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  #21  
Old Posted Aug 26, 2013, 3:19 AM
Kukla65th Kukla65th is offline
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York (and its unofficial sister city, Lancaster)

I was just through York a few days ago and had not been there for about five years. Unfortunately about 20% of York city residents ("city" is an important distinction because surrounding townships are "West York", "East York", "North York" and have the requisite "I don't live in York" attitudes at times) are below the Federal poverty level. Lancaster and Philadelphia have similarly dramatic statistics largely due to deindustrialization and especially in York and Lancaster, vast numbers of recent immigrants working in services industries in low wage work.

York, is an architectural wonderland. As the photos made clear, the city center is vastly well-preserved and restored. The efforts of the downtown BID and other agencies are clear. Similarly, Lancaster city is another case of a downtown with a very intact architectural palette and very well densely built. Both cities feel larger than they are, especially if one is from the Midwest or West where downtowns are often lower density.

York city's 2010 population was up a bit to nearly 44,000 and Lancaster was up a bit to about 59,000. York, when the surrounding townships are added in, has about 110,000 people as a metro area.

An outsider visiting wonders how a city could have let itself decline so much. But like so many other cities, York didn't let anything happen really; industry left, and surrounding townships, especially to the north, took advantage of the automobile age and the US 30 by-pass creating a commercial sprawl that essentially was curtains for downtown York's retail base. When cities like York have such sumptuously interesting built environments, it is especially hard to accept that city centers in nearly all small cities have lost their ability to be retail centers for the time being.

And a quick look through real estate listings illustrates how affordable the kinds of homes in these photos are, and really, the entire York area's housing stock is since it has limited ability to pull in higher wage earners from far away. Lancaster again is similar, but more expensive.

The two cities, York and Lancaster, never really seem associated by people here in PA, but clearly they are similar in terms of racial diversity, de-industrialization related challenges, crime rates, struggles to deal with poverty, similar kinds of urban sprawl - even the same directions away from their downtowns, and city centers that are visually a treat and poised for rebirth because they are so handsomely inviting. I also like the "white rose/red rose" symbolism of both cities, following directly from their counterparts in England.

The only thing that really incenses me in both York and Lancaster (and one wonders how they still have not tackled this as much planning research shows it is destructive) is the abusively excessive use of one-way arterials through the city centers. In Lancaster, Penn Square is tarnished by Queen Street running one-way, allowing cars to fly past the central monument and businesses alike. In York, Market and Philadelphia Streets are treated like freeways going east and west, respectively. Surely this was done in lieu of never having a freeway cut through the center of town, but this day and age, you reduce those arterial roads for pedestrian safety and as a means to allow more ways for those in cars to see or access as much as possible. Both cities rely vastly on automobile use, anyway. It's just lunacy to have such well-preserved blocks of buildings on these streets that see cars go well over 30 mph all day.

York is a lovely city with vast potential in an equally beautiful county and wider region. I firmly believe Pennsylvania has some of the best town centers in the nation architecturally and in terms of walkability and use of substantial materials in many buildings. Some other poster mentioned the photos evoke a very "mid-Atlantic" feel. Absolutely. If you are really into architecture and city development, you could probably peg these photos as being an eastern PA city without even being told.

Not to start a fight, but you put these photos of York up against any city in New England of similar size and you gotta admit, cities like York beat those in New England. But maybe that's just me liking masonry row homes more than clapboard two-family homes.
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  #22  
Old Posted Aug 26, 2013, 1:48 PM
ShooFlyPie ShooFlyPie is offline
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York is a beautiful city with so much history. Great thread.

I surveyed 3 different school systems in the York surburbs. They all seemed to have a upper middle class demographic. Then I surveyed two industries in York that seemed to have a poor demographic located in the city. A lot of PA cities are like that. Reading is another example of an architectural charming city in poverty with upper class suburbs in the surrounding areas.
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  #23  
Old Posted Aug 26, 2013, 2:24 PM
Quabbin Quabbin is offline
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Great post, Kula65th. I agree that the Penna city centers seem more handsome and urban than your typical medium size New England city downtown. Although smaller cities throughout the Northeast have suffered from economic and social trends (deindustrialization, suburbanization) the average New England small-medium size city looks the worse for it as compared to PA cities. Most have also welcomed freeways right through their centers, making things worse. The exceptions are often coastal cities, like Newport, Salem, Newburyport, Portsmouth, and Portland; also inland Burlington, Vt. They had more to preserve, preserved it better, and have recovered better than cities like Waterbury, Hartford, Fitchburg, Manchester, Holyoke, Springfield, etc.
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