After David Trout’s stirring introduction to the issues of sprawl and history of metropolitan development, Myron Orfield revealed that Montgomery County has more widespread economic weakness than Delaware County. The metropolitan areas around Pittsburgh and Lancaster are experiencing similar trends on a smaller scale. While he could have shown more data about the reasons why some municipalities have thrived in these areas over the last three years, it was an eye-opening presentation. Firsthand accounts of declining standards of living in Scranton, Wilkinsburg, Upper Darby, York County, and Bensalem/Trevose established that these trends in the failure of local and state government are widespread throughout Pennsylvania.
Following lunch, Orfield recommended that Pennsylvania follow the legislative regionalism solutions that numerous other states (Kentucky, Michigan, Georgia, Florida, Kansas, Nebraska, Maryland, Oregon, and Tennessee) have adopted. He argued that progress requires at least three legislative sessions of hard citizenship involvement, but the crisis is too severe to neglect. Representatives from Wilkes-Barre emphasized the importance of taking this message beyond the existing organizations and communities that already acknowledge these problems. The involvement of banks, realtors, and small businesses is an essential next step.
Other major themes that emerged from the presentations were: (1) Public transportation funding deficiencies prevent smarter regional growth as most public transportation in Pennsylvania is subsidized at $15-$22 per rider, while SEPTA (with the most riders) only receives a $2 per rider subsidy; (2) Efficiency has emerged as the federal standard for grant support from the Department of Housing and Urban Development and the Department of Transportation as opposed to past standards that simply examined the size and scope of new projects; (3) The extension of the Building One Pennsylvania network from Philadelphia and its immediate suburbs to Allentown, Reading, and Lancaster is the transformative political movement of 2010-2012.
Numerous candidates for public office have shown their support for the First Suburbs and Building One Pennsylvania organizations this year, including United States Senate candidates Joe Sestak and Pat Toomey, Gubernatorial candidate Dan Onorato, State Senator John Rafferty, State Senator Ted Erickson, and State Representative Matt Bradford. Hopefully, more public officials like Gubernatorial candidate Tom Corbett and State Representative Mike Vereb will join their colleagues in recognizing the importance of these issues for the future of Pennsylvania.