Wednesday, August 5, 2020

Is This Really Urban Renewal?

     I mentioned that my wife and I took a day trip up to Bethlehem, PA, to catch a sight of the so-called Steel Stacks. So here's what we saw as we turned into the parking lot.


     Pretty amazing, huh? We arrived the afternoon that Musikfest was to begin, held annually at the beginning of August. Gates open at 5 p.m., the music starts at 6 p.m. Below is a picture of the main stage, hard up against the Steel Stacks,. Usually Musikfest attracts thousands of young people -- it's located just down the hill from Lehigh University --  but this year crowds are limited, so the main stage is not being used.

 
      Instead the bands are playing at a secondary stage, across the street in front of the ArtsQuest center. The crowd is limited to 250 people in the main area, and another 250 in this secondary area. Foods tents have been set up in one of the parking lots. Again, only 250 people are allowed into the food area at one time -- all arranged around a one-way pathway. Take-out only. 


     We were not there for the music. We just wanted to see what this was all about. Musikfest is held at the site of the old Bethlehem Steel Company, founded in 1863 to make iron rails for the railroad. The plant was a major manufacturer during both World Wars and went on to produce steel used in modern bridges and skyscrapers. After the plant closed in 1995, it was left to the elements. But in recent years the site has slowly been renovated as an urban chic destination for tourists, music lovers . . . and gamblers. 


     Down the street, behind an abandoned building, we could glimpse Wind Creek casino, which in my mind illustrates the change in our economy from manufacturing (steel making) to services (games of chance). The casino, here since 2009, closed in March and re-opened in June to a Covid-limited audience. We didn't walk all the way to the casino. Instead, we circled back around the other way and found . . . a Roman ruin?


     No, just another post-industrial American ruin.. And beyond that, another one . . . 


     and yet another, whose falling-apart roof lends itself to a more abstract view.


     So as you can see, they have a ways to go in the renovations. Still, there are economic green shoots growing out of these old ruins. There's an industrial museum buried among these buildings. A community college has claimed one corner of an old building. Then, of course, there's always tourism, the great American pastime. 


     The Visitor Center was closed -- it was opening later in the day for Musikfest -- but we probably wouldn't go in anyway. We don't even use public restrooms these days. So we left for home, wondering all the way: Is the new American economy really better than the old one?

12 comments:

ApacheDug said...

Wow... I’ve seen plenty of this here in Pittsburgh the last couple years, a former steel mill, Catholic church, school & office building all converted to craft breweries, but the renovations are usually a lot more extensive. Well, it’s sad to see the ruins of another era (a more successful one), but I admire Bethlehem's efforts.

DJan said...

I think it looks rather sad. But your pictures tell a curious story of urban decay. I do use public bathrooms when I can find them, because, well, I don't know what else to do when out. I am pleased to see that many of them are well maintained and sanitized, if I can believe the signs, anyway. :-)

Tom said...

I have mixed feelings about this kind of urban renewal. Schools, museums and music venues are cleaner and perhaps better than smokey old steel plants. On the other hand, sometimes I wonder: Do we actually make anything anymore?

Arkansas Patti said...

That is really sad to see. A once thriving industry now an eyesore. At least they are trying.
Glad you passed on the Musikfest. I can't see those as good ideas for now. Too soon.

Kathy @ SMART Living 365.com said...

Hi Tom!

Glad to hear you are getting out and about some. I know it's really necessary for me. But wow! They think it is okay to have a music festival with 250 people? That seems like a lot to me and I wouldn't go anywhere near that type of crowd anytime in the future. So interesting how so many different cities and states are practicing (or not practicing) safety precautions. Another good example of how we really can't turn over our health to anyone else. Stay healthy! ~Kathy

Olga said...

It is sad to see the factories that have gone out of business, even sadder to me for some reason to see the buildings going to ruin. I could do a similar post about old barns around here.

Janis @ RetirementallyChallenged said...

I love to see old buildings like this given a new life. It's heartbreaking that the good jobs the mill provided are gone but I imagine the air and water is cleaner.

Tabor said...

Such a shock how we scar the earth. We leave behind rusty bones and pretend it is not there.

gigi-hawaii said...

Bethlehem Steel was my boss' client in a lawsuit against it during the 1980s. Their steel was used in the Aloha Stadium, but it got so rusty and dangerous that they were sued.

Bob Lowry said...

My dad worked at the Bethlehem Steel plant for a few years when he was a young man. One day his pant leg caught fire but it was so hot inside he didn't notice until a coworker started beating on the pants. Looking at these pictures I can imagine those working conditions.

Wisewebwoman said...

I am always filled with sadness looking at pictures like this. All the sweat and pain and death in making those railroads and war materials. Thousands of workers.

On the other hand I do love the transformations into something more sustainable and earth friendly.

XO
WWW

Diane Dahli said...

There is nothing but sadness in my heart on seeing this,Tom. Our countries are full of these images of more successful times. These structures lie somewhere between our glorious past and a hopefully more productive future. It's sad to know that many people lost their hopes and dreams here.