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.

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.

Lessons from German cities

A pool built into an old coal mining facility in Germany. (Marielle Segarra/WHYY)

A pool built into an old coal mining facility in Germany. (Marielle Segarra/WHYY)

Last summer, I spent several weeks in Germany as part of a German/American journalist exchange program through the RIAS Berlin Kommission and the Radio Television Digital News Foundation.

During the trip, I shared lessons on urban planning and revitalization from German cities, including stories and photos on an urban garden in Berlinbike-friendly infrastructure in Münster, adaptive reuse of former coal mines in Essen and an artists’ quarter created by the city of Hamburg.

I also reported a radio feature about HafenCity, Hamburg’s attempt to turn a former port into a living, breathing neighborhood.

Here’s the full list of stories.

Seeing a city in watercolors

Chester, Pennsylvania has one of the highest homicide rates in the country. In 2014, the city’s per-capita murder rate (the number of murders per 100,000 residents) was 88. Detroit’s was about 43. Philadelphia’s was 16. New York’s was about 4.

So yeah, things in Chester seem pretty bleak.

That’s how photographer Justin Maxon has depicted the city for the last seven years. His photos are black-and-white and otherworldly, even creepy.

Except now he’s rethinking things. He says he didn’t give the residents of Chester a fair shake.

So he’s taking his photos and painting them in watercolors.

More (including the photos) in this blog post I wrote for Keystone Crossroads.

Pennsylvania’s structurally deficient bridges, mapped

Twenty-three percent of Pennsylvania’s bridges are structurally deficient.

That means they need repairs or they’ll be weight restricted or closed. As Keystone Crossroads reported in the first part of our series on the state’s bridges, those restrictions can force fire trucks to take longer routes and can make it harder for residents to get home.

We put together an interactive map of all the state’s structurally deficient bridges. You can zoom in on any part of Pennsylvania to see which bridges are deficient, weight-restricted, and closed.

The unusual tax plan that’s funding Allentown, Pa.’s revitalization

Allentown, Pennsylvania’s third largest city, just got a brand new, $200 million taxpayer-funded arena. It’s part of the city’s Neighborhood Improvement Zone (NIZ) project, a state tax incentive program that’s helping the struggling city reinvent its downtown.

The NIZ is like nothing you’ve seen before, in Pennsylvania or the rest of the country. In this story for Keystone Crossroads, I explain how the program works and what’s so unusual about it.

Are Pennsylvania’s bridges safe?

At the WHYY project Keystone Crossroads, part of our mission is to explain urban policy, economic development, and infrastructure in a way that makes sense to people who aren’t necessarily nerds about cities. People who just want to know where their tax dollars are going, and whether their roads and bridges are safe.

We’re doing a series of explainers: data-rich, simply-worded web stories that get to the bottom of these kinds of questions.

Here’s my most recent explainer, which asks the question “Are Pennsylvania’s bridges safe?” It also explains what the heck a structurally deficient bridge is, and how many there are in each county in Pa.

We’ll be doing more stories on Pa.’s bridges, on the radio and the web, in the coming weeks.