Urban Renewal in the Stroudsburgs

After WWII, while the federal government was building highways — sometimes through communities — and subsidizing and incentivizing the construction and purchase of detached single-family dwellings — that is, if you were of the “right” race, ethnicity, and economic level, — there was a growing sense that cities, and perhaps even towns, weren’t safe places to live. As people and jobs, or jobs and people, or some people and jobs starting leaving cities in large numbers, the cities started looking for ways to reinvent themselves to reattract people and jobs in order to survive. Pittsburgh was a leader at that time, inventing and defining the process of Urban Renewal. Other cities like Bethlehem looked up to Pittsburgh and tried to adopt the strategies and techniques of Urban Renewal used in Pittsburgh. Often these cities, as illustrated by Bethlehem, lacked the resources and power to pull off Urban Renewal on the same scale as Pittsburgh.

Revisiting the once familiar environs of Stroudsburg (pop. 5,950) and East Stroudsburg (pop. 9,669), I realized that even these small towns adopted practices and principals of Urban Renewal. And similar to the pairing of Allentown (pop. 125,944) and Bethlehem (pop.75,624), the larger of the two municipalities implemented more Urban Renewal projects while the smaller implemented more historic preservation practices.

Below is a very biased sample of the the Urban Renewal practices I believe I identified in the Stroudsburgs:

Urban Renewal Practice #1 – The Ring Road

Both boroughs contain a partial or complete loop of one-way streets around portions of their downtowns. This traffic pattern now appears to me as strongly reminiscent of the circles Pittsburgh built around important commercial neighborhoods – which subsequently nearly died, possibly because they were already dying, but probably aided by being choked off by these ring roads. In Stroudsburg and East Stroudsburg, it didn’t appear that the ring road has the same sort of death grip on the commercial enterprises they encircled. Several of the business I remembered were still operating and I didn’t notice significant numbers of vacant properties – though the couple vacant businesses I noticed were in East Stroudsburg. However, they weren’t areas that were tempting to explore more closely because they were sites developed along the second Urban Renewal practice.

Urban Renewal Practice #2 – Auto-oriented Uses

Both boroughs contained drive-through businesses in the center of their ring roads. In addition, strip malls are off to the right as you enter each borough on the ring road. In Stroudsburg, the auto-oriented uses felt like they were tightly centered on the ring road; nearby and spilling into the ring road was a dense, walkable downtown. On the other hand, in East Stroudsburg, it felt like the auto-oriented uses were spilling beyond the immediate environs of the ring road and into what was presumably once a much more extensive dense, walkable downtown.

Urban Renewal Practice #3 – Demolition for Underutilized Parking Lots

Part of what made the experience in East Stroudsburg feel more auto-oriented was the larger number of visible paved lots, presumably for parking, but largely empty. While I was most likely day-dreaming about the plot of my latest story featuring either princesses or cowboys when I previously spent time in downtown East Stroudsburg, there was a feeling of familiarity in the near empty parking lots suggesting that I would have felt uncomfortable if they were actually parked to capacity in the same way I felt uncomfortable passing locations where trees I used to know had been cut down.