Overlearning the Lessons of Historic Preservation

It’s completely true that historic preservation rescued the best parts of downtown Bethlehem from one of the worst design fads ever to rock the nation back in the 70′s and 80′s, but I think some of Bethlehem’s policymakers have over-learned this lesson.

It’s not modern architecture that’s the problem but ugly architecture. People understandably feel lucky that more of the downtown didn’t get bulldozed to build ugly stuff, but the lesson isn’t to prevent any demolitions or new construction in the CBD. After all, plenty of ugly buildings did get built during that period – the Brutalist monster on Broad between New St and Guetter, the apartments on Guetter between the parking garage and Broad Street, the parking garage itself, the whole west side of Main St north of Broad. All this stuff ranges from hideous to merely crappy, and it all takes up way too much land in the CBD relative to the amount of actual housing and commercial space it’s packing. The Southside is even worse on this front. There are quite a few buildings that are old but not historically or aesthetically interesting that the city has made it way too hard to demolish with the Southside Conservation District.  And even if you can replace buildings, the design regulations for what you’re allowed to replace them with are way too prescriptive.

The task that lies ahead for people who want to make Bethlehem look prettier is not to preserve, but to destroy. The political program going forward is knocking down all that stuff and some of the uglier Northside buildings and replacing them with mixed use retail and apartments. And not ugly fake Colonial stuff, but nice modern buildings. The other lesson from that period is that cities don’t have to settle for the first draft from developers. Community input can make for better-designed projects (it can also make for worse-designed projects..) and people who care about this stuff shouldn’t feel bad demanding more imagination from developers. You have to be realistic about the costs, but my point is just that there are plenty of examples of modern mixed-use buildings that look very nice, and you don’t have to settle for cheap boxy garbage just because it’s the first thing a developer puts on the table.

The point is that you want good aesthetically-pleasing design. It can be old or new. To give a local example, I think Easton has pointed the way forward  with the Sigal Museum. It’s a very modern building that’s been nominated for some architecture awards, and it’s situated between some very old buildings. The juxtaposition of very old and very new styles is what makes that block interesting. It’s not the modernity you need to fear, it’s the ugliness.

Andy Po of Homebase Endorses Willie Reynolds for Bethlehem Mayor

I can’t think of a business more emblematic of New Bethlehem, and more influential in the up and coming Southside business district, than Homebase Skateshop. Andy Po is a skilled businessman and advocate for the city’s youth culture. He has the ear of a lot of people who are not deeply engaged in city politics, so his endorsement and engagement with the Willie Reynolds campaign has the potential to bring out some new voters. It’ll take some work to turn the youngs into a real political coalition, but I’m glad to see Andy getting it started by reminding folks that it took sustained engagement with city politics to get the Skateplaza built:

Dear friends &  supporters,

I am writing you on behalf of my friend, J. Willie Reynolds who will be running in the Primary Election for Mayor of Bethlehem this year.  Willie and I have known each other since I moved to Bethlehem from San Diego when we attended Liberty High School.  Willie played basketball while I skated in the courtyard outside the gym during the games.  Even though we ran with different crowds at Liberty he was always supportive and open minded to what I did.  By the time we graduated in 1999, I was proud to call Willie a friend. 

Fast forward to Homebase Skateshop opening and all the years of pushing to get Bethlehem to build a skatepark for the kids in the community, Willie and I reconnected.  Willie served on the City Council of Bethlehem- still does too.  Every time I found myself in front of City Council talking about the benefits of skateparks, Willie was up there making sure everyone knew he too supported the idea.  Every time he was asked by the press if he thought it was a good idea for the City to build the skateplaza, he gave his approval.  Every time we had an milestone event that got us a step closer to the skateplaza opening, Willie was there to support.  He has played a big role in getting the Bethlehem Skateplaza built for me, my business, my friends and generations of skaters to come.  The community wasn’t always as opened minded about skateboarding as it is now.  There were times where his vote to keep progress going on the skateplaza kept the dream alive.

But it’s not just about skateboarding, it’s about keeping the momentum moving forward with the same kind of forward thinking that we have seen in the City of Bethlehem.  Forward thinking that brings about progress and growth to our community and the local economy.  If you know me, you know I am not a political person but I have witnessed the condition of our City improve, our local business community grow and the quality of my life enriched under the lead of forward thinking leaders.  I believe Willie Reynolds can be that type of leader.

Regardless if you live and vote in the City of Bethlehem, if you have seen the benefits the Bethlehem Skateplaza has done for us, please come out to Willie’s Campaign Kick-Off on February 21st at the Comfort Suites from 5:30-7:30pm and shake his hand.

Thank you,

Andrew Po Homebase Skateshop

MSNBC Needs to Dump Joe Scarborough

As the intellectual case for immediate deficit reduction disintegrates before our very eyes, Joe Scarborough has decided to become more and more strident on this point. In fact, Scarborough’s recent schtick seems to be picking fights with quants who know better than him on a range of issues, and then appealing to Beltway groupthink to claim “victory”. There are smart conservatives you could hire to co-host a morning show on a liberal cable news network. Scarborough isn’t one of them.

Glenn Reibman Charging $25 to Hear His Announcement Speech

DERP