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Considering the City: Don’t miss Toni Griffin on April 28th

Lisa Austin

Of the more than 100,000 architects practicing in the U.S. today, only three tenths of a percent are African-American women. One member of this select group is the visionary planner Toni Griffin.

Trained at Notre Dame and Harvard, Griffin is the founding director of the J. Max Bond Center on Design for the Just City at the Spitzer School of Architecture, City College of New York. Through the Bond Center, Griffin has worked in Chicago, New York, Detroit, and other cities to create a “shared vision for equity, inclusion, and access.” On April 28, thanks to Preservation Erie (PE) you have two chances to hear Griffin speak about designing a Just City.


Porch Protection

Lisa Austin & Stephen Sonnenberg

Ray Gindroz, co-founder of Pittsburgh’s Urban Design Associates, claims that urban safety is a fundamental problem facing cities today. “No one wants to live, work, start a business, or shop in a city,” Gindroz says, “unless it’s safe.” One way Erie can become safer is by building, repairing, and using front porches.

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Arts & Culture Economy

Lisa Austin

Attending arts and cultural events in Erie for the last 20 years, I have been transported by music, transfixed by dance, lost in film, overwhelmed by theater, shocked by poetry, enchanted by crafts, challenged by visual arts – and engaged in conversation with people of all ages, races, economic status, levels of education, political views, spiritual practices, physical abilities, and birthplaces. Arts revive and hone our humanity, contribute to social interactions, foster innovation, and attract and retain human capital to the region, thus enriching our economy. Arts organizations also measurably put dollars into the local economy. They can’t out-source their workers and tend to buy supplies nearby (thus supporting other local jobs). Additionally, arts organizations attract visitors downtown to spend their dollars in Erie.

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Let’s Manufacture Some Prosperity

Lisa Austin & Greg Dillon

Despite a litany of recent closings, including grim news from GE, manufacturing remains at the core of Erie’s economic life. One in five area jobs is in manufacturing, about twice the national average. We know how to make things here. Erie’s romance with manufacturing dates almost to the dawn of the industrial revolution. Forges and foundries provided decent jobs and related businesses sprouted up to support this industry.

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The Made in Erie Marketplace

Lisa Austin, Stephen Sonnenberg & Laurel Swartz

Civitas rented the Masonic Temple’s Camelot Room, hired a designer to create a logo, printed cards, located vendors, booked a chef, signed musicians, found a security guard, and alerted the media. The first Made in Erie Marketplace succeeded in putting locally-made products into the hands of Erie shoppers, transferring over $4,000 into the pockets of entrepreneurs, and successfully establishing itself as a replicable event.

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Overlooking the East Side

By Josh Morgan, Lisa Austin & Adam Trott

Mayor Joseph Sinnott, who deserves applause for getting Erie’s budget under control, seems to believe that the McBride Viaduct is just a liability haunting the city. Some in the administration suppose that the Viaduct could become a financial debacle, undoing the Mayor’s hard work. The firm of L.R. Kimball (LRK), contracted to determine the most prudent course of action for the Viaduct, nurtured such concerns.


Considering the City: Fight Blight!

Lisa Austin & Sue Moyer

Broken windows, missing doors, sagging porches, peeling paint, collapsing garages, and caved-in roofs attract crime, discourage investment, and lower property values. Not surprisingly, a 2001 study by researchers at Temple University revealed that blighted properties devalue nearby properties; great homes located “within 150 feet of an abandoned unit” almost always suffer exponentially-reduced sales prices. A 2015 study for the City of Erie’s Comprehensive Plan by CZB identified 4,500 blighted properties in the city. According to Mike Baker of the Erie County Department of Planning, there are 48,517 structures in the city of Erie, including garages, sheds, etc. This means almost 10 percent of structures in Erie are blighted. Inevitably, some will be demolished. But many can be saved if we are willing to take action as a community. To fight blight we must: initiate focused code enforcement, pass new ordinances to support code enforcement, and embrace creative homesteading options.

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Repopulating the City

Lisa Austin & Stephen Sonnenberg

As most readers know, the planning firm CZB is working on a comprehensive plan for the city of Erie. One of the biggest concerns CZB has outlined is the issue of blighted properties and diminishing real estate values. Though Erie was built to accommodate 140,000 people, today, fewer than 100,000 live in the city. But, thousands of people work in Erie. Every weekday morning, Erie’s highways and arterial streets are clogged with suburbanites rushing to jobs in the city. This is partly due to the fact that the city of Erie has no residency requirement; many of the city’s police, fire-fighters, school teachers, and office workers live in Millcreek, Summit, Harborcreek, and beyond. Concerns about safety, schools, and taxes drove many people out of the city. Sadly, it is a worsening spiral: as more residents leave, taxes go up, crime increases, schools suffer, and more residents leave.

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Pondering the (Buki) Plan

Lisa Austin & Adam Trott

Begun by Mayor Joe Sinnott’s administration and led by Charles Buki of CZB, a neighborhood planning firm specializing in deep dive analysis, strategy development, and implementation of revitalization plans based out of Alexandria, Va., the City of Erie Comprehensive Plan (ECP) commenced this spring with Parris Baker, Randy Bowers, David Brennan, Jeff Brinling, Barbara Chaffee, Rose Graham, Michelle Griffith-Aresco, David Katovich, Erika Ramalho, Doug Massey, Don Marinelli, Charles Scalise, and James Sherrod serving as its steering committee.


EMTA Stakeholders

Lisa Austin

On Erie’s Zoning Hearing Board, one of five seats is reserved for “the building trades.” Having actual construction experience is considered to be an important viewpoint to have in zoning discussions, and this makes sense. In the last few weeks, there has been a lot of discussion about the current method of making appointments to the board of the Erie Metropolitan Transportation Authority (EMTA). Some propose to decrease City EMTA appointments and to increase County EMTA appointments. While the dialogue has centered around which governmental authority should make board appointments, this conversation doesn’t address the skill-sets of those serving on the EMTA board.

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