Rust Belt Revival: How community division undermines economic redevelopment

In many respects, New Castle’s sprawling economic development is actually a manifestation of community division and the lack of a “New Castle community” identity.


NEW CASTLE, Pa., February 2, 2015 − Tired of local and regional news coverage focusing on the negative events taking place in New Castle, local businessman and father Angelo Perrotta decided to found NCRadio450 and NCTV45 to restore New Castle’s image and lead the rebuilding of his community.  Supported by local businesses, this radio and television startup decided to teamed-up with the New Visions volunteer movement in order to have a solutions-driven conversation that help bring back New Castle.

In turn, this writer was asked to moderate an ongoing roundtable discussion on revitalizing New Castle.

Moving forward with the second episode in our “Focus NC” conversation, guest Barbara Grossman and the host started to confront and explore the psychological barriers that undermine economic redevelopment.  Not only are these kind of barriers inhibiting a strong, broad base recovery of the Greater New Castle community. The effects can also be seen in many other communities struggling with legacies of poverty and economic collapse.

Although Barbara Grossman had originally investigated local transit services and roads to address a potential parking deficit, this writer quickly recognized Greater New Castle area had inadvertently been developed to divert as much traffic away from down as possible. In turn, grocery stores, restaurants, and retail stores have largely migrated to surrounding shopping centers and out of the downtown area. By pursuing customers into their neighborhoods, businesses have essentially nullified most of the reasons people would need to drive an extra few miles in order to visit downtown New Castle on a daily basis.

In many respects, New Castle’s sprawling economic development is actually a manifestation of community division and the lack of a “New Castle community” identity. The working middle class and more affluent professionals live in communities like Neshannock Township, which features a booming sub-division of the local economy boasting a broad array of businesses and services available to individuals with higher incomes.

Those living in Neshannock can literally meet all of their everyday needs and wants without leaving their neighborhood,  even as downtown New Castle no longer features the kind of jobs that once supported healthy consumer spending during the workweek.

Impoverished lower income workers, and everyone else who lives in less affluent neighborhoods can shop on the outskirts of town where businesses that cater to their spending needs have set up shop. To boot, there are four major shopping centers within the twenty-mile radius of New Castle that offer all the goods or services those living in the Greater New Castle area cannot immediately find in their neighborhoods.

Granted, the poor and affluent may visit each others’ stores if they happen to be in the area for an appointment or they are shopping at a specialty store. But they do not live and work together in a united community.

Furthermore, there is a misperception that downtown New Castle is an ugly place, infested with crime and having nothing to offer visitors or potential customers except dysfunctional, crazy people. This perception may have been true at some point. But much has changed in New Castle. Sharing their experiences, both guest and host attempted to dispel this perception and confront the bias that exists against the have-nots as well as the bias the have-nots have against the haves.

Unfortunately, it is true to a large extent that the impoverished New Castle population does suffer from widespread dysfunction. Where the divided economy helps exacerbate the mental health and behavioral issues of the less fortunate, the mistreatment, or at least the perceived mistreatment, of these people makes the problem worse for them with regard to the local economy. Consequently, perceptions of the poor also drive increased division.

Furthermore, confronting people and finding reasons for people to come downtown appears to dispel the negative perception of New Castle downtown as exemplified by the experiences of the host and guest.  Sadly, those living in this community tend to focus on their own self-interests while failing to recognize their stake in the interests of the over-all community. Bringing the haves and have-nots together by recognizing everyone has an interest in the success of the New Castle community is something that is increasingly necessary in order to make the city better, more productive and more appealing for all.

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My name is Matthew Justin Geiger; I currently hold a BS in physics and psychology based politics from Allegheny College of Meadville, Pennsylvania. I am the creator/manager/editor of ​The Washington Outsider. I am a freelance writer, political analyst, commentator, and scientist presenting my views through news sites like The Washington Outsider, Communities Digital News (CDN) and I also host the shows "The Washington Outsider" and "FocusNC" on local news station startup NCTV45 in New Castle, PA. In addition, I have written a short story collection, “​Dreaming of​ Other Realities,” two novellas “​Alien Assimilation” and “​The Survivor,” and a poetry collection, “​A Candle Shrouded in Darkness” available on ​Amazon. My goals are to offer my opinions and skills to those who are in need of an honest, professional consultant or freelance writer.