The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

Editorials

May 13, 2014

All the wrong moves?

City attracting attention, but not in positive ways

JOHNSTOWN — It’s nice to see that Johnstown is still enough of a political player to regularly attract candidates for state offices and important enough that one, gubernatorial candidate Katie McGinty, even announced a major initiative here last week.

The bad news? McGinty thought that Johnstown would be the perfect place to launch her campaign to fight urban blight.

What does that say about our fair city?

“I’m proposing a plan that would reinvest in our downtowns, support municipalities with dollars and cents to clean up abandoned areas, take initiatives to support new greenways and parks,” the Democratic candidate said during a campaign stop here last week, “but then also address a key issue that municipalities face, and that’s pension funds and the cost of those funds, providing support to reduce the cost, consolidate and enable a better return through those funds.”

It’s not altogether surprising that McGinty chose Johnstown to unveil such a strategy. A glance around a few neighborhoods confirms that we’re a logical choice. As we and so many others have said and written, blight is a real problem around here. There are far too many abandoned homes and neglected structures and lots.

If the eye test isn’t enough proof, there are cold, hard statistics to back up such an assertion. A recent USA Today story, which relied heavily on information from the U.S. Census Bureau and a story by the website

24/7 Wall St., shows that Johnstown is the fourth-fastest shrinking city in the United States.

The only cities losing people at a faster rate, according to the statistics, are Pine Bluff, Arkansas; Farmington, New Mexico; and Flint, Michigan. From 2010-2013, Johnstown lost 2.21 percent of its population. The numbers are even worse long term, with the metropolitan area having lost more than a third of its population since its peak year in 1940.

Johnstown’s sewer improvement plan, which could result in some city homeowners being required to pay more in upgrades than their homes are worth, could result in even more abandoned properties. More blight means lower property values, which makes it

more likely that other homeowners will walk away as well.

It’s a vicious cycle.

Unfortunately, we don’t know that it’s one that McGinty’s plan could fix, even if she does get elected. If Johnstown’s population continues to plummet, gubernatorial candidates will see the Flood City as less of a priority four years from now, even if it is launch campaign of hope.

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