Tube City Almanac

January 08, 2013

Reader's Viewpoint: 'Attitude of Denial'

Category: Another Viewpoint || By Submitted Commentary

City resident Brian Evans writes in response to yesterday's commentary:

I would maintain that there is no place in as much ruin in southwestern Pennsylvania as McKeesport, at least not on such a large scale.

I grew up in New Kensington and can say for certain that New Kensington is nothing like McKeesport. The sheer number of abandoned homes --- no, whole city blocks --- is shocking. And not only blocks of homes, but the streets themselves are nearly abandoned; some are grown over completely with brush and trees.

More importantly, if we were to see such poverty, suffering and squalor occurring in another nation, we would be sending in relief workers and billions of dollars in foreign aid.

Those who know me know that I chose to move into the city of McKeesport because it is a community in need of residents willing to work for positive change, even if that means taking on great personal and financial risks. But one thing that must be overcome is the attitude of denial in this city.

Things are bad here --- very, very bad --- and extreme measures need to be taken to save this community from abandonment, ruin and violence. We must have strong community spirit and truly believe that things can change for the better, but we also cannot deny reality.

I agree with much of your assessment of "ruin porn," but the problem here is, I think, that those who have realized how bad things have left, and too many of those who still live here (and could leave) remain because they are in denial.

. . .

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“A concerned McKeesporter”

First, start by getting rid of Harrison and Crawford, along with mid-town plaza. It is a forgone conclusion, as found by various federal government studies, that housing projects foster the very violence that the city of McKeesport says it is trying to get rid of. It is a crime to continue the farce of wanting to get rid of crime, but have no willingness to get rid of the environment that breeds the activity. If McKeesport is serious about ridding itself of the crime that permeates the landscape, and holds the city hostage, Harrison and Crawford Villages must go.

In so doing, new housing could be built on the current Crawford site, naming it the Crawford plan, in honor of the housing projects that once existed there, along with a like housing plan on the Harrison site. From the Harrison Plan down towards the mill site, entertainment venues could be incorporated to take advantage of the water ways for family type activities. With this, the focus of the lower mill site would be changed to become a family oriented entertainment/amusement site, with activities that are not offered at Kennywood Park or Sand Castle, its nearest competitors. A golf-dome would serve the area well, as a revenue generator that would take advantage of the golf boom, and the myriad of golfers, in the Mon Valley, and surrounding area, that cannot hone their skills during the cold weather months. Not only would this golf-dome provide the ability to play and practice golf but it would also offer a full scale river front restaurant (something sorely needed in McKeesport), miniature golf, paddle boating and a fishing cove. All these projects are very do-able and not very expensive. This could be the hub of other types of family entertainment businesses, such as go-karts and bumper cars (see Andretti racing/ Mountasia Family Entertainment Center), laser tag and paint ball, modern family arcades, full scale roller skating, with an indoor rink and outdoor skating park, and an ice skating rink. A new open air amphitheater and state of the art performing arts center could be strategically located in this new family entertainment corridor and would become home to both the McKeesport Symphony and the McKeesport Little Theater. An I Max theater that caters to family style educational and entertainment type movies would also serve the city and out lying area well, with little to no competition, as there is none in the immediate area. As for the theater, it could also contract with the surrounding school districts, of the Mon Valley, to have their students come in for special showings of various movies, whether educational or entertainment. The possibilities are endless as to what types of family entertainment facilities could be brought into McKeesport. However, no matter what they are, all would be revenue generators. With these kinds of activities, McKeesoport could, and would, have need for a small hotel to accommodate the constant traffic drawn to, and through, the city (IE the revitalization of the “New” Penn McKee). Yes, even the once proud Penn McKee could possibly be refurbished or, if not, a new one could be built. The beauty of such a plan is that it will draw people into the city, thus bringing revenue, without the need for them to live in the city.

With this, the housing stock could be downsized, without the need to build as much new housing, going forward. This could be done strategically in certain areas (IE the Crawford plan, and Harrison Plan), revitalizing the Tenth Ward Plan into a gated community, with upscale housing, to take advantage of those who want to live on the waterfront, and other strategically located plans on the outskirts of the new McKeesport. This would allow other areas of the city to grow back into their natural habitats. Additionally, with the need for less housing, some of the unused land could be strategically sold off to current homeowners, expanding their lots from the now normal 25 by 100 lots to more roomy and desirable quarter acre, half acre, one acre and even two acre lots. The seventh ward would be the ideal location for such a plan. This would effectively reduce the cluttered housing by as much as three quarters of its current levels. Additionally, this would allow beautifying greenery to be added to the largest corridor of the city, the currently overcrowded, overpopulated 7th ward. Demolition of current housing could be done in a more strategic manner to accomplish this goal. This may call for relocation of some current homeowners, but with so much extra housing in the city an innovative acquisition/buy back and relocation plan could be put in place to accommodate such a move. With additional land ownership, increased taxes would not only become more palatable, but even acceptable. Again, because of the need for less housing stock, new housing developments would institute this same philosophy of building lots to the more suitable, and modern, quarter acre, half acre, one acre and two acre sizes. With the implementation of these ideas, we would begin to see a greener McKeesport, with the downsized housing stock taking care of itself, by attrition.

Along with these changes, a new downtown, with targeted specialized retail shops, could be constructed along the current Fifth Avenue, from Sinclair Street down to Market Street. An emphasis would need to be placed on bringing multiple businesses into a new downtown as a collective group of one. With this plan, all medical facilities could and should be relocated into another corridor, the new Medical Corridor, that would run along Fifth Avenue, from Coursin Street out to the current McKeesport Hospital location. Also with this plan the upper mill site, from Market Street and upwards, could continue to be shopped for mid-sized Industrial businesses, but on a smaller scale, which is more in line with the 21st century economy of this country and, more importantly, the new McKeesport. Also, under this new plan, there would be a lite industrial corridor that runs from 9th Street to 15th street, running east to west and from Locust Street to Market Street, running north to south. From 9th Street to 15th Street and from Locust Street to Jenny Lind Street, the natural habitation would be allowed to grow back in, once again, adding beautifying greenery to the city landscape. .

Next, change the focus of the city from what it used to be to what it can become. As one council person mentioned, the idea of Weed and Seed, and what it isn’t doing for the youth of the city, as it relates to violence, is a huge problem that doesn’t seem to go away. Weed and seed, while it may have good intentions, has not made a significant difference in curbing the youth violence that has run amuck, and out of control, in the city. But, because of this failure there is a golden opportunity to turn McKeesport into the hub of the Mon Valley, and County of Allegheny, by focusing on youth activities beyond the family activities mentioned earlier. McKeesport can, and should, build a youth sports, academic and cultural academy (to be housed in a dome of the same type as the golf dome). This would be a multi use facility that would engage the youth in specialized sports training, targeted academic training and enriching cultural training. As an outgrowth of the many academic, cultural and recreational facilities and activities already in place and, or, taking place in the Renzie Park, McKeesport High School and Penn State-Greater Allegheny corridor, this facility could be built on the land that was once in consideration to be the home for the new McKeesport middle school. Utilizing this land would provide more than enough space, thus making it suitable to house the Academy.

This complex could be used to teach the nuances of playing various sports, something that the youth of the Mon Valley are sorely lacking when they take their games to the collegiate level, if they make it at all. With the emphasis that the government has put on math, science, and new innovation, this academy could bring extra focus and training to these areas of study beyond what the schools currently offer. With one eye on the government and the other eye on the future, this type of proactive approach to training will put our children at the front of the line of the new wave of innovation that is sure to take root in the 21st century. This would bring a newfound pride to McKeesport and the Mon valley, in a way that we’ve never seen before. This academy would serve the youth of not only McKeesport, but those of the entire Mon Valley and would be the home of a full fledged AAU program, that is so sorely need in the area. Furthermore, to further engage the youth of not only McKeesport, but of the valley, and the county, McKeesport, through this academy, could and should start a yearly youth festival that brings together the youth of the valley, and the county, to compete in athletics, academics and cultural events. This two week event could take advantage of not only the academy, but the natural resources already in place. Utilizing the Renzie Park facilities, the McKeesport High School facilities, the Penn State facilities and the Auberle facilities, as well as the academy facilities, this festival could be the start of a great new thing in McKeesport. This festival would culminate with a big celebration in the park with music, games, food and fireworks, after the medal ceremony. This academy, and festival, would begin to build bridges between youth of the various communities and stem violence in a way that no police effort ever could. It would also instill a pride in the youth and the overall community of McKeesport, something we haven’t seen since the 1960’s and 1970’s.

With these simple and very do-able changes, McKeesport can grow into a nice bedroom community, with its primary focus being on family and youth, with multiple activities for both, which is what draws people to want to live in certain communities over others.
Name Withheld On Request - January 10, 2013

“Concerned McKeesporter” has some good ideas and understands what must be done in order to allow the city to flourish … get rid of Harrison and Crawford, at least to the extent it exists today. The ghetto thugs are a large part of what plagues the city today. Although the construction of youth centers sound good in theory, without armed security guards and metal detectors and cameras (all of which add considerably to the expense and upkeep of such a concept) such ideas are doomed as the juvenile thugs permeating the city will gravitate to these spots and in no time at all, will keep everyone else away.

A major problem in the city is the drug dealers. Everyone knows who they are. The citizens know who they are. The kids know who they are. The police know who they are. But very little changes. McKeesport needs more assistance in the form of law enforcement. The status quo from the city’s police department simply isn’t working. The police department’s approach hasn’t changed in decades and they lost the city long ago to violence, criminal thugs and drug dealers. The city needs a commitment of ongoing long-term narcotic investigations complete with suspect roundups, enacted forfeiture and full-scale enforcement.

Until the powers-that-be change their approach to something proactive instead of reactive, youths will continue to die, crime will increase unabated, drug dealing will continue to be the city’s most prolific activity and citizens will move away.
Jack Straw - January 12, 2013

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