18 February 2011

Plenty to love in York - and Pittsburgh - right now

By Eric Menzer

The historic Capitol Theater serves as a gathering place for
CapLive events, film screenings and community meetings.
It's an important part of what makes York special. 
Sitting in the audience for the screening of “My Tale of Two Cities” on Wednesday night, I watched and listened as Carl Kurlander explored what made Pittsburgh special to him. Despite municipal bankruptcy and despite being in the heart of one of the only metro areas its size that is actually declining in population, Carl presented many of the wonderful attributes that led Pittsburgh to be named one of America’s Most Liveable Cities by Forbes magazine in 2009. And, if you were there at the Capitol Theater on Wednesday night, you heard Carl marvel at what he had seen in York in a short time that afternoon.

Then, I read the coverage of the Building York Summit and the thread of “reader feedback” comments in response to the online version of the Daily Record’s story.

What a contrast in perspectives!

In both the article and online, the writers reflected a sense that the City of York was some sort of basket case that had miles to go to reach simple respectability. Nothing could be further from the truth.

And ironically, many of the warts that people cite as almost insurmountable obstacles are present in spades in Pittsburgh. Whether it’s crumbling infrastructure, dilapidated housing, crime, financial challenges or ornery public-employee unions, Pittsburgh’s got ‘em all! And guess what? Forbes is right anyway!

Because Pittsburgh also has the other things Pittsburgh has are marvelous performing arts, world-class medical centers, cool historic buildings, rivers and bike paths, classic neighborhoods, interesting shops, championship sports teams, committed foundations, and museums ranging from the sciences to the avant-garde arts. And the city is full of researchers, university students, artists, environmentalists, and entrepreneurs – and also of bureaucrats, desk clerks, convenience-store clerks, prison guards, bus drivers – all the people who actually make a city work day-in and day-out.

See, this imagined perfect – perhaps almost pristine – physical, social or fiscal environment people seem to want in York is not only unnecessary for success, it’s not even desirable.

If you want a sanitized environment, go live at the York Galleria.

If you want a real environment, move into Newton Square, the Avenues, Fireside, South York, or downtown. Put your company downtown, and shop at Central Market with your neighbors. Come to ball games at Sovereign Bank Stadium and concerts at the Strand. And yes, encounter the occasional panhandler, trip over the occasional broken curb, grit your teeth while you bounce through the ruts of South George Street, and mutter in occasional frustration over the latest city financial issue.

And while you’re doing it, remind yourself that notwithstanding any of those things, in the last four years, through the worst recession any of us have ever encountered, downtown York has added businesses, apartments, concerts, restaurants, ball games, and jobs. Remind yourself that perhaps the very last building in downtown that has gone untouched since Hurricane Agnes – at 22 South George – is being renovated right now. Remind yourself that Central Market has an energized Board of Directors and is adding cool, new stands for the first time in years. While you’re at it, remind yourself that our Central Market now has a student-run bakery, a grass-fed beef stand, and soon a microbrewery.

Still feeling sorry for yourself?

Remind yourself that York College is bringing fine arts students downtown. Remind yourself that our Mayor and City Council debate issues civilly and reach compromises for the good of our city, that our crime rate is going down, and that 250 people care enough about our town to respond so enthusiastically to the Building York summit that they created a waiting list!

You see, “My Tale of Two Cities” was not about Pittsburgh as a piece of geography. Rather, it was about Pittsburgh as an attitude. It was about why Carl was drawn back to it warts and all. It was about the paradox – that a place can be beset by all sorts of afflictions, and still be wonderful. Look at this recent opinion piece in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette: The city is grabbing a higher percentage of college grads. All of which should prove to us that we need not – in fact should not – use any of our own so-called “warts” as an excuse. A city need not be perfect to be great.

And anyone who is still sitting around waiting for some imagined better day for York should recognize that our day is here right now.

Eric Menzer is president of the York Revolution professional baseball team and manages the Codo Development Group, a real estate development company working in downtown York. Eric is active in community affairs and civic leadership at both the local and state level. He chairs the York County Community Foundation and serves on the boards of Downtown Inc, Better York, YorkCounts and the Crispus Attucks Association. He just concluded several years as Chairman of 10,000 Friends of Pennsylvania, a statewide policy-research and advocacy organization that promotes smart growth and urban revitalization, and he remains active on that board. Eric was previously the senior vice president of Wagman Construction in York. Prior to that, he served for eight years as York’s director of economic development and previously as the executive director of the York County Transportation Authority. He is a passionate baseball fan and lives in York with his wife and daughter.


Terpsmom said...

I like your positive spin. My husband actually moved his manufacturing company to York City area less than 10 years ago. That has been problematic with the high and ever increasing taxes. It would be great if York city tax base could be meshed with some outlying areas to make things more equitable. This would make York City locations more appealing and increase tax revenue to the city. It's too easy to say pay more taxes when schools need more money. It will drive some businesses OUT OF BUSINESS.

YorkCounts said...

Terpsmom, one of the YorkCounts recommendations that emerged from the Metro-York effort several years ago was to reform local taxation through a tax study commission. The goal would have been to address the inequity of the current "winners and losers" tax structure. That recommendation has not found any traction, yet, mostly because of a "we're not going to help the city" mentality across the county. Too many people still don't understant that a thriving city is key to the quality of life for all of York County.

Deron Schriver said...

It's hard to miss the momentum that's out there. There are a lot of great people doing great things! With that said, I think it will be easier to sustain the momentum if a more clear vision is developed. To the extent that people from all backgrounds can be brought together to craft that vision, the chances for sustained success will probably increase. It's likely that more people will become engaged if they see a place for themselves in the movement and if they believe they can share in the benefits of the end result.

dipes2desks said...

Great post.

Greener pastures can always be found... or made. In other words, we can always be proud of what we've done with what we have and use our strengths to constructively repair what's still broken. "Constructively" is the operative word in the last sentence, so let's be clear on its context. Being constructive is thinking and working hard to make something better. It is not winging a complaint to City Council, the newspaper or anywhere else. It also isn't destructive, which is the opposite of constructive.

As a member of the "entitlement generation", I feel like each of us is entitled to anything; anything that we can constructively accomplish.

Mary Lou Alsentzer said...

Having lived in Pittsburgh before moving to York County I completely agree that York City has plenty to love - right now. The beautiful architecture, the Codorus River and the mighty Susquehannock, open farm land and access to major urban centers are all part of what makes York unique. The Center for Community Engagement is consolidating over 100 years of past planning and revitilization efforts and will soon release a report. I am hopeful that report will cast a clear vision that is based on history (we love the past in York) and a picture of a sustainable future for all of York County's citizens. I truly believe that despite our attempts to educate, it will be our abiity to inspire that will turn the tide.