Tuesday, May 24, 2011

600 Block Design Charrette: Wednesday, May 25th

Posted by: Noël Jones

There will be another opportunity this Wednesday night, from 6-8pm at Slainte Pub, 665 Northampton Street, for residents to weigh in on what should be done to rehabilitate, revitalize and develop the longest block in Easton.

Being that this is Northampton Street, the block has a great effect on first impressions of our city as a potential place to buy a home and raise a family. It's important that it be done right--that it be done with public input from local residents, to take in good ideas that residents may have, get resident feedback on ideas the City of Easton and the West Ward Neighborhood Partnership have for the block, and in doing so, secure the cooperation, rather than opposition, of local residents that the plans will affect most.

Any residents and business owners that can carve out the time to attend this charrette will have a say in the shaping of this important block of Easton.


dbw said...

whatever ends up happening, it needs to be very low maintenance. the last "great idea" was to bejewel the strip of soil with native plants and flowers.

before the project was implemented, i asked it's creator (i won't mention his name) how he thought that was going to work, specifically, who was going to maintain the strip. he said the residents and business owners that either resided there or who operated business there. i told him he was making a mistake...and he didn't listen. now it's a redo project, which is common in easton.

so: LOW MAINTENANCE or it will not work. if easton really wants to make that entryway into the west ward inviting, they'd find a way to keep the C.H.U.D. off the streets in that area. C.H.U.D. can often be seen sitting on porches and leering hungrily at passersby. they are relatively harmless as their energy levels are so compromised by corn syrup that they cannot move very fast...in any case, they are not such a great visual for first impressions of easton. just a thought.

dbw said...


C.H.U.D. along the 600 block can also be identified by clothing with permanent stains on them or sometimes airbrushing designs. the males often go shirtless during the warmer months...

Anonymous said...

Also watch out for the juice babies.

To qualify they must have on nothing but a diaper and a juice stain of any color extending from their chin to their belly button.

Anonymous said...

2 words:

Bull Dozer

Untouched Takeaway said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
noel jones said...

what, dare i ask, does C.H.U.D. stand for?

UT--i see you deleted your comment--i hope you're preparing another--i look forward to it.

i'm glad to see that trees planted a few years ago seem to be doing well and growing and leafing out nicely--that will help improve the look of that block where it was all barren concrete before.

as for the "strip"--i hear there will be a lot of discussion about what to do with that, and how best to address the need for residents and business owners to be able to cross the sidewalk to their cars without having to wade through plants and mud to do it.

Untouched Takeaway said...


While I wouldn’t phrase it *quite* the way dbw & Anonymous@1:47 did…

… you can do a lot of badly needed cosmetic work (I’m not suggesting in the least that this is not desperately needed). You can plant all the indigenous plants you want. You can hang seasonal banners. But until something is done to improve the “foundation”, all the makeup in the world won’t fix ugly.

Here are some thoughts & suggestions. Remember, I am new to the area and I don’t live in Easton, but I love it and I am a frequent visitor and absolutely support the local businesses.

• Why were (are?) owners of buildings – especially those on the main drag – allowed to vinyl side and paint over any scrap of architectural detail on these buildings? This does not apply to every building in town, but a large percentage of the façades in that 600 block are just horribly, horribly mutilated. Are there no historic (assuming any of these fall under that umbrella) building ordinances about what can and cannot be done to a façade?

• I’m going by mental images here, but I believe there are at least a few vacant lots that rarely seem to be mowed or maintained in any regular fashion. In turn, they become garbage lots and eyesores.

• As far as businesses on the block – perhaps signage regulation? Some sort of cohesive design for all signs that can be phased in gradually?

• Requirements for the type/quantity of furnishings on front porches? Some municipalities – especially down south – have had success with these types of ordinances.

• I know one of the big points of contention is the Armory – something has to be done about that. I am a huge fan of historic buildings, but if this building has been vacant as long as I believe it has (decades?), then perhaps the city should consider purchasing it and turning the space into something useful (dare I say parking?)

• I think a good supermarket of some sort would be a fit, but that Dutchtown Commons idea as I remember it just seems like it won’t fit. There are parking issues to begin with, and although it may be a main thoroughfare, Northampton Street is not the widest street I’ve ever seen, and I can imagine the double-parking, “I’m just here loading my groceries/grandmother/dog “ would just bring the problem to an entirely different plane of frustration.

• Jacob’s Produce needs to clean up (literally) their act. Northampton Glass, too – they are just really awful-looking.

• Use property ordinances as they are meant to be used – to compel landlords to clean up their properties. And I don’t mean just cite them and file the citation – enforce it. This italicized quote from Christopher Baxter’s article on the 600 block – Morning Call, 12.4.10 – just screams “huh?” to me:

Landlord Terry Briggs grew up in Easton and has owned property on the block since 1988. He said a lot of people like to badmouth the living conditions without actually seeing the apartments. He added that if people have good ideas for properties, they should buy them and invest their money.
"Ultimately, I want to believe this new plan will work," Briggs said from his office, which overlooks the block and features a hanging blue tarp for a door, exposed ceiling insulation and a light he could turn on only by stepping on his desk.

I don’t have any answers, I guess – only questions. But I thought I’d throw it up here to see what someone else might think. I love, love, LOVE Porter’s . I love the Mercantile. I love the restaurants. I would love to see this part of town blossom again, but there may be too many strikes against it…I just don’t know.

Untouched Takeaway said...


C.H.U.D. is a late-80s horror film; it's an acronym for Cannibalistic Humanoid Underground Dweller.

(Did I mention I'm also a fount of useless film trivia?) :D


Anonymous said...

C. H. U. D.

Cannibalistic Humanoid Underground Dwellers

Anonymous said...

That part of downtown will never change. I'm about to turn 50, lived in Easton my entire life. I grew up in the 1200 block of Spring Garden St. When a group of us kids would walk downtown that's the only block where we felt unsafe and ran through the entire block.

You can't change or legislate how people live or how people maintain their buildings. You can try, but it never works. If people choose to be slobs their buildings they own or their place they reside will reflect their lack of cleanliness or care. Every town deals with this, it's unfortunate. The only thing that will stop it is people that care and are willing to take a huge risk in buying property in an area like that. Forget about trying to get people that care to live there, who in their right mind would move their family to that neighborhood.

noel jones said...

It is a high rental block, so in my mind, it's largely a code enforcement failing. According to Mayor Panto at a town hall meeting we had a couple of years ago, the problem is that our elected judges keep letting the landlords off easy. If the landlords on that block were forced to take care of their buildings and sidewalks (i.e., had high fines levied for not doing so) the residents might not look different, but at least the buildings would.

We have a judge up for retention on the ballot this November--Judge Ed Smith--who is the judge who let the hubcap store owner off for all those years when the city was trying to enforce codes. These judge are elected for 10 YEARS at a time, so voters should think seriously about sending a message to judges who use their decade in office to let slumlords slide, and then want us to give them another decade to do the same.

Anonymous said...

What landlord in their right mind would buy a property in that block? They'd fix it up, bring it up to code and then have a bunch of slobs move in and trash the place.

I admire the people that are trying, like the Porter's, but most people just won't take that type of risk.

And who can blame them?

noel jones said...

I am thoroughly annoyed. I just found out that our annual neighborhood city council meeting is happening AT PRECISELY THE SAME TIME tomorrow night at the Easton Area Community Center on 9th & Washington--please see my most recent post. It is really not cool that the city has scheduled these resident meetings at the same time. At best it signals incompetence, and apathy about our neighborhood, and at worst it leads one to wonder if it is on purpose to limit attendance and public comment.

In light of this new information, I will not be attending this charrette and will instead be attending our West Ward City Council meeting at the EACC on 9th & Washington at 6pm and encourage everyone else to do the same. This is the perfect opportunity for residents to raise concerns on ANY issues that are on their mind about our neighborhood, and in my mind, take precedence over the charrette.

6pm tomorrow--9th & Washington--bring the kids--it's a youth center! Come and be counted, or better yet--come and speak up!

Dennis R. Lieb said...

There are a lot of interesting ideas and points of view expressed so far in response to this post on the 600 block. It probably deserves a separate guest post (me perhaps?) to address the various issues being raised - including what a charrette really is and how what we are doing in the 600 block differs from the true charrette process.

I will not risk shortchanging anyone or any point in this brief comment but would simply say, in response to the opinion that the 600 block will never change, that if history is any measure of possibilities then we would have to say that it CAN change if only because it already has changed once.

This was the thriving merchant class neighborhood when it was established in the late 19th century. Certain circumstances caused it to change for the worse at some point and new circumstances can make it change for the better. I'm doing what I can for the better and will not give up unless some immovable force dictates it. There are really very few of those.


Noel Jones said...

DRL--email me a guest post backchannel at neighborsofeaston@gmail.com. I would be happy to post it.

dbw said...


i agree...creating a thriving merchant presence on that block is KEY. but it becomes an effort of attrition. look at mercantile home. they were there for a while, then moved away...yes, for more space, but there are plenty of larger empty storefronts along northampton. my guess is that they were demoralized by the C.H.U.D. shuffling up and down that block incessantly.
it's a larger problem: it not that block...it's easton. that block happens to be the Heart of easton...and look at it! it's not pleasant...to say the least.
Porter's is there and Slainte (formerly and more successfully, Witch Brew) is there. that block needs more merchants like these intrepid souls. Also, WWNP is there, which is where they should be and doing great work...but it takes time, and above all...vision. actionable vision! not a passing mirage, like the last manifestation of the attempt to beautify the block was, but someone or some entity who is willing to invest large amounts in that block who has a real vision.
otherwise, it will remain a slum row like it has for far too long, when it should be a glowing beacon of culture, business, and pride...as it once was.

Anonymous said...

The killer has been the city. It permitted Main Street to stop at 6th and Northampton. It now wants to establish some special tax district which will also stop at 6th. It is funny. All the College Hill folk will tell you that Northampton beyond 6th is part of the West Ward. Everyone else including the populations of Forks and Palmer sees that area as part of the downtown. If we recognize it and stop wanting to build a wall at 6th, the neighborhood will change overnight.

noel jones said...

Anon 11:14--Amen!

Amy said...

Bravo! Anon @11:14. My thoughts exactly. Why not extend the Historic District to 7th Street. Instead of using the hill as the stopping point use the 7th Street/Pearl St. shortcut back to Downtown (and Rt. 22) as the bordering line. Not only that, but what a greeting to the West Ward - Porters & Banana Tree! Now about that name "West Ward"....

anon 11:14 said...

Actually, the federal historic district goes to 7th street. That district was adopted in 1983. The local district does not follow the federal outline. Why? Some people with their noses up in the air did not want that 600 block of Northampton included in the local district. The local district incorporated land to the north and south of the federal district.

noel jones said...

"Anon 11:14"--thanks for taking a moniker! ; )

Untouched Takeaway said...

Maybe a "homes tour" like this one recently held in Bethlehem might be a good start as well:


noel jones said...

interesting idea, UT

Easton Heights Blogger said...

cities and neighborhoods are not in and of themselves living things; it is just an area. a location.
it is the PEOPLE in those areas that are the 'neighborhood'.
obvious, right?
not really, it seems, if people keep thinking they can come in and 'fix' the area, make it nice to look at, if you don't remove the people that made it look like that!
the dirtbag bars and the rattrap apartments cater to people who don't care about anything. they live in squalor because they like it (they must like it, otherwise why wouldn't they clean it up?)
landlords aren't motivated to make the places nice because they aren't being forced to and they still have renters as is. the people aren't motivated to fix it up because "hey, I'm just renting, that's not my responsibility".
condemn the buildings, clean out the riff raff (I'm being nice), gut rehab the places, double the rent and don't allow section 8.

noel jones said...

EHB--you make good points. You forgot one important part--DO NOT RETAIN judges like Judge Ed Smith who give slumlords a pass over and over so that the city has difficulty enforcing code. Judge Smith is up for retention for another 10 years on the ballot this November. We've got to get the word out to people that judge selection are LONG TERM and IMPORTANT to our quality of life and our ability to revitalize. This is going to take some serious word-of-mouth awareness-raising with neighbors so that everyone understands that they need to PAY ATTENTION to EVERYTHING on the ballot and vote NOT TO RETAIN JUDGE SMITH.

This is the only way that elected judges are ever going to get the message and stop handing out minimum, instead of maximum fines.

Anonymous said...


Agreed. My ex grew up in the Bronx in a very poor family. He actually started working to help support his mom & sister (dad took a powder) when he was 13 (this would have been about 1956) by working at a hardware store.

Yet he would tell me stories of how their apartment building didn't need a super (other than for systems maintenance, painting, etc) because the families on each of the 4 floors scrubbed the halls each day, and even scrubbed the *stoop* out front with soap & water every day.

I have friends here in Easton who grew up in the West Ward (Spring Garden...Jackson Street) - places that today are considered dumpy by some. They tell the same stories - everyone cleaning their porches and sidewalks. Everyone putting out their striped awnings. Everyone just generally being extremely clean and house-proud in an area that back at that time was still very blue collar poor (my one friend remembers his parents putting his dad's pay in a cigar box and literally divvying up the pennies and change to pay this bill and that bill).

Poor shouldn't and in a lot of cases doesn't mean dirty, but sometimes I really do have to wonder.

noel jones said...

Anon 3:45-- you said, "Poor shouldn't and in a lot of cases doesn't mean dirty."

This is a very good point, and I think there are a few different things feeding into the current scenario in our neighborhood, as opposed to the old days.

1) there was a much higher percentage of homeowners back then, and homeowners tend to take more pride in their houses because they are personally invested in them. the WW was at 64% rental the last time i checked, and 10% rental is the technical definition of a "distressed" neighborhood according to HUD. who allowed it to become this way? city officials over the last 40 years who have consistently allowed investors to buy up properties, only to become absentee landlords, wiping out all the neighborhood storefronts (there used to be one on almost every corner of the neighborhood from what i hear), turning single family homes into mult-unit rentals, and then renting them to anyone who will pay, without vetting the renters.

2) code enforcement has been lax on these slumlords because we have judges who get elected for 10 years at a time, and give passes or minimum fines to anyone that our code department gets around to citing.

3) the county continues to expand the jail in the midst of the most densely-populated neighborhood in the city. being that rent is the cheapest here, drug dealers, etc., get released and then move right back into the neighborhood into these slumlord properties. these are people who do not even care about destroying people's lives via drug addiction, so why would they care about litter? again, it is the landlords that are responsible for taking care of the properties, so they should be showing up once a week to clean them.

4) when you have generational poverty, you often have an extreme lack of civic education. people are not taught growing up not to scream and curse in the streets, not to fight, not to litter, or just to respect the property or sleeping schedules of neighbors.

one thing that is very interesting to me though, is that when i observe poor immigrant families in the neighborhood, they ARE sweeping the sidewalks, planting gardens, etc. they are working hard, waiting on street corners at 5am to be picked up to work on construction sites, etc. they are poor but they have self-respect and work hard. it's the American poor that seem to have lost all sense of respect for themselves and others. and this is part of the conservative argument against welfare, that generational poverty supported by the government dehumanizes people, rather than inspiring them to be creative or industrious--even industrious enough to pick up a broom.