A garden, a redevelopment plan, and a fight over who owns a neighborhood

Tommy Joshua, one of the founders of the North Philly Peace Park, gets ready to plant vegetables. (Brad Larrison/for NewsWorks)

Tommy Joshua, one of the founders of the North Philly Peace Park, gets ready to plant vegetables. (Brad Larrison/for NewsWorks)

A vacant lot in a city becomes a dumping ground. Somebody decides to fix it up and grow a garden or open a little shop. Years pass, and then the owner comes back.

Often, the people who’ve been tending the land believe they should have some rights to it.

That can lead to some heated moments. Like when Tommy Joshua showed up at a community meeting to find out the North Philly Peace Park was about to get swept up in a half-billion dollar redevelopment plan by the Philadelphia Housing Authority.

“I remember them telling them, flatly, ‘We don’t accept that,'” Joshua said. “‘The Peace Park is there, so y’all not gonna be able to build there.'”

More in this story, reported for Keystone Crossroads.

How a Philadelphia doctor changed the way we think about lead poisoning

Dr. Alan Leviton (left), Dr. Herbert Needleman, and Dr. David Bellinger at the Charles A. Dana Foundation Award ceremony in 1989. Needleman won an award for his research on lead poisoning. (Photo courtesy of Dr. Bellinger)

Dr. Alan Leviton (left), Dr. Herbert Needleman, and Dr. David Bellinger at the Charles A. Dana Foundation Award ceremony in 1989. Needleman won an award for his research on lead poisoning. (Photo courtesy of Dr. Bellinger)

In the 1970s, Dr. Herbert Needleman published a study linking lead exposure in children to IQ deficits and learning disabilities.

His research was partially responsible for the ban on lead in gasoline. And since then, dozens of studies have shown the same health effects.

Needleman has spent the rest of his life trying to get the lead out of kids’ homes. But in 2016, children are still exposed to it.

I told Needleman’s story in this piece for Keystone Crossroads. A version of the story ran on NPR.

Hamburg, Germany tries to create a neighborhood from scratch

People eat lunch on steps overlooking a waterway in HafenCity. (Wulf Rohwedder/for Keystone Crossroads)

People eat lunch on steps overlooking a waterway in HafenCity. (Wulf Rohwedder/for Keystone Crossroads)

On the Elbe River in Hamburg, Germany, there’s a district called HafenCity. It used to be an active port, inaccessible to residents.

But then the city decided the land was worth more as a neighborhood than a port and turned it into a riverfront district, with modern glass office buildings and apartment complexes, and futuristic looking public spaces.

Now, the hard part: turning that district into a place people actually want to live and work.

More on that in this story from Keystone Crossroads, which I reported during a fellowship to Germany last summer.

Is it fair for city workers to use overtime to spike their pensions?

spiking

John Stribula, president of Allentown’s firefighter union, said he’s not ashamed of spiking his pension. (Lindsay Lazarski/WHYY)

Spiking is when a city employee works a lot of overtime at the end of his or her career in order to get more money in retirement. And it’s controversial.

In a piece for Keystone Crossroads, I talk about a spiking saga that went down in Allentown, Pennsylvania and interview a firefighter who spiked his pension and isn’t ashamed to admit it.

At Penn State, researchers look for the next big thing in infrastructure

Railroad tracks in Pennsylvania (Courtesy of Flickr user Mark)

Researchers at Penn State are testing a “smart rock,” a sensor that sits underneath train tracks and sends out an alert if they’re shifting enough to cause a derailment. (Photo of railroad tracks in Pennsylvania, courtesy of Flickr user eggrole)

For this Keystone Crossroads piece, I visited Penn State’s Civil Infrastructure Testing and Evaluation Lab, where researchers are trying to come up with new ways to make roads, bridges, railroads, and other infrastructure safer and longer-lasting.

For med students, Match Day is a time when dreams and dread collide

Maurice Hinson, a first-year resident who I followed in the weeks leading up to Match Day last year. (Marielle Segarra/WHYY)

Maurice Hinson, a first-year resident who I followed in the weeks leading up to Match Day last year. (Marielle Segarra/WHYY)

In a several-part story for The Pulse, WHYY’s health and science show, I followed medical students who were waiting to find out where they matched into a residency program.

I spent a lot of time with the students, meeting their families and partners, learning about their lives, and even tagging along as they submitted their final ranking lists and went out drinking to celebrate.

I was in the room with them on Match Day as they opened their envelopes and found out where they’ll spend the next few years of their lives.

And I followed up with the new doctors a year later to find out if residency is everything they hoped for.

More in parts onetwo, and three of the story.

Reimagining Pennsylvania’s Waterfronts

Photo courtesy of Flickr user Kevin Jarrett

Last summer, Keystone Crossroads launched this series on city waterfronts.

I did a story about how a nonprofit group in Philadelphia is using low-cost, seasonal parks to bring people to the Delaware River (and to win supporters for the city’s $250 million waterfront master plan).

A version of the story aired on NPR’s All Things Considered.

I also co-created an interactive, multimedia map on urban waterfronts around the state.

LGBT Housing Rights Get Local Push In Pennsylvania

LGBTQ meeting

At Kutztown University in Pennsylvania, a lot of students live near campus. But not Shannon Peitzer. She’s a senior. And every morning she spends at least half an hour driving to school from her apartment.

“If I were to live in Kutztown,” Peitzer said, “I would be concerned that a landlord would look at me and say, ‘I don’t want to deal with you anymore, you’re trans, I don’t want that in my house — get out.'”

Peitzer is a transgender woman. And in Kutztown, it would be legal for a landlord to refuse to rent her an apartment or to kick her out for that reason. That’s the case in most places in Pennsylvania.

I talked to Peitzer and other students who are trying to change that in this story for Keystone Crossroads and Here & Now.

Locked Out: Pennsylvania has a housing problem

I reported a few stories as part of a Keystone Crossroads series on housing, including a story about the fact that it’s legal in Pennsylvania to deny someone housing for being gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender, which also aired on Here & Now, and a piece about how Pennsylvania’s aging homes could be a problem for everyone.

I also co-produced a video explainer and photo essay about how much you’d need to make an hour to afford to rent a one-bedroom apartment in cities around the state. The answer? On average, $14.21 an hour.

We talked to people who don’t make that much about how they get by.

Pope Francis comes to Philadelphia

I was part of the team that covered the pope’s visit to Philly in September 2015. I reported on the cheap places pilgrims stayed, on a pilgrimage planner who brought 1,000 people to the city, and on thousands of immigrants who marched together from South Philadelphia to see the pontiff speak about immigration.

I had tickets to his speech, so after I finished reporting, I attended that with my mom and aunt. We got pretty close to the popemobile.

Here's proof!

Here’s proof!

Me and my mom at the pope's immigration speech at Independence Hall

Me and my mom at the pope’s speech at Independence Hall