I first visited Bethlehem when I was at the National Endowment for the Arts on a trip to understand how music and art can play a role in the rebirth of American cities. My time with ArtsQuest has profoundly informed all of my work since, and I am thrilled that Jeff is now sharing these lessons with a national audience.
Stronger than Steel is a thoughtful and engaging account of the transformation of Bethlehem, Pennsylvania through community-based creative placemaking. After the city lost its major industry, it managed to survive and eventually thrive by using its creative assets to help realize its potential. An important addition to field studies in creative placemaking, this book demonstrates how creativity and relevant arts participation can build powerful social capital. That social capital can leverage economic, social and cultural vibrancy, resulting in an exceedingly livable community. Jeffrey Parks beautifully brings Bethlehem’s journey of rebirth and transformation to life.
There is nothing more challenging, frustrating but at the same time satisfying than being part of changing the trajectory of your city from one that was failing to one that gives hope for a future. It doesn’t happen by accident. It happens because a few people in a very intentional way re-image a different future for abandoned mills and declining neighborhoods when most others see only decline. It takes a strong, strategic vision and an appetite for risk to succeed. Jeff Parks captures the challenges from the naysayers, that “there is no funding, no one will go there” attitudes that have to be overcome first before financing and design challenges really begin. It is a great read.
The history of Bethlehem and of ArtsQuest’s role in its revitalization is an amazing story of a community coming together through the power of the arts. Its message is universal and speaks to the power of overcoming differences to realize a greater good. This tale of hard-won success is a compelling read and should be required for students of urban planning, sociology, public policy or culture and anyone living in a community that is facing economic and social challenges.
Bethlehem is a successful city today because it took a different pathway to address the loss of industry. Stronger than Steel demonstrates the success of open minded, consistent civic leadership. The book tells the tale of the creative strategies used in Bethlehem, the people who conceived and implemented them and how they contributed to the success of the city. Bethlehem took advantage of its history, culture and resources, and aggressively pursued opportunities, rather than accept defeat. It was my privilege to be Mayor and cheerleader-in-chief during a critical phase of this amazing renaissance that is well chronicled in this book by Jeff Parks one of those visionary leaders.