Archives for June 2012

That’s That

Matt Assad and John Micek:

Leaders in several communities where lawsuits have halted progress on Allentown’s downtown arena say they are ready to drop their legal actions now that the law is being altered to remove the use of suburban taxes to build the hockey complex.

Hopefully now things will return to the pre-lawsuit trend path, where it seemed like every week we were hearing about new office building proposals and business relocations.

Bus Rapid Transit Between Bethlehem and Allentown Now More Important

One obvious way for Bethlehem to profit from increased office development in Allentown is bus rapid transit along the Broad Street/Hanover Avenue corridor. The more you can shrink the time it takes people to travel between the two downtowns, the more Bethlehem benefits from the NIZ.

The best way to do this would be to dedicate a travel lane for buses going each way, so buses never have to sit in car traffic. They would simply run on a shuttle between the two downtowns. Over the long term, I would like to see that whole corridor zoned for higher density mixed uses, creating an urban boulevard connecting the two cities.

See You Next Week

I’ll be at the beach all next week, avoiding the Internet as much as possible I hope, so no blogging for me.

Have a nice week, and see you back here Monday July 9th.

Change in NIZ Law Raises Stakes for 2013 Bethlehem Mayor Race

Here’s an important point for the 2013 Bethlehem Mayor race and municipal elections, from Scott Kraus and Matt Assad’s article on how the state budget might resolve the Allentown NIZ controversy:

A second change would seek to change the part of the improvement zone legislation that appears to be written solely for Allentown. In their lawsuit, municipalities argue that making the improvement zone district available only to “third-class cities with populations between 106,000 and 107,000 as counted in the 2000 U.S. Census” is a violation of the state constitution’s prohibition of special legislation.

Browne would not discuss details of the proposed solution, but some legislators say an example of a fix could open the law to “all Third Class cities with populations above 105,000.” That would fix the constitutional problem without creating new such zones across the state. Currently, only Erie, with a population of less than 102,000, is close.

Various Bethlehem politicians and officials have been worried about how cheap office rents in Allentown will impact development on the former Bethlehem Steel land.

I think now that the NIZ is definitely happening, and has been made available to all third class cities with populations about 106,000, the goal for the next Mayor and city council is very clear:

Get the population of Bethlehem above 106,000 people.

As of the 2010 Census, it’s around 77,000. So adding just 29,000 more residents would mean Bethlehem can use an NIZ tax district to develop the rest of its brownfield land.

It would not be hard to fit that many more housing units in Bethlehem’s two downtowns, but obviously some trade-offs would need to be made with some residents’ preference for low-density auto-oriented planning, and the preference for conservig all old buildings.

If the next Mayor and city council were willing to rezone the Southside CBD and Northside neighborhoods closest to downtown for higher density, replace the property tax with a land value tax, and adopt a more liberal policy toward demolition of old-but-not-historically-important buildings, I think it would be relatively easy to hit the NIZ population target within a reasonable timeframe.

The change in state law nicely clarifies what the stakes are, and puts an important choice before Bethlehem’s voters ahead of the next Mayoral election.

Is the city going to keep growing and take Southside to the next level, or is it going to get stuck where it is and potentially lose out to Allentown?

Why Philly Politics Needs a Strong Property Rights Party

Cross-posted from Keystone Politics, where I am mostly blogging these days

This is a liberal blog, so I don’t really want to be plumping for the Philly Republican Party on here, but I think this is an area where a party favoring strong property rights would be very useful in city politics. A Philly GOP worth supporting would tell these NIMBY busybodies to buzz off and let Finnegan’s Wake’s owners do what they want:

City Council’s recent approval of zoning changes allowing an expansion of Finnegan’s Wake has greatly hampered the Northern Liberties Neighbors Association’s ability to negotiate with the owner for changes to the plan, NLNA President Matt Ruben told residents Thursday night.

Several attendees expressed anger at First District Councilman Mark Squilla for calling the two bills granting control of a portion of Bodine Street to Finnegan’s and allowing owner Mike Driscoll to add an outdoor dining area and multi-level balconies, which residents fear will lead to more noise and other problems. Driscoll has said the purpose of the balconies, the outdoor tables on Bodine, and a new entrance is to switch the focus of the business to the catering aspect and away from the bar. But there is nothing in the bill that limits balcony use to catering patrons.

Ideally Democrats would also come around to this view, but without real political party competition at the city level, everybody just seems to compete to make NIMBYs happy, to the detriment of business and housing development.

And in practice, Republicans tend to see this stuff through a culture war lens and aren’t actually interested in applying libertarian views on property rights to neighborhood politics. But I keep reading stories about the Philly GOP getting interested in competing in city elections, so it’s fun to think about what a sensible opposition party agenda might look like.

(Thanks: Kellie Patrick Gates)

Paul Krugman on Yesterday’s Real Winners

Paul Krugman:

How many people are we talking about? You might say 30 million, the number of additional people the Congressional Budget Office says will have health insurance thanks to Obamacare. But that vastly understates the true number of winners because millions of other Americans — including many who oppose the act — would have been at risk of being one of those 30 million.

So add in every American who currently works for a company that offers good health insurance but is at risk of losing that job (and who isn’t in this world of outsourcing and private equity buyouts?); every American who would have found health insurance unaffordable but will now receive crucial financial help; every American with a pre-existing condition who would have been flatly denied coverage in many states.

In short, unless you belong to that tiny class of wealthy Americans who are insulated and isolated from the realities of most people’s lives, the winners from that Supreme Court decision are your friends, your relatives, the people you work with — and, very likely, you. For almost all of us stand to benefit from making America a kinder and more decent society


John Roberts Votes With the Left to Uphold the Affordable Care Act


Pat yourselves on the back all of you who volunteered for Obama and Democratic candidates in 2008. This would not have been possible without your hard work. Now it’s time to get our boy reelected.

Max Weber:

Politics is a strong and slow boring of hard boards. It takes both passion and perspective. Certainly all historical experience confirms the truth –that man would not have attained the possible unless time and again he had reached out for the impossible. But to do that a man must be a leader, and not only a leader but a hero as well, in a very sober sense of the word. And even those who are neither leaders nor heroes must arm themselves with that steadfastness of heart which can brave even the crumbling of all hopes. This is necessary right now, or else men will not be able to attain even that which is possible today. Only he has the calling for politics who is sure that he shall not crumble when the world from his point of view is too stupid or too base for what he wants to offer. Only he who in the face of all this can say ‘In spite of all!’ has the calling for politics.