The latest in a series of posts on Northside 2027
Haven’t heard about Northside 2027 for a while. Good to know it’s cookin’. Once again tip o’ the hat to Councilman Reynolds, Mayor Donchez, and City Administrators.
Councilman Reynolds’ fond memories of Thomas Jefferson (the school, not the president — Reynolds is a young man) always taps Gadfly’s memories of the Highland Ave. playground in Lansdowne, Pa., where he literally learned the facts of life among a rich diversity of mates and where your three-pointer ca-chinged rather than swished because of the chain nets. It was a multi-ethnic crucible. A place that formed values just as surely as the home down the street and the church across the street.
Bethlehem is built on the places we share as a community. The Steel. Liberty. Freedom. Moravian, Lehigh and Northampton Community College. When one of these Bethlehem institutions comes up in a conversation, everyone smiles because we have something in common.
In January of 2017, working with the city administration, I launched North Side 2027, an investment and revitalization strategy for our north Bethlehem neighborhoods that surround Thomas Jefferson and William Penn Elementary Schools. These neighborhoods are wonderful places to live, but I thought they could be even more.
Which brings me back to our institutions. Our success in North Side 2027, as a city, will be determined by our ability to see our future through shared goals, experiences and identities. Those shared places are why we have a city that is special. “Yeah, my dad and his dad worked together at the Steel” or “Yeah, we know their family through church.”
Those connections are what make people love our community. Looking across America, the decline of our institutions has led to individualized identities that disconnect us from each other in ways that make it difficult to accomplish community vibrancy and growth.
Bethlehem officials are organizing a number of committees that will include residents, small business owners, elected officials, representatives from the Bethlehem Area School District, Moravian College and other important community partners. The committees will meet regularly to implement the neighborhood priorities that have arisen from the North Side 2027 planning process including:
- Fostering safe public spaces through streetscape improvements and traffic calming investments.
- Increasing the economic vitality of small businesses through physical improvements to our Linden and Broad Street corridors including prioritizing returning Linden Street into a two-way street.
- Supporting homeowners and renters through financial home improvement incentives and increased code enforcement.
- Focusing on the priorities of our families, including increasing access to health care, healthy food availability and valuable neighborhood services.
So how are we going to accomplish these goals in the North Side 2027 neighborhoods? We have already begun. In the past two years, the city has funded projects in these neighborhoods including:
- Over $2 million in public infrastructure spending including street paving and pedestrian improvements in the North Side 2027 area.
- $100,000 for Friendship Park.
- $350,000 for the Bethlehem Food Co-op project, a community-owned grocery store that has the potential to become a new place that we can share as a city.
I was fortunate enough to grow up on Linden Street and attend Thomas Jefferson Elementary School so I hold a special connection to these neighborhoods. I remember walking to school with my friends and my siblings. We would say hello to neighbors we didn’t know who were out early to work on their yards. We would see our coaches from North Central Little League who would remind us about practice after school. We would talk with our crossing guards, who made sure we got to school safely.
Bethlehem’s neighborhoods were special then and still are today.
At meeting after meeting, I witnessed neighbors who previously didn’t know each other share similar experiences about their neighborhoods and their lives in Bethlehem. It was remarkable to watch people nodding their heads in agreement with people they had never met before.
I like to think even putting neighbors in the same room to listen to each other was a small victory for our city. The common priorities that were shared became the backbone of the strategies laid out in North Side 2027.
It is my hope that North Side 2027 will serve as a blueprint for how Bethlehem can bring together our residents, public schools, small businesses and institutions of higher learning in an effort to strengthen our neighborhoods and our city.
Let’s get to work.