Solidarity, PA

1420443452scherreadinghouses666Abby Scher at Dissent:

The first thing you notice about Reading, Pennsylvania, the small city that lies an hour and a half north of Philadelphia, is its many parks and muscular civic buildings. Mount Penn anchors the east of the city with a steeply landscaped park and a historic district of graceful homes. The Blue Mountains rise in the distance.

“This is all WPA [the federal building program during the Great Depression] and the Socialists,” says Bill Vitale, an architect who serves as chair of the Mayor’s Sustainability Committee, waving his hand at the park’s greenery. Reading was one of those rare cities, like Milwaukee, whose working-class voters regularly elected socialists to represent them both in the statehouse and in the mayor’s offices from 1910 to the mid-1940s. In Reading, the Socialists were the good-government party, and their administrations extended and modernized the sewer system, built playgrounds, and turned private-sector jobs into better-paying municipal ones.

Before I arrived, civic leaders warned me that because of its good bones, I wouldn’t be able to tell at first glance that Reading was under Act 47, the Pennsylvania law governing municipal bankruptcy, or that it is one of the poorest cities of its size in the nation. Just over 39 percent of its 88,000 residents lived in poverty in 2013. Many of them are the working poor: Reading’s unemployment rate in the summer of 2014 was about 6 percent.

more here.