A revitalized center city Allentown can’t exist as an island, said city planning director Michael Hefele.
“We want the benefits we’re getting downtown from the new development to extend out into the neighborhoods,” explained Hefele.
The need to accomplish that huge task is documented in an evolving revitalization plan called: “Safe and Healthy Neighborhoods: The Center City Initiative.”
Allentown Mayor Ed Pawlowski calls it a community action plan. He said the city does not intend to forget the poorest neighborhoods surrounding the developing downtown. His goal is to benefit those neighborhoods in significant ways.
For two hours in City Hall Wednesday night, Hefele, Pawlowski and other city officials sought input from residents about what they think should be the top priorities to help make that revitalization happen.
Because less than 30 people attended, they were not exactly overwhelmed with suggestions.
According to the new plan, 27,000 people live in center city.
The 35-page plan’s introduction offers a blunt assessment of the dilemma facing Allentown:
“Fueled by the incentives offered by the Neighborhood Improvement Zone, the downtown business district is experiencing growth that it has never seen before in such a short period of time.”
But that business district “is surrounded by neighborhoods whose challenges currently outweigh their promise.
“These neighborhoods are characterized by some of the oldest and densest housing stock in the city; are home to the poorest population in the Lehigh Valley; have their share of drug-related crime and lack some of the amenities that more successful neighborhoods enjoy.”
The plan also states “household incomes are unable to adequately support even the most basic housing.”
The plan stresses: “The wealth of the community must be increased.”
One of is recommendations is that “the area requires the infusion of new income in the form of new residents with higher incomes and an increase in the incomes of current households.”
One of the top priorities to come out of Wednesday night’s gathering was the need for more job training for center-city residents.
Other high priority items indicate more should be done to educate residents about everything from crime to proper maintenance of their properties and that more should be done to create a sense of community in those neighborhoods.
Pawlowski stressed those neighborhoods have great assets as well as great challenges.
According to the plan, those attributes include uniqueness of the building stock in two historic districts, a burgeoning commercial district along 7th Street, long-standing health care and educational institutions, community groups dedicated to neighborhood improvement and “the energy and entrepreneurial spirit typically found in ethnically diverse communities.”
The boundaries of the “Center City Initiative” target area are generally defined as 12th Street on the west, Tilghman Street on the north, Jordan Creek on the east and Union, Jackson and Spring Garden streets on the south.
One exception is the North 7th Street corridor, which is included all the way to the north end of the city.
Nearly-one quarter of the city’s total population lives within the plan area.
Sixty-one percent of the residents in that part of the city are Hispanic or Latino, according to the plan.
Thirty-two percent to 55 percent of those residents live in poverty – compared to a citywide poverty rate of 26 percent.
The area experienced a five-year unemployment rate of more than 23 percent, compared to the city’s 14 percent.