that divide larger.

DB said...

A few weeks ago I walked to a buddy's place in Downtown Allentown from my West End home.

It was late one Saturday afternoon when I walked so Hamilton St was quite busy with shoppers and people wondering about.

Shortly after I arrived at his place and he suggested going to to the promenade to sample the new Starbucks. Within one hour I was walking on Hamilton St in Downtown Allentown and walking "Main St" at the shoppes.

Ironically, there were way more people on Hamilton, nearly twice as many, but that is beside the point. The contrast that truly struck me was the dramatic difference in the demographics of the crowds.

The crowd on Hamilton was fairly diverse but was predominately lower-income and maybe 65% minority. At the promenade everyone appeared economically well situated and was white. I saw one minority the entire time I was there. No diversity what at all, unless you consider 13 year old girls who lack proper parental supervision wearing clothes that better fit for eight year olds an ethnic group.

After walking "Main St" once I turned to my buddy and said "lets get out of here, I fell sh*ty just being here" thinking "when did the Lehigh Valley become the deep south.

Segregation is disgusting. I don't care what excuses and historical context it's local proponents assign it. It simply lacks class and any kind of sophistication in it's simplest form.

I don't think these garbage shops show anything uppity about the area. I think it shows the Lehigh Valley is anything but.

Bernie O'Hare said...

Wow, Damien, what a moving story! I just can't go to those places. But I'm sure that there were plenty of minorities there, in the kitchens and cleaning the floors. The good p[eople can throw a dollar here and there to second harvest. That should make them feel better.

Anonymous said...


I am constrained to respond to one aspect of Chris Casey's comment: It has to do with union vs. non-union labor.

Throughout the rancorous debate between these two factions in Norhampton County's council chambers and Courtroom One over the county's Protective Labor Agreement (PLA - I experienced mixed, conflicting emotions: It further split my personality and made me even more "nuts" (no scatalogical pun intended, as the anonymous commenter to your recent blog posting said of me re my announced candidacy for Easton Mayor succeeding Phil Mitman - who's experiencing psychological problems of his own: He's obviously in his second Young Urban Professionalhood.

So at least my College Hill neighbor of many years may have one thing in common: hating cats but loving pussy.

In Chris Casey has any doubts of this in my case, all he has to do is ask "Mrs. Givens," whom my family and friends know as Kathleen Parker, her legal name.

I had to go to the American Civil Liberties Union to make it legal, and the Jersey Shore Hospital in Neptune, New Jersey, where Kathy's and my older daughter Sarah Parker-Givens was born, had to issue her an amended birth certificate legally recognizing her name as Sarah Parker-Givens.

That's why when our younger daughter Fiona was born, Kathy and Dr. Mary Slifer who drove up from South Jersey delivered Fiona Parker-Givens in Kathy's and my bedroom at 11 Holly Street, Rumson, New Jersey.

It was a joyous occasion all around, and afterward we all celebrated with a lunch of veal scallopini, compliments of Chef Billy, about nine years before showing up in Easton, Pennsylvania, reincarnated as Billy Bytes.

Anyway, to make a long story short, I supported the PLA as a former elected union official in Alabama and later in New Jersey.

But I knew that in the case of Northampton County and the Government Center Expansion that unionized labor was not necessarily superior to non-unionized.

An example is the county's Juvenile Corrections Center, an architectural intrusion built on the site of Easton's City Hall at 650 Ferry Street, an art deco building in the National Historic District of Downtown Easton.

Ditto the Northampton County courthouse and prison expansion.

Like the Juvenile Correction Center, the construction management of these two albatrosses was awarded to Alvin Butz Inc. and Keating Construction, respectively, and non-competitively.

Keating built a parking garage in New Jersey that collapsed unceremoniously after it grand opening ceremony amidst much ado - a stark reminder that the City of Easton and the Easton Parking Authority's parking garage on Pine Street behind City Hall, the Crayola Factory and Store (parent corporation Hallmark Cards has disassociated itself from its former subsidiary because of the negative publicity that B&S has suffered from its politically incorrect christening a new color line as "Indian Red" and its implication as a defendant in the Delaware-Lenni Lenape lawsuit emanating from the notorious 1737 Walking Purchase fraud of Pennsylvania founder William Penn's son Thomas.

Anonymous said...

Oh, yeah, I almost forgot: I got so carried away by B&S (and add to the list Bixler Jewelers and McDonald's Express, and the former Orr's Department Store clock), I didn't finish my comparison between the parking garage in New Jersey that collapsed shortly after Keating Construction built it and the Easton and Easton Parking Authority garage.

The Easton garage, which may still be in danger of collapse, is also landlord to the LANTA bus terminal and the Easton police headquarters, built by local contractor Paul Weiss.

Easton Mayor Tom Goldsmith and his director of public works Kristi Miers had Weiss Construction write a letter to the Office of Occupational Safety and Health Administration in Allentown, which shut the garage down, had in fact corrected the deficiencies in a desperate effort of get the garage re-opened and operating before the grand opening of Two Rivers Landing.

One glaring deficiency of the police station, in which officer Sollman was a homicide victim, is its lack of holding cells.

Detainees are chained to a wall rail screwed to a wall of sheetrock until they can be transferred to the Northampton County Prison, though it, too, is an unsafe, and overcrowded, facility.

LSTresidentPIA said...

The whole Lehigh Valley has become Uppity. Some of that is as a bigger part of the transition of American society of manufacturing to a society to a professional/service jobs. Plus so many more peopleare college educated. We all no matter what job we have are held to a higher standard and it comes out in the way we live our lives away from work also.

I really apprciated her edititoral, I thought it was great!

Anonymous said...

The veal scallopini was enjoyed by all, including Dr. Slifer, except, of course, by Fiona.

Her first meal outside of the womb and after Dr. Slifer had cut the umbilical cord, which she placed first in a plastic bag and then in her leather medical bag and carried away with her for disposal back at her office in South Jersey, came from "Mrs. Givens'" breats - a la Laleche League.

And just what's the point of this? Don't lunch or dine in any of these Baby Boomer, Yuppy, or Trust-Fund Kid eateries that don't prepare their dishes excluively from organically grown, hormone-free food.

Incidentally, the Souper contest held at Starters Pub was sponsored by WLTV Channel 39.

This was once truly a PBS station until Shelley Brown, then a Channel 39 employee and now executive director of Easton's State Theatre and The Express-Times columnist David Boyer succeeded in getting rid of Sheldon "Shel" Siegel, the station manager.

Siegel programmed such public-service events as the City of Easton mayoral-councilmanic debate of 1991 in which I participated as a candidate for mayor.

Chris Casey said...

Christ, I make one visit, ONE VISIT! to a freakin Faux town and I get the riot act!
I recognize what Damien is saying, and he is right. BTW, I didn't go in any of the other stores, but isn't it snobbish to damn people for guilt by association? I used to live in West End Allentown. (Tilghman and Berks) But after several break ins, and a pitiful police response, when the opportunity came to move, we took it.
I guess that makes me a snob for not wanting to have to repair broken windows and door jambs and garage doors every month. Of That I am Guilty!

Bernie O'Hare said...

Chris, You lost your "blue collar" status for the day. Sorry. Go put on your leggins' and a powdered wig. And is it true that you were sipping lattes with Doug Reichley?

All kidding aside, Damien made many outstanding points. The biggest of these is we are increasingly a segregated society. Not necessarily racially segregated, but that income gap is getting bigger and the Promenade certainly demonstrates that.

Chris Casey said...

Yea, chris "White Powdered Wig" Casey

Anonymous said...

Going to the Promenade feels like you're in the middle of the "Truman show". It looks just like a Hollywood set plopped down. It's almost laughable.

Anonymous said...

it's a real shame we're losing our open space and turning into a new york bedroom community.

why, oh why, didn't someone have the foresight to invest public monies in redeveloping the world's largest brownfield to curtail some of this?

oh, wait...

LVDem said...

Haven't gone, won't go (to the fake downtowns). Give me Bethlehem, Allentown, Easton (or any of the small towns like Emmaus) any day.

And I'm not going to apologize for wanting to take downtowns up a notch. Let's stop pretending that downtowns have always lacked high class. Even as a young person, I remember Hess' and Leh's in downtown Allentown (and I shopped there). These were THE foo-foo department stores. And the art museum. Was that built by the poor? (well, I guess by the hands of the poor, but it took some rich wallets). The Moravians weren't poor folks and Easton has a history of upscale downtown businesses too. The key: right next to Hess' were about 20 small shops run by Mr. and Mrs. Jones and those businesses provided shoe service, lunch counters and more.

Believe me, concerns of affordable housing and segregation should be taken into account. But consider the following:
-apartments above store fronts provide affordable housing to smaller families. Why do we need to develop new affordable housing when all we need to do is rehab the existing housing stock.
-Allentown is crawling with mixed income neighborhoods. My block has ridiculous Victorians right next to small 3 bed room row homes that lack the cool decorations... but they are warm, safe and make a nice home. In 2007, no home is affordable any more, but you have a good shot of finding a 120k home in my neighborhood.
-Downtowns can still house the businesses that cater to the needs of the working poor and seniors. Even as Downtown Allentown sees increased investment, there will still be a place for those businesses in the downtown. Foo-foo does not exclude basic needs (or at least it shouldn't)

Here is the key in my mind. Cities have always accomodated different income groups. The steel workers lived next to bank executives who lived next to the schools of the urban poor. If we can put the mixed income back into our towns and cities, then we are going to be successful. Allow to many yuppies to throw of the balance and we have lost that grit. Fail to bring in enough yuppies and you lack the stability necessary to sustain a market. Strike a balance. That's what cities did for almost 200 years in America. Then we decided that the car was the status symbol and that balance was lost. Now we have to be careful not to take the effort too far.

Bernie O'Hare said...

why, oh why, didn't someone have the foresight to invest public monies in redeveloping the world's largest brownfield to curtail some of this?
I'm presuming that's intended as a shot at me since I opposed and in fact sued to stop the county's megabond, and this was part of it. I don't regret my actions and would do it again. I have no problem w/ redevelopment of a brownfield, but not for residential use. I believe those folks are going to have health problems on "remediated" land. And the $111 megabond threw money in the suburbs for economic development, including $6 million in Plainfield! It was not well thought out. Open space was destroyed to provide for economic development, including industrial parks that did not exist.

Bernie O'Hare said...

LVDem, The problem with the gentrification is I see little attempt to provide affordable housing for those who will be displaced.

LVDem said...

Bernie, you are correct to an extent but I would like to throw out the fact that in most towns and cities, there is under utilized space above store fronts and in auxillery buildings located at the rear of properties that could serve afford able housing options. The traditional view of afford able housing is that it needs to be reserved. What if there was a mechanism in place to build it in? Example: when a huge infill project is done (or a readaptive use like a mill to loft thing), why don't we require that there be a set aside (5-10) that will not exceed a certain square footage. That doesn't guarentee affordable housing, but it puts it into the market.

Typically, when housing becomes unaffordable, it is because their is excess demand and insufficient supply. If we were to carefully observe where there might be underutilized space (like 2nd/3rd floor above a store), we will find a great deal of affordable housing.

One thing we need to be very careful in doing as we look at the negatives associated with displacement is to make sure that we avoid the desire to concentrate poverty. Mixed income is vital to the health of communities.

DB said...

Montgomery County Maryland does something similiar.

I think 15 % of all new housing "developments" must be reserved for affordable housing. The homes are usually not owned through a housing authority but by private owners who are able to offer them affordably through tax credits and things like that.

Montgomery County Maryland is one of the best school districts in the country and is very diverse, economically and racially.

Bernie O'Hare said...

Damien, Thanks for your insight. I agree that it's best to have a mix of incomes in a city environment, and in the same area. LVDem, you're right when you speak of multiuse buildings. I live in one. My concern for Bethlehehem is that the lofts and upper stoiries will not be so affordable unless a concerted effort is made to ensure that happens. Despite my snotty title, I know Bethlehem is a forward looking community. I hope they come to grips with gentrification before it is too late.

Daedal Jo'At Xavier said...


What is Lehigh Valley?

City or country or suburb or ..?

Daedal Jo'At Xavier said...

Another Question.

What is happening on Hamilton St in Allentown?

It seemed to be in transition but where is it going and where has it been?

Bernie O'Hare said...

Xavier, Unfortunately, the Lehigh Valley is a fragmented miasma of local municipalities jeaolusly guarding their turf and refusing to work together. My regret is that your interesting comments did not post sooner, when most of my readers would have a chance to see them. Next time I discuss this subject, I'll be sure to mention your comments.

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