Mid-Sized Cities As Reverse-Frontiers: Why You Should Move to Allentown, PA.

At about 118,000 people, Allentown is the third-largest and fastest-growing city in Pennsylvania. It’s a city that’s fallen from its place as a national commercial and industrial leader and a city in transition, with a downtown redevelopment project poised to renew the economic vitality of the urban core.  Big plans are afoot, but they’re not without controversy.  Suburban townships unhappy with a recently-passed state law creating a 130-acre redevelopment district partly funded, in theory, but Earned Income Tax money from wages made in the City by suburban township residents, have filed a suit against Allentown and other parties they believe have done them wrong.  Until that’s sorted out, “poised” is the best way to describe the situation.  Poised for the kind of failure jealousy has often wrought, or for the kind of success we’ve been waiting for for thirty years.

Allentown is a mid-sized city.  I realized today after some regular meetings with civic leaders precisely what mid-sized means to me:  big enough to be burdened with great responsibilities and blessed with great potential, but small enough that people — and partnerships — can make real differences.  Small enough, then, for me to take the success of my city personally.  There are real opportunities to be part of the change.  That also means there are real opportunities for territorialism and silo-building, and real opportunities to have a personal stake in the subversion of those things.   I believe those things are bad for my city, and I can be given to take that personally.

The opportunities in Allentown mean specific things for young Gen Xers and Millennials.

Creative class: we need you.

Come here.  Move here.  Create here.  Advocate here.  A hundred more of you could be the tipping point that creates thriving art and green scenes that you’ll build with the people here who are working hard at connecting around those kinds of issues even now.  If developers and litigious townships assert that Allentown is up for grabs, I’ll assert it with them.  And if it’s up for grabs for them, it’s up for grabs for us.  We need you to help us chart the course of Allentown’s civic identity in the 21st Century.  Help us see our iconography anew.  Help us celebrate our history by building a future together.  Join the good work being done here and stake your own claim on this reverse-frontier.

Someone found my blog today by searching the term “Generation X is broken.”  We’re not, and neither is this place.  We are poised to make a difference, to create and lead the change.  Come back from the hinterland and be part of something real.

For reference, Allentown is bigger than fellow mid-sized cities like Springfield, Illinois; Athens, Georgia; Lansing, Michigan; Ann Arbor, Michigan; Green Bay, Wisconsin; Berkley, California; and Burbank, California.  Like most of these cities, Allentown is part of a larger metropolitan area.  And we’re uniquely positioned within reasonable distances from Philadelphia, New York, Baltimore, and DC. We have unique colonial, consumer and creative heritage, an institutional art scene and an emerging network of eager independents.

See you soon.

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