Official “Summer Summary”

Since I want to eventually enter the field of urban planning, I chose my research project in an effort to intertwine city planning with the concepts of anthropology.  Thus I decided to study how an abstract concept like human culture affects the concrete, bureaucratic practice of zoning.  I chose the city of Bethlehem, Pennsylvania to be my Petri dish city of examination and my questions pertained to the past, present, and future.  Specifically, how did Bethlehem develop its zoning layout through time, how do residents perceive, affect, or interact with the current zoning, and how would residents change the zoning of the city?

In June I struggled with how to commence and resolved that perhaps it was best to start at the beginning.  For Bethlehem the beginning occurred in 1741 when the town was founded by a small group of Moravian settlers.  I buried myself in the various libraries of the city and read everything I could on the Moravians and the transition of the community from an idyllic Moravian town to the small, complex city it is today.  I paid close attention to the spatial aspects of the city’s history and developed a temporal outline detailing how land was planned and used since the city’s inception.

As I explored the background of the city, I also began to employ my various ethnographic research methods.  I created an online survey, which I advertised by putting blurbs in Bethlehem church bulletins and hanging flyers throughout the city.  I purchased coin boxes, which I adorned with signs reading “What makes this area of the City of Bethlehem different from another?” and then placed these boxes, with pens and slips of paper, around Bethlehem.  Lastly, I began to pursue interview participants.  This proved to be a difficult exercise in networking and outreach, but the resulting interviews were by far the most rewarding part of my research.  I interviewed city officials, community leaders, residents, business owners, and property owners.

I have only begun analyzing my data since returning to school and thus cannot speak conclusively on the discoveries I’ve made into the culture and geography of Bethlehem.  Perhaps the most compelling finding so far is that there are distinct narratives in Bethlehem culture that are woven throughout the zoning code and map.  For instance, the love of Bethlehem’s small town feel can be seen in the new zoning initiative to allow neighborhood stores (“mom and pop” type shops) in residential zones.  There are also geographical manifestations of more population-based narratives – the area south of the Lehigh River constantly referred to as more diverse and ethnic, the west side as containing the old Bethlehem Steel executives’ houses.  I have begun to analyze my collected data to further develop my ideas about Bethlehem’s spatial narratives.  Soon the Geographic Information Systems (GIS) data for Bethlehem will be arriving at school and I can begin to map these chronicles on the city grid.  Over the course of the year I hope to write a meaningful thesis on how the people of a city affect its organization and, hopefully, gain knowledge that will ultimately aid me in planning cities.