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Bethlehem’s South Side development the focus of two Lehigh efforts

Lehigh University will take a holistic look at the development of South Side Bethlehem, through two collaborative initiatives that will address the development’s impact on the community at large as well as on the university.

Las Vegas Sands Corp. is building a $600 million casino, hotel and retail complex on the former Bethlehem Steel site on the South Side. Proponents say it will spur economic redevelopment in the area, creating an entertainment and retail boom, while others in the community have expressed concern about potential increases in crime and traffic.

South Side Initiative

In response, Seth Moglen, associate professor of English and interim director of the Lehigh Humanities Center; and John Pettegrew, associate professor of history and director of Lehigh’s American Studies program, organized the South Side Initiative. The project, conceived in April, will bring together the university community, the people of Bethlehem, government officials, experts and developers to learn about the Bethlehem Steel site plans and address the needs of the community.

“We want to create a democratic space for the people of the city to come together and learn about this transformation and participate in a dialogue that will shape a positive outcome for this city,” said Moglen.

The initiative will tap the faculty and students in 17 academic departments and programs in the College of Arts and Sciences, with additional participation from other colleges as well as academic, research, student affairs and administrative units. Each participant will examine the site from their respective area of expertise—exploring issues such as the environmental impact, immigration, gentrification, and historical ramifications. Additionally, a dozen courses have been rostered through the College of Arts and Sciences. Moglen and Pettegrew said they’ve had an enthusiastic response to the initiative from every conceivable discipline and college.

The Initiative also strives to enhance the relationship between Lehigh and the community. “This project will break down barriers between the university and the people of Bethlehem by providing everyone with the collective goal of creating a better community for people to live in,” said Anne Meltzer, the Herbert J. and Ann L. Siegel Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences. “By utilizing the resources and the knowledge of interested parties across the College and across the institution, we will be able to engage an entire community in the evolution of the city.”

Four bilingual public forums currently slated for February will examine issues and case studies surrounding development and provide people in the city with a voice to foster open dialogue. Meanwhile, a dedicated Web site, with materials in both Spanish and English, will provide a virtual meeting place for invested parties to track development plans, find community organizations and talk to one another.

“We’re clearly living through a critical juncture in the city’s history,” said Pettegrew. “We want to create a democratic process through public forums that address the community’s needs, hopes, and anxieties. The idea is for the development’s different constituencies to better understand and act upon the needs of the city.”

South Side Development Study Group

Simultaneously, as a synergistic partner to the South Side Initiative, President Alice P. Gast has launched a South Bethlehem Development Study Group to determine Lehigh’s strategic approaches to the significant changes expected on the South Side.

“I applaud the academic and community-based efforts of the South Side Initiative and at the same time recognize that we need to explore the effect of the changes on Lehigh specifically,” said Gast. “We fully recognize the potential for changes in the community to impact the university and its constituents, and we will partner with the South Side Initiative to gain a better understanding of the opportunities and challenges that may present.”

The group will take a national academy style approach to the task, bringing together internal and external experts to explore a variety of areas and their bearing on the university and its constituents. They will work in partnership with the South Side Initiative and incorporate information produced by the academic and community outreach efforts of the Initiative. The group will also participate in the Initiative’s forums, as well as engage experts brought to campus for that initiative. Additionally, the group will work to confer with students, alumni and community leaders as part of this effort.

The work of the group will culminate in the presentation of a report on its findings along with recommendations to the President in late-summer 2008.
Members of Lehigh’s South Bethlehem Development Study Group include co-chairs Tom Hyclak, professor of economics and Dale Kochard, executive director of community and regional affairs; J. Richard Aronson, director, Martindale Center and professor of economics; Tony Corallo, associate vice president of facilities and campus planning; Heather Johnson, associate professor of sociology; Susan Lantz, associate dean of students for academic support services; George White, professor and program coordinator of educational leadership; and acting as liaisons to the South Side Initiative are Moglen and Pettegrew.

--Tricia Long

Posted on Thursday, September 06, 2007

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