Stop painting an inaccurately negative portrait of our region
READ, PA – I rarely make it through a day without someone reminding me that Reading was once the “poorest city in the United States” (it was once also one of the richest) or citing obscure crime statistics from 2005.
This portrait of a struggling region has become an integral part of fundraising appeals, political speeches and of course meetings.
I ask everyone to stop. Straight. Stop.
When you find statistics that are a decade or older (the poverty numbers are from 2011), it sounds like we’re not keeping up with our reading.
The image of the greater Reading area as declining is nonsense, outdated and counterproductive.
We are a center for burgeoning innovation and education in healthcare. Last year Reading Hospital ran the first liver transplant in the district. Tower Health is building one in collaboration with Drexel University new medical college in West Reading next to the recently refurbished VF complex. Prior to the pandemic, new restaurants opened in downtown Reading and as part of it Read the CollegeTowne InitiativeAlvernia University’s decision to start a new School of Engineering and relocate their School of Business downtown was the kind of economic shot most places only dream of.
Alvernia’s initiative led directly or indirectly to a plan Redevelopment of hotels in Madison and Berkshire to downtown housing. Shuman Development Group is converting the former Meridian Bank building on 6th Street and Washington Street into a multi-tenant commercial building and converting the Medical Arts Building into residential buildings. There is even a plan for it Refurbishment of the Reading Eagle Company building to take advantage of the proximity to the new Alvernia campus.
It is quite possible Passenger train between Philadelphia and Reading resumes this decade and brings a tremendous shot of economic energy.
The growing prosperity of our region is reflected in the economic conditions of our families. Current census figures showed that the median household income in Berks County rose 20% from $ 56,122 to $ 67,708 between 2015 and 2019.
At Reading, the numbers showed a shocking improvement over the period. The median household income increased 50% from $ 26,531 to $ 39,670.
At the same time, the proportion of people living in poverty in Reading fell from 38.8 percent to 24.7 percent.
Great efforts have been made to bend the trends affecting our region. We should celebrate our growing success and figure out how to accelerate it instead of focusing on old news. It’s not just wrong; it’s not helpful. Nothing attracts success like success. Woe to Us is not an effective strategy for attracting new resources when the story and the picture do not match.
At Berks County Community Foundation, we don’t see ourselves as Berks County cheerleaders. Our job is to find ways to improve the community and work on it. But it is also our job to tell the truth. And an increasingly poor, crime-ridden, oppressed community is not our truth. Not today.
So let’s all agree to stop it.
With best regards,
Kevin K. Murphy, President
Berks County Community Foundation