College courses teach students about history, but rarely does a course allow students to use history to build a revitalized future. This spring, students from York College of Pennsylvania (YCP) will partner with leaders in downtown York and immerse themselves in the work of revitalizing York. YCP’s new Economics of Urban Revitalization course will provide students with the opportunity to become stakeholders in the development of new residential, business and travel destinations in downtown York.
The course itself will expose students to various tools and funding resources for downtown projects that will set the stage for new businesses, residents and tourism incentives. Former York mayor John Brenner will teach the course: “I want the students to fall in love with the city and want to stay to help make a difference,” he says.
He and Dr. Dominic DelliCarpini, YCP Dean of the Center for Community Engagement, want to introduce students to the process that goes into finding sponsorships for projects. They also hope the students will learn the environmental and sentimental value that comes with rehabilitating existing structures.
Learning from Leaders
“Urban revitalization is a holistic approach combining elements of physical repurposing and rejuvenation,” explains Jack Kay, chairman of the York County Industrial Development Authority. “It enhances the social and economic drivers to create a better living environment and community.”
“A course like this can allow students to understand how stimulating it can be to be an active participant in a back-to-the-city movement. It’s important to get in early while housing and buildings suitable for small businesses are still cheap,” says Mike Johnson, managing partner of York Preservation Partners.
Johnson and Kay are the benefactors for this course and will serve as guest speakers for the students during the spring semester.
“We aim to help young people understand what it takes to change the physical surroundings through small preservation and beautification projects,” Johnson says.
Johnson was the previous owner of what will become York College’s Gordon Center, a space for York College’s Hillel organization. The space will be used for activities that engage the culture of the College’s Jewish students into the life of the College and the community. In the process, Johnson also encouraged the College to establish a fund for Historic Preservation in York—which has long been one of his passions. And he has worked along with Dr. DelliCarpini, Brenner and Kay to make this course happen.
“At the end of the Economics of Urban Revitalization course, the students will have the chance to pitch a project idea to the College,” Brenner explains. If the College accepts the students’ pitch, the $25,000 will be applied toward that project.
“The $25,000 won’t be enough to take preservation as far as we’d like,” says Dr. DelliCarpini, “but it’s a good first step to helping property owners to maintain properties in York without removing historic features, an agenda shared by the donor and the College.”
Building a Future by Studying Cities and Their Histories
“The course will give students exposure to practical real-world issues and challenges related to the redevelopment of properties,” says Kay. Students will also discover ways they can make a positive social impact by renewing and repurposing some of the city’s structures.
Before the students decide on the project that they want to pitch, they will also take a look at York’s current redevelopment efforts. “We will tour places that have already successfully been revitalized in our city,” Brenner says. Two of these buildings will be Liquid Hero Brewery and 210 York St., the headquarters for Think Loud.
Kay and Johnson have devoted years toward efforts at revitalizing York. “Repurposing buildings creates unique spaces that are very, very different from suburban malls …. Repurposed buildings are all about creating a comforting link to our collective past and improving that link for future generations,” Johnson says.
As the students combine the information that they receive from Brenner, Kay and Johnson with the material they learn from studying past revitalization projects in neighboring cities, they aim to gain a new understanding of what’s needed to fund a project on a large scale. They also hope to learn about York and the histories of surrounding cities.
“I have always had a love for history and learning about it and getting to help bring it back to life will be very interesting,” says freshman nursing major Ethan Miller. “I have only been in York for four months, so I hope that this course will provide me with a further understanding of what truly lies at the heart of York city.”
“Being an Eisenhart Scholar, I have a strong sense of community,” Miller says of his decision to enroll in the course. “When I saw this opportunity, I knew I had to jump at it.”
Junior economics major Seth Sederstrom says, “I joined the course because I wanted to learn about how I can use my education to make a positive impact in the community.” Throughout the course, he expects to gain a better understanding of York’s economy and how he can better help the community following his graduation.
The hope is for new members of the community to get involved so that the course can continue. “As more individuals become engaged downtown, it accelerates the progress being made in creating a desirable work, play and live environment,” Kay explains.
Brenner and Dr. DelliCarpini hope that the course will raise interest among others so that more funding can be obtained to advance projects in the city. “By inspiring people to become property owners and residents who care about their investments, we’re not only helping build a neighborhood, but eventually a whole city,” Brenner says.
The students themselves also anticipate playing their own roles in the revitalization. “I feel that it is important for students to understand their community,” Sederstrom says. “York is one of the oldest cities in America and has played a vital role in numerous events. From the Confederates marching down Market Street to Theodore Roosevelt traveling through town following the assassination of William McKinley, York has played a crucial role in American history.”
Miller also recognizes the importance of preserving this history while strengthening the city’s future. “As a new member of the York community, it really intrigued me to help as much as I can,” he says. “I think this course will benefit the community a great deal because York has a lot of history behind it, and I feel like if we get the community to bring the new and old together, it will create a great environment in the city.”
Story by Brandi Mummert for YRK Magazine
Photography by YRK Magazine