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Lancaster City Living Returns

Several years ago, as I was returning from a vacation in Ohio, I was talking to my wife (and personal advisor) about Lancaster. We talked about the different places where we had lived and visited throughout the world and marveled at what a treasure the city was to live in.

The irony, of course, is that we were (and continue to be) parents and homeowners in what was known unceremoniously as "the 7th ward." Just as Manheim Township was known as just "Township," our neighborhood was simply known as "The Ward." The word itself brings up all sorts of images of institutions no one wants to visit. To mention it in conversation usually brought with it an awkwardness as others groped for something positive to say about a place they purposely avoided.

So why did we like Lancaster so much and why had the thought of moving anywhere else never come up? There are many reasons (starting with terrific neighbors) but it got me to thinking about how these perceptions happen and how they become cemented over time. Both my wife and I were not from Pennsylvania, only arriving in Lancaster in the late 1980's. We dreamed about a future where I might become involved in "reframing" perceptions of Lancaster (at least among its residents if no one else), and finding ways to reknit the communities that made it the thriving hub of Lancaster County.

In 2006, as fate would have it, I got a golden opportunity to do this as the executive director (full disclosure: I was the only employee with 24 board members) of Lancaster City Living – an organization dedicated to doing just that. With a financial commitment from the Lancaster County Community Foundation and many generous donors, we served up our message by website, magazine and a modest storefront on East King Street. As we were looking to continue our run, we were met by the realities of the economy's downward spiral. We ran out of money and the organization disbanded.

But we learned some interesting things along the way. Among them was that this great city has a long story and its neighborhoods have stories and its residents have stories. We who live here inherit those stories and add to them through our lives and actions. And in adding to those stories we weave a community, a social fabric, that is both rich and textured. What could be cooler than that?

I decided to acquire this website and once again move this conversation forward. And, I hope you will join me.

My name is Michael Sprunger and I live in the Stevens Neighborhood.

7 Great Things To Expect from the Trust Performing Arts Center This Season

The Trust Performing Arts Center brought an impressive first season last year, featuring Grammy-nominated artists and internationally renowned speakers. Launching this September, The Trust is excited to publicly reveal their 2015-2016 line-up of outstanding musicians and lecturers in this guest blogpost by Michelle McGovern.

September 3, 2015 - Soprano, Jennifer Aylmer, and baritone, Thomas Meglioranza with pianist Tim Long . Kicking off The Trust's season with a bang, New York opera stars Jennifer Aylmer and Thomas Meglioranza collaborate with Timothy Long to present "An American Song Book". Watch them perform "You Need Song"

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Housing in Lancaster City

On Tuesday, October 22, Zimmerman/Volk Associates presented its findings in the Lancaster Country Housing Market Analysis to the Lancaster County Housing Summit at the Double Tree Resort in Willow Street. We read all 850 pages so you won't have to.

What we found of their findings:

- Surprisingly, at 5.06 dwelling units per acre of land, the City of Lancaster is not the most dense of the 60 municipalities; Ephrata Borough has the highest gross density in the county at 6.13 dwelling units per acre.

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Beyond the numbers: Why Lancaster's finances are on solid footing and why that matters...

Patrick Hopkins is a homeowner in Lancaster's College Park neighborhood. As Business Administrator for the city, Patrick knows a thing or two about Lancaster's finances. He graciously accepted our invitation to share what he knows in a guest blog post.

Here's what we know: The City of Lancaster is among the most fiscally healthy cities in Pennsylvania. How do we know this? The best, and most objective, source for comparing the relative financial health of a city is to look at its bond rating. Lancaster City has the highest bond rating among the state's most populous cities including Allentown, Altoona, Bethlehem, Easton, Erie, Harrisburg, Lebanon, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Reading, Scranton, York...well, you get the point.

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Burying Power Lines

Like hanging extension cords from the ceiling.

What do suburban developments and Lancaster's Central Business District have in common?

They both have buried power lines.

Not so much for the neighborhoods. If you live in a house that was built before electricity was generously distributed to every home, you know all the tricks and secrets to after-construction wiring. Imagine, though, that instead of hiding the wires, you decided to screw eyehooks into the ceiling of your home and run a series of electric extension cords from room to room. The aesthetics of the house would be marred by the spider web hanging aloft. This is essentially what cities have done.

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The Best of the Rest - Ten Cool Urban Kickstarter Projects

As promised, here are ten other interesting urban projects from the "kickstarter sphere." There are many, raising funds for community gardens, cafes, public art and, believe it or not, beekeeping. So, we left those alone. Here are the best of the rest. Appearing in no particular order:

Floating Forests

1. Stranger reduction zone
2. Walkable urban design tool
3. Independent boutique urban winery
4. Neighborhood mapping project
5. The Power of the Neighborhood Block
6. "Shot at Sundown"
7. Urban air
8. Open urban
9. City Chicken Project
10. Greenaid-Seedbomb Vending

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details and video.

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Kickstarting Urban Revitalization

Continue reading for three Lancaster Kickstarter campaigns worth caring about.

It has been said that urban revitalization can't be carried out with Kickstarter. The point is well taken. Some things are just going to cost a lot of money, both public and private, to refashion urban spaces to accommodate social and economic interactions.

But there is another rail to urban revitalization.

Cities are starting to be reimagined by the people who are returning to them. And in the notable demographic made up largely by young adults, it was just probably just a matter of time before crowd-sourcing came to urban renewal. I decided to take a look to see what I could find. A search of Kickstarter for things like "urban" and "neighborhood" pulls a reassuring number of projects (many for things like urban gardening). Interestingly, the reward for some "investors" is nothing more than a heart-felt thank you (and, in one case, good karma). Yet, it seems that people are more than willing to part with a couple of bucks just to see these ideas get off the ground.

Says Linda Aleci in the kickstarter video below, "Small investments can yield big results...for the neighborhood and then for the city as a whole."

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Chickens in the City

In 2006, a Vermont transplant asked us if Lancaster would permit raising hens in the city. Of the all the questions we get asked, that one seemed an oddity. No more. People ask this question all the time, and with good reason. The trend of chicken raising has grown as fast as organic/urban gardening-minded younger adults have been returning to the city.

To find out more about the city's position, we went to the health officers and posed the question, "How many chickens is a homeowner allowed to raise/keep in their back yard." Here is the short answer: None. The long answer can be found in Chapter 96, Section 23, of the City Code. No reasons are offered. But, apparently, according to the same code, pot-bellied pigs are ok (we suppose, as long as you pet them and don't eat them).

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The Social Interaction Potential

In the mid-1990's, a "futurist" predicted that with the advent of the internet, people would be able to work anywhere without being constrained by the distances between their homes and their offices. Technology would make it possible for workers to move to, say Montana, while continuing to serve their clients in New York. Cheap gas and the automobile culture had already started to empty cities. This bit of prognostication was simply taking the trend and pushing it out even further.

Except that prediction has turned out to be wrong.

Urbanist, Richard Florida, has a good explanation of why this prediction is misguided. In his book, the Rise of the Creative Class, Florida concludes that productivity relies not so much on the reach of the internet as much as the proximity of workers in relation to each other. According to the laws of urban energy, the very creativity upon which our economy depends needs places where different people with different ideas and areas of expertise can meet – even if by sheer serendipity.

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