I am not sure the exact year or the exact bar but sometime in the mid 80’s I was having a few beers at a bar on the South Side of Bethlehem with a neighbor and there were a few hearty Lehigh Students braving an evening in this bar dominated by townies. Being the sociable type I engaged the students in some conversation and banter. One of the students asked where I grew up and I said Easton. “Whoa, that’s a pretty rough place, how tough was it growing up there?” I asked the guy where he grew up and he responded “The Bronx”.
This child grew up in The Bronx, New York City and he was impressed and intimidated by my youth spent in Easton, Pa. What a strange world and what a horrid reputation the City that made me the man I am today had. Such a shame.
I have lived in Bethlehem for the last 28 years and I could not be more proud of my fair city. Bethlehem is a city that keeps moving forward while still respecting all the history brought us to this point. But, a large chunk of my heart will always belong to Easton and one of the joys of my life is watching the re-birth of this really great little city. I may have moved out of Easton but Easton will never leave me. I still get my shirts custom made to account for the Easton chip on my shoulder.
The leaders of Easton have tried everything and followed every urban trend. They destroyed entire neighborhoods in the name of urban renewal. A concept I never quite understood. You have to tear down a community in order to renew it. It makes no sense and thankfully it is now a discredited policy.
They built projects to provide low income housing. It turned out they became dumping grounds for the disenfranchised. Putting all the poverty into one section of town does not really build a community it just separates us.
They sold homes in depressed areas for $1 but forgot to require the new owners live in the homes. Absentee landlords are not as engaged in the well being of a community as are resident home owners. Easton now uses an imaginative program where the city takes over blighted homes and refurbishes them. The city will then sell the homes for the cost of the rehabilitation, the new owners are not only required to live in the home they are required to keep it a single home.
Little Easton, is only 4.5 square miles in size but it is Dallas size in chutzpah and the will to succeed; it never gives up.
When US News & World Report called it a “Seedy Little Industrial Town” it embraced its blue collar down home World Champion Larry Holmes. When its beautiful downtown was full of empty store fronts it embraced the Main Street program, which has been recognized as the finest Main Street program in the Commonwealth. When its population was declining it embraced its diversity, it welcomed the New Yorkers, the gays and the artists.
Easton is on the verge of becoming a college town, Lafayette College is an active stakeholder in the future of Easton. While Lehigh University takes baby steps into the community but seems hesitant about it, Muhlenberg continues to shutter itself away and Moravian stays in the warm embrace of history. The City of Easton called on the Lafayette to become the Leopards of Easton not just the Lafayette Leopards in Easton and in the process the college on the hill has become the hometown school. My Dad and I attend most home football and basketball games and there are often more townies in attendance than students or staff. When I was a teenager and perfecting the fine art of sneaking into Lafayette games this was not the case.
It appears that every few years there is a 100 year flood. So what does Easton do? Host flood watching parties during the flood and then digs in and cleans up.
My old friend Sal Panto is clearly the right Mayor for these times; he is serious and focused on setting Easton up for its future. He is also one hell of cheerleader. You should see him at the basketball games; you would never know he is a Lehigh Alumnus. Easton also has a significant booster in its State Rep. Bob Freeman or as Mayor Panto “Easton’s ATM Machine”. Bob’s seniority and influence is a significant asset in ensuring the city receives it fair share of program funding.
Easton has always been the little city that could and today, Easton is the little city that can.