Sunrise on the Southside (8): Connecting with the Hispanic Center

(Latest in a series of posts about Lehigh University and the Southside)

Sunrise on the Southside

Chapter 6: Connecting with the Hispanic Center

Gadfly continues his leisurely stroll through the Southside through the eyes of Lehigh’s promotional video about its contributions there, something which, in truth, is not always without controversy.

  • Victoria Montero, executive director of the Hispanic Center, says the partnerships with Lehigh faculty, staff and students and other organizations help the center to serve more people and improve its operations. Lehigh faculty also have forged relationships there. The goal is to improve the quality of life for South Side residents.
  • “There is a lot of work to be done, so it is important that we continue to work together,” says Montero, who grew up on the South Side after immigrating from Mexico at age 14.
  • “If we continue to work together, we are going to make an impact on the community. We can’t do it alone, we can’t. The Hispanic Center can’t do it without its partners.”

The example Lehigh gives of connection with the Hispanic Center is the internship program through the Health, Medicine, and Society program.

  • The Health, Medicine, and Society program at Lehigh . . . brings faculty from across colleges together to offer courses in medical sociology, bioethics, and a host of other fields.
  • In the classroom, students learn that people’s health is influenced not only by their body processes, but also by social determinants.
  • At the [Hispanic] center, {interns] Akinci and Kravitz learn firsthand about those complexities of health, such as the difficulty in accessing programs for those who lack transportation.
  • “What I have learned from working with people in the community, and just interacting, both here and at the clinic, is that you just have to listen to people and give them your attention and just be there for them,” Akinci says. “They really appreciate that.”
  • For the four years that students are at Lehigh, [Akinci] says, the South Side is their home. “Part of making a home your home is making community.”

“Making community” — a Gadfly medal for that girl!

Sunrise on the Southside (7): Supportive Community

(Latest in a series of posts about Lehigh University and the Southside)

Sunrise on the Southside

Chapter 5: Supportive Community

Gadfly is enjoying this leisurely walk through the Southside and through the eyes of Lehigh’s promotional video about its contributions there, something which, in truth, is not always without controversy.

  • Recognizing too that quality schools are essential for thriving neighborhoods, Lehigh has actively engaged with BASD Superintendent Joseph Roy ’09 Ph.D. to improve the quality and outcomes of the schools near campus.
  • Lehigh’s Center for Developing Urban Educational Leaders, and now the Community Service Office, partners with BASD and the United Way of the Greater Lehigh Valley in creating university-assisted community schools at Broughal, Donegan and Fountain Hill schools. In addition to academic support, the designation allows each school to extend their reach into the community, with students as well as their families receiving health services and social support. The Community Voices Clinic, a mental health clinic in the family centers at Broughal and Donegan schools, was formed in 2012 in partnership with BASD, St. Luke’s Health Network and Lehigh’s counseling psychology program.

Gadfly luvs this point especially:

  • Carolina Hernandez, assistant dean and director of the Community Service Office at Lehigh, says Lehigh students are often profoundly influenced by their work in the community. She says tutors, for instance, “quite frequently” change their career trajectories and go on to become educators. . . . For us, it’s about exposing students and helping students learn who they are and learn about the role that they have in the greater community.”

And words we luv to hear:

  • “South Side is our community,” Hernandez says, “and we have a duty and a responsibility to the community that we are a part of.”

Festival UnBound
Ten days of original theatre, dance, music, art and conversation designed to celebrate and imagine our future together!
October 4-13

Gadfly #1 seeks cure for insomnia

Festival UnBound
Ten days of original theatre, dance, music, art and conversation designed to celebrate and imagine our future together!
October 4-13

(Latest in a series of posts about the Southside)

Imagine Gadfly #00 moderating a local Jeopardy show.

The contestants are the Mayor, the Director of Community and Economic Development, and Gadfly #1.

Under the category “Bethlehem Zoning Code,” the answer is five unrelated people.

Gadfly #1 pounces on the buzzer first, as he has been doing for decades.

“The question is, what is the definition of a family.”

Thus, the root cause, according to Gadfly #1, of the developer lust for student housing on the Southside surrounding Lehigh University.

Followers know that according to Gadfly #1’s research, Bethlehem is the only college town in the state with such a definition — others have the less aphrodisiac number of 3, 2, or 1 student permitted.

And he keeps asking, why us? Why this number here?

And keeps getting no answer.

(A follower passed on the information that Bloomsburg defined a family as 4, and the courts upheld it against developer suits.)

Here is “ailing” Gadfly #1 appealing to the emotions of the power structure once again at the September 17 Council meeting.

Now the Mayor answered the South Bethlehem Historical Society letter about conditions on the Southside.

But poor sleepless Gadfly #1 keeps getting ignored.

Sigh.

Now maybe Gadfly #1’s question is too complex, controversial, and cantankerous to answer (Ha! adjectives some might say that apply to Gadfly #1 himself too!) — too hard.

So maybe yours truly Gadfly #00 might suggest something easier to at least help make those “neighborhoods” around Lehigh feel more like neighborhoods and to help assuage (good SAT word) el primo Gadfly’s insomnia.

Like taking the rental and rental company signs off the homefronts and windows.

The signs cluster on homes like lanternflies on trees. See the videos in Gadfly’s infamous Tour de Rentz: from Hillside to First Terrace back in July.

Perhaps video 3 as a good example:

Surely in this modern world there’s an online resource that efficiently directs prospective student renters to rental agencies and rental addresses — rendering these old-style signs — these badges of a kind of urban colonialism — well, old-style and unnecessary.

Surely, there must be a City ordinance against this kind of mercantile trashing of block after block after block after block on the Southside around Lehigh.

Very tacky, like streetwalkers parading their wares.

Perhaps an ordinance like zoning 1320.08 (a) (4): Signs advertising the sale, lease or rental of property, provided that the area of any such sign shall not exceed 6 square feet and not more than one such sign shall be placed on property held in single and separate ownership unless such property fronts on more than one street, in which case, one such sign may be erected on each street frontage. All signs shall be removed within 7 days after an agreement of sale or rental has been entered into. In addition to the foregoing, one open house sign shall be permitted subject to the conditions listed under 1320.08(b)(3). Two off premises signs shall also be permitted as stated in 1320.08(b)(3).

One could look at the Northside too, 12 E. Market, for instance. That yellow is very pretty.

001

Let’s get rid of these signs. And maybe plant some trees on Hillside and elsewhere on the Southside avenues while we’re at it.

At least give Gadfly #1 some satisfaction!

Festival UnBound

Sunrise on the SouthSide (6): Neighborhood Revitalization

Festival UnBound
Ten days of original theatre, dance, music, art and conversation designed to celebrate and imagine our future together!
October 4-13

(Latest in a series of posts about Lehigh University and the Southside)

Sunrise on the Southside

Chapter 4: Neighborhood Revitalization


We continue to look at the Southside through Lehigh University’s promotional “Sunrise” video. Their project came to Gadfly’s attention just as we have been spending a lot of time on the Southside, a focus especially stimulated by the moving letter from the South Bethlehem Historical Society and the formation of Bethlehem Residents for Responsible Development.

  • Just steps from the university, on streets that are predominantly to the east and west of campus, are row homes, apartments and small homes that juniors and seniors and graduate students opt to rent. About a third of undergraduates live off campus.
  • With the neighborhood in transition, university and city leaders grew concerned about rental property conditions. In response, with financial support from Lehigh, the city now designates two of its city code enforcement officers to regularly inspect South Side rental properties, including off-campus houses where students reside.
  • “We want to make sure that the housing stock continues to be strong, safe and stable,” says Bethlehem Mayor Donchez, who acknowledges a number of “very good landlords.”
  • Lehigh also purchased a number of properties near the west end of campus that were blighted, in poor condition or had earned a reputation of bad student rentals. . . . The university renovated those properties in an effort to improve the housing stock, making them available to faculty, staff and graduate students.
  • The goal is to make sure that we feel that the neighborhood has stabilized to a certain extent, that you don’t have a great level of turnover . . . The goal [is] to have more people, even not associated with the university, have homeownership so that it becomes much more of the family neighborhood that it once was.
  • Those strolling the Greenway pass Esperanza Garden, a community garden that grew out of a collaboration among Lehigh, its students and the city, and the Harmony Pavilion, part of the Lehigh Chinese Bridge Project.
  • Neighborhood revitalization is happening on a bunch of different fronts.
  • The kids are so important—just as important as the tourists coming in from New York [for the Wind Creek casino]. . . . The amount of money they spend on the South Side is a tremendous boon for the economy.
  • Now there’s a lot of pride in ownership, and people have reinvested in their own investments. The South Side has some tremendous projects that have gone up recently. We’re definitely the jewel of the Lehigh Valley.

Festival UnBound

Sunrise on the SouthSide (5): Long-time Believers

Festival UnBound
Ten days of original theatre, dance, music, art and conversation designed to celebrate and imagine our future together!
October 4-13

(Latest in a series of posts about Lehigh University and the Southside)

Sunrise on the Southside

Chapter 3: Long-time Believers

We continue to look at the Southside through Lehigh University’s promotional “Sunrise” video. Their project came to Gadfly’s attention just as we have been spending a lot of time on the Southside, a focus especially stimulated by the moving letter from the South Bethlehem Historical Society and the formation of Bethlehem Residents for Responsible Development.

  • John Saraceno is among a core group of business owners and lifelong residents who have long believed in South Bethlehem’s potential. For decades, Saraceno pushed to make city leaders more attentive to the South Side and reached out to university officials to encourage more involvement.
  • With the South Side already struggling when he first launched his design business in the 1980s, he helped form a SouthSide Merchants Association and created events to draw people into the community. He renovated the 1929 building that houses his business, the Lit coffee shop and other entities. And before the SouthSide Ambassadors took hold, he picked up trash and swept gutters in front of his property.
  • “There’s a lot of good things that have been going on for a long time,” Saraceno says. . . . “There are pieces falling into place. It’s just a progression of steps that were taken over the years.”
  • The merchants group that Saraceno helped found has evolved into the SouthSide Arts District, a revitalization program that works to improve economic conditions in the core business district. . . . Among the many events are Spring on the SouthSide, First Friday, the Out to Lunch Concert Series and the Screen on the Green community movie night at the Zoellner Arts Center’s gardens.
  • Each year, the non-profit SouthSide Film Institute also hosts the SouthSide Film Festival, which celebrates independent films from around the world. And the Bethlehem Farmers’ Market at Farrington Square brings in locally grown foods Thursdays from May through October.
  • The district’s design committee promotes the physical art visible on the streets (brightly painted murals, lively flower pots, funky bike racks).
  • As the SouthSide Arts District moves forward with its initiatives, South Bethlehem’s history looms large. “With everything that we’re trying to do to advance into the future,” Missy Hartney says, “we still have a big respect for the past and making sure that … we’re not tearing down our history.”

Festival UnBound

Sunrise on the SouthSide (4): Commercial Vitality

(Latest in a series of posts about Lehigh University and the Southside)

Sunrise on the Southside

Chapter 2: Commercial Vitality

We continue to look at the Southside through Lehigh University’s promotional “Sunrise” video. Their project came to Gadfly’s attention just as we have been spending a lot of time on the Southside, a focus especially stimulated by the moving letter from the South Bethlehem Historical Society and the formation of Bethlehem Residents for Responsible Development.

Images of Domaci, Godfrey Daniels, Joe’s Barber Shop, Color Me Mine, Lit, Banana Factory, etc.

  • The Domaci owners aren’t alone in their belief in South Bethlehem. While there are still empty storefronts to be filled, the South Side in recent years has attracted numerous entrepreneurs who have staked their success on a neighborhood they believe to be on the rebound.
  • Peron Development opened Five10Flats, an apartment and retail building, in 2018 on Third Street between Fillmore and Buchanan streets, across from Northampton Community College. The six-story Gateway at Greenway Park building was developed at Third and New streets, offering offices and retail space, including the top-floor restaurant Zest with its panoramic views.
  • Lehigh is an anchor tenant in the Gateway building, along with St. Luke’s University Health Network. The university relocated about 145 employees there from several campus locations, including its controller’s office, real estate services and the development and alumni relations offices. Additional Lehigh staff work a few blocks away in the Flatiron Building on Broadway.
  • You could look at it as moving Lehigh’s staff off campus, or you could view it as blurring the borders between campus and the town,” says Lehigh President Simon. “If you go into a lot of urban universities, [the borders are] blurred, and there are some buildings that have a lot of university employees and some that have businesses, and yet the campus still has an identity. But both can coexist in a very productive way.”
  • “I love being a part of this community,” [Color Me Mine owner Tara Nagabhyru] says. “I saw so much potential here.”
  • Like other business owners, Nagabhyru praised the efforts of the SouthSide Arts District, which pumped up the events calendar in its efforts to attract people to South Bethlehem. Also, Nagabhyru says, people like longtime business owner John Saraceno, who owns the building across the street and operates Saraceno Designs on the second floor there, offered practical advice and extended support when she opened her doors.

 

Sunrise on the SouthSide (3): A Clean and Safe Environment

(Latest in a series of posts about Lehigh University and the Southside)

Sunrise on the Southside

Chapter 1: A Clean and Safe Environment

After a short break, Gadfly would now like to continue the slow walk through Lehigh University’s high quality production  “Sunrise on the Southside,” focusing today on chapter 1, “A Clean and Safe Environment.”

This project came to Gadfly’s attention just as we have been spending a lot of time on the Southside, a focus especially stimulated by the moving letter from the South Bethlehem Historical Society and the formation of Bethlehem Residents for Responsible Development.

The SouthSide Ambassadors — those people in the yellow uniforms cleaning streets and sidewalks!

Who are they? Where did they come from? Why are they there? What do they do?

Since the program was created in 2014 in partnership with Lehigh and the Bethlehem Economic Development Corp. (BEDCO), the Ambassadors have expanded their footprint on the South Side with support from the Community Action Development Corp. of Bethlehem.

  • “In a lot of people’s minds, it’s not clear who [the Ambassadors] work for, whether they work for the City of Bethlehem or whether they work for Lehigh University. And to me, that is a successful way to view it. They are out there to make the South Side better.” (Lehigh president John Simon)
  • Seven days a week in the South Side’s core commercial district, the Ambassadors are on the job from 7 a.m. until 11:30 p.m. Morning details focus on sweeping the sidewalks in an 18-block radius, pulling weeds from tree beds, picking up leaves, sprucing up. Later in the day, the Ambassadors focus on safety issues. The Ambassadors also provide plenty of hospitality—helping visitors with parking meters, directions and restaurant locations.
  • “Listen, it was pretty rough down here. It was dirty. Street lights were out. Curb lines were just covered with garbage, out almost 16, 18 inches from the curb. That doesn’t seem like a big deal when you’re in it every day, but when it’s gone, what a difference it made. Things have changed considerably. ” (Ambassadors Operations Manager Hector Lopez)
  • “Now we are starting to see a change in [people’s negative perceptions of the South Side] just because the sidewalks are clean.” (Lehigh assistant vice president for community and regional affairs Adrienne McNeil)
  • McNeil works with Lehigh’s Office of First-Year Experience on Faux Friday, when first-years eat at South Side restaurants as part of the effort to get them to check out the core business district. Last fall, she says, about 1,100 students participated.
  • Then, on the first Friday in October, McNeil leads one of Lehigh’s 5X10 (five programs over 10 weeks) series. Participating students meet her at Farrington Square, then they walk together to the Color Me Mine pottery place on Third Street, where they can make plates, bowls and mugs imprinted with the Lehigh logo. “Part of that is just showing them that Third and Fourth streets are close,” she says. “It’s a fun thing for them.”

 Gadfly invites comments on this powerful Lehigh public relations document as we go.