Local Spotlight: Reading, PA

How a struggling town is embracing the post-growth economy with a range of innovative models and pioneering projects.

By Brian Kelly

Permacultivate’s Reading Roots Urban Farm and Learning Center at City Greenhouse

I am constantly on the lookout for initiatives around the globe that exemplify post growth futures already emerging. Sometimes I find myself drawn to utopian visions: where is the magical place where people are living in harmony with nature, rebuking consumerism, and cultivating communities with strong interpersonal relationships and a higher purpose? Lost in this searching, I sometimes forget that post-growth futures surround me, as long as I look a little under the surface. Four months ago I moved to Reading, Pennsylvania, a city of 88,000 people in the mid-Atlantic region of the United States.

Reading, PA has a reputation as a poor, dangerous urban center in post-industrial decline. With its current population at 80% of its historical peak, Reading’s story is similar to other cities struggling to find a niche after many decades of globalizing macroeconomic conditions. Historically the City has embraced pro-growth economic development models that have failed to deliver (like becoming a factory outlet destination center).

In this struggle to find a post-industrial identity, Reading citizens are embracing the new economy.

At first glance, Reading does not come across as a beacon of innovation or a center for progressive politics or alternative economics. Many people define Reading by its statistics.

Wood-to-Wonderful Re-Bike-Cycle

By the numbers:

  • Reading has the highest poverty rate in the nation based on the 2010 census, with 45% of those under 18 years of age living below the poverty line.
  • Reading has a median family income of $31,000
  • Reading Public School District has a graduation rate of 61%
  • Reading has an official unemployment rate of 11%
  • Reading is a financially-distressed municipality in .

But Reading is much more than its surface-level statistics. Reading is an ecosystem of many initiatives that are bubbling up:

Taken individually, each initiative may not seem game-changing. But in aggregate, this is an impressive collection of fascinating initiatives all taking root here, in what was once dubbed the poorest city in the United States.

Reading is what you choose to see! Based on an old set of traditional indicators, Reading earned the reputation as, “a $#!tHole,” which was the most common adjective I heard as people questioned why I wanted to move here. Since moving here, however, I have consistently encountered the elements of a new economy already emerging, driven by the dedication of individuals who are actualizing the different tomorrow of their dreams by pulling communities together.

I have been brought on-board as the Director of ReDesign Reading, a newly formed community development corporation focused specifically on launching and supporting new economy initiatives. I am so inspired by all of the amazing initiatives and individuals here in Reading, and am excited to be setting up roots here and joining in.

Reading, PA represents, in many ways, the essence of the post-growth economy: innovative models driven by people dedicated to improving their community’s well-being emerging from the vestiges of an anachronistic economic model.

What’s going on in your community? What types of interconnected webs of post-growth futures have you found? We’d love to be inspired by you, and look forward to hearing about what is going on in your part of the world.

Originally published in March 2014 on the Post Growth Institute (PGI) blog. Find out more about the PGI here and Post Growth in Action here.

Post Growth

Guiding the way to a full circle, #postgrowth economy…

Post Growth

Guiding the way to a full circle, #postgrowth economy beyond capitalism.

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Writing by team-members, guest contributors, and Fellows of the Post Growth Institute (PGI).

Post Growth

Guiding the way to a full circle, #postgrowth economy beyond capitalism.