Young Adults are Helping Cities Return to Prominence

By Don Cunningham on April 30, 2013

by Don Cunningham
LVEDC president and CEO

Old is new again.

The young people of America have rediscovered the cities that, in many cases, their parents or grandparents left behind.

And, it’s no different in the Lehigh Valley.

Today’s storyline is different than that of a generation ago. For many, it’s not the lawns and open space of suburbia that beckon but the “knowledge neighborhoods” of houses with architectural character, walking access to restaurants and bars and the camaraderie of like-minded young people of the technology generation.

Since 2000, the population age 20 to 34 in the Lehigh Valley’s cities has grown by nearly 4 percent. Easton’s population of 25-to 34-year-olds has exploded, more than 10 percent just since 2010.

The country seems to know the story of Brooklyn and San Francisco and Boston and Pittsburgh, but the same phenomenon is at play in Allentown, Bethlehem and Easton. And, it’s a good thing. The regions that will win the battle for the companies and workers of tomorrow will be those that focus on quality of people and place.

Central to that is the continued revitalization of our cities. Revitalized cities and urban boroughs are no longer something that is just the right thing to do; it is now necessary for continued economic success. Fortunately, for us in the Lehigh Valley, many have been hard at work for decades to strengthen the neighborhoods and retail and restaurant districts of our cities and urban downtowns.


Bethlehem, Allentown and Easton are in the midst of a return to the glory days of strong neighborhoods and retail districts that were evident from the 1930s to the 1970s. The advent of the suburbs and malls in the outlying areas led to a decline of downtowns in the 1980s and 1990s.

At the same time, there was an exodus of young people and young families to the outlying communities or out of the Lehigh Valley completely as major employers such as Bethlehem Steel and Mack Trucks reduced employment or disappeared.

The 21st century marked the start of a turnaround for our cities, with Bethlehem leading the way and Allentown beginning its bloom during the most recent decade. It’s no coincidence that the population of young people in Easton has exploded during the last two years as the landmark buildings of its past are being revitalized.


The Pomeroy Building in the 300 block of Northampton Street is a primary indicator of Easton’s resurgence. The two structures that encompass the existing building were built in the late 1800s and early 1900s. It was once the home of Laubach’s department store, a family run business that existed until 1947.

During the last three decades, the building was poorly maintained and mostly vacant. Today, Pomeroy Development LP, a real estate investment group, is turning the historic building into a fully renovated, mixed-use building that includes retail and residential, the type of development helping to grow jobs in urban areas across the U.S.

The Grand Eastonian is another example. Built in 1926, once called Hotel Easton, it featured some of the day’s most contemporary architectural designs. It was abandoned, however, in 1989, and remained closed for nearly a generation with significant damage on the interior and upper levels.

Today, it thrives again, as does the State Theater and so many other structures that have led to an explosion of new restaurants, retail shops and the arts in Easton.

The continued revitalization of our cities and downtowns is critical to our region’s economic success. And, hey, whether you live there or not, you’re going to want a nice place to visit the kids and grandkids.

Brokers & Developers Council to hold first meeting May 2

LVEDC president and CEO Don Cunningham is personally inviting the members of the Brokers and Developers Council and LVEDC Board of Directors to attend the first meeting of the[...]

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