The Future of Our York

By: C. Kim Bracey
Mayor Bracey recently hosted a session for the Mentorship York class of 2014. These are excerpts from her address to the class.

Realistic, Yet Bold Visioning

I’ve been asked to speak about the challenges of our York over the next five-to-ten years, and I’d like to do so in the context of laying out our vision for the future.

The Holy Bible says, “When there is no vision, the people perish.” Another old saying says, “Man plans, and God laughs.” And these two sayings do not necessary contradict each other. As we all know, any strong organization, governmental body, company, or institution needs to have a strong vision, but we also must realize that events sometimes are in the saddle. We must be cautiously optimistic and we must be nimble and creative so we can adapt to changing circumstances to achieve our goals.

If anyone ever suggests or says to you that York does not have a plan or a vision, I beg you on bended knee, please!, please!, please! educate them otherwise. Yes, indeed, your county seat, your York has a Strategic Comprehensive Plan with widespread community input and with visionary goals.

Our City’s Comp Plan comprehensively guides decision-making city-wide in terms of revitalization, infrastructure, transportation, greenspace, and amenities up to 2030. The Plan envisions the city’s ongoing transition from the city’s heavy manufacturing past to softened, civilized, and humanized neighborhoods with amenities – clean, green, energetic places where people will want to live, walk, and play. Also, during my two inauguration addresses and four State of the City Addresses, we consistently have built upon our Comp Plan with new complementary initiatives.

How do we measure success? Like any strong, confident entity, we announce our goals to our stakeholders and work in partnership to achieve them while transparently giving updates along the way. We also are not afraid to have a bold vision which has some lofty, difficult goals that are not realized overnight.

Keep in mind that, from start to finish, it took 13 years to build Santander Stadium, which has been a roaring success. A former industrial wasteland, the Northwest Triangle’s 9 acres have been environmentally remediated, yielding 80,000 square feet of new commercial space. The Triangle is now home to the $6 million LSC Design and its 70 creative employees and the York Academy Regional Charter School, a growing international baccalaureate school teaching 300 students. But the Triangle has been 15 years in the making. Great achievements are never easy, and they take persistence and perseverance. The key to success is to never give up and to not be daunted by a ticking clock or to compromise a vision for the sake of expediency. If we stay true to a vision of excellence, we will reach the promised land. When we commit full heartedly to excellence, it’s not a matter of “if.” It’s just a matter of “when.”

We also analyze success in terms of metrics. Demographics and dollars obviously play a crucial role in how a city evolves and plans for its future. More pointedly, in large part, metrics, demographics, and dollars dictate destiny.

Ten Key Facts

Here a few facts about York that you may or may not know. Knowledge, sharing, and repetition of these facts is very important to how we frame our vision for the future and how we understand our limits and possibilities. Some of these facts may be surprising, some trend upward, some seem to trend downward. But all of them are important for us to appreciate in terms of having a rational and realistic vision for a better York.

  • First, did you know that the metropolitan statistical area or M.S.A. of York, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, is the entire county of York? In other words, the county itself is the metropolis known as York. The city, the largest municipality in our county and our county seat, is the core or hub of our county. The city and the larger metropolis of York County are inextricably, undeniably linked in terms of business climate, perception, marketing, and morale. So, although York County has a staggering array of 72 municipalities, we are all Yorkers. No municipality is an island. That is true today in York County. We are all in this together. A healthy hub makes for healthy spokes.
  • Second, consider this amazing fact: approximately 32,009 people per day commute to York City for work, swelling the city’s population from its baseline of 43,000 people to just over 76,000 – a 78% increase in our population. Some 32,009 people commuting to York City for work as compared to only 6,414 city residents who work in the city. Think about that. Almost five times the number of people who work in the city live outside the city than those who live and work in the city.
  • Third, NON city residents working in the City of York earned $1,091,765,814. That’s right - one billion, 91 million, 765 thousand, and 814 dollars, while city residents who work in the city earned only $143,454,935 from their work in the city. Per worker, York City residents earned $22,365, while commuters earned $34,108. So, as you can see, folks who live outside the city make respectable salaries and wages from their work inside the city.
  • Fourth, our Commonwealth has 2,562 local governments and 500 school districts. York County alone has 72 municipalities that, for the most part, do their own things without coordinated effort while the county seat is left to grapple with the largest concentrations of tax exempt properties, poverty, and blight. Embarrassingly, Pennsylvania has more municipalities with taxing authority than any state in the nation, yet fewer than ten percent of all its municipalities even have populations of at least 10,000 people.
  • Fifth, in the Cities of Easton, Lancaster, Reading, and York, annual property tax revenues are not enough to even pay for police and fire services. To control rises in property taxes, our Third Class Cities often borrow from other funds, raise parking, trash and other fees, or incur further or refinance debt just to maintain public safety levels. These were key findings in the recent Pennsylvania Economy League's “Structuring Healthy Communities” report. This is no way to run a mid-to-small size city, and it frustrates tax predictability, leads to indefinite distress, diverts business and job creation prospects, and mortgages our future.
  • Sixth, 37% of the real estate in our City is tax exempt.
  • Seventh, our Community Policing Strategy works. Nearly four years ago, I said that we can reduce Part I. crimes to below 2,000 per year. Part I. crimes are the most serious crimes, including murder, rape, aggravated assault, robbery, burglary, larceny, arson, and motor vehicle theft. Together, we reduced Part I. crimes from 2,652 in 2008 to 2,212 in 2012. That’s a 17% decrease. Since 2003, we reduced Part I. crimes by 25 percent. Overall crime in our City of York is down 15 percent since 2003.
  • Eighth, our Downtown now has over 100 restaurants, cafes, market vendors, and food retailers – more than at any time in recent history. Together, we can add to this list, creating synergies that satisfy a range of appetites and add to our reputation as the region’s fun food and social epicenter.
  • Finally, York may not in our lifetimes and may not want to match or eclipse its 1950 high of 59,953 residents. With the right mix of historic preservation, green space, housing rehab, new construction, small businesses, educational opportunities, amenities, and community values within 5.2 square miles, a twenty-first century York of between 45,000-49,000 residents may be just right -- a healthy density of dwellers in a city seeking its destiny as a thriving urban community.

Confronting Our Challenges Head-On

So those are the facts, the metrics, and the challenges that we all share. And WE must confront our challenges head-on. We cannot allow cancers of poverty, fiscal distress, tax inequity, and unacceptable drop-out rates, to fester in our urban core because, if left unabated, it simply will spread to adjoining municipalities and beyond.

Everything affects everything else. Indeed, when our police uncover drug rings in the city, they often have connections to perpetrators outside the city, and vice versa. When we have prostitution or drug stings in the city, many of the “johns” or users reside in municipalities in the county. Crime has no boundaries. Just as a rising tide lifts all, a sinking tide lowers all of us, regardless of our official municipal residence. And not unlike other cites our size, such as Lancaster, Reading, and Harrisburg, to name a few, York has serious social and fiscal challenges. As noted earlier, our high school drop-out rate exceeds 50%. Our poverty rate is mired at 20%. Our median income is slightly over $26,000. Nearly 37% of the value of our taxable real estate is tax exempt.

Our many challenges make it difficult to build and sustain strong social networks and educational and physical environments where our children can thrive. Most reasonable people see that third class cities, like York, have the decks stacked against them. Many of their most menacing problems have been festering for fifty years or more and will not just disappear in the blink of one administration. But today, I appeal to your sense of justice and your sense of fairness to see that our hub, our county seat, the core of our metropolis of York County, needs help and deserves help.

With your help, we will make York better. That is our sacred pledge. Raging against the injustices of history, land-locked boundaries, an inequitable taxing system, and pension payment and health care cost spikes, we will manufacture hope and help at home.

Citizens Of Place

In all forms of local and regional media, our city occupies an inordinate amount of attention. Maybe that is because of our population density and the myriad of social-economic challenges that beset our cities. The reality is, though, that we are all Yorkers. When a child dies in the city, then we are all as citizens of York County diminished – morally and socially, but also in terms of how we see ourselves and market ourselves to others.

Truth be told, our marketing message in terms of economic development as a county often is fragmented because of our outdated form of government that creates 72 municipalities in York County alone. Indeed, Pennsylvania’s crazy quilt of municipal categories, boundaries, and codes confuses and frustrates developers, rehabbers, and would-be investors with a dizzying array of tax rates, incentives, and programs, council members and commissioners, strategic plans and planning commissions, zoning maps, regulations and boards, and marketing messages. Our fragmented municipal structure dilutes our political, professional, and civic intelligence as a county. Unfortunately, our diluted identities sometimes tend to breed turf mentalities and narrow-mindedness by some and disinterest by others.

But there is hope. The more we can work together with partners like our County government, Better York, York College, WellSpan, Penn State York, HACC-York, and YorkCounts and by exploring revenue sharing and sensible consolidation, and the more we can even the playing field in terms of consistent zoning, customer service expectations, and results, the better we are as Metropolitan York.

We are all citizens of place. Maybe it is in our DNA. Maybe it is in our historic understandings of communities. You and your families, and your children and your grandchildren deserve to live in a place in which you have pride and that has a positive and distinctive identity. Not a generic someplace somewhere between a world-renowned harbor to the south in Maryland and a state capital to the north in Harrisburg, but a place which we all, as citizens of metropolitan York, can proudly call home – our home, our community, our York, one York.

Fighting Together for our Future

We are on the cusp of something special, and so we can and must do more.

Your city government is here to serve in our core functions. We will continue to be a willing, fair, and steadfast partner to collaborate, facilitate, and implement. We need more of your help to sustain our thriving urban community. We need your help – as doers and believers; key institutions; school leaders; foundations and endowments; places of worship; non-profits; suburban friends and residents; and patrons of our businesses and attractions.

Paraphrasing President Kennedy, I ask all of us in metro York and beyond, ask not what our York can do for you; ask what you can do for your county seat. Ask what you can do to re-kindle and stoke fires of incentives, opportunity, ownership, and innovation. Ask what you can do to recommit to a new birth of pride and progress for your county seat.

As a nation and region, we ask where job creation can happen and where we can reignite the American spirit of innovation, rebuilding, and revitalization. The answer is right before us. Look no further than our York, your county seat and ground zero for opportunity.

Our civic responsibility, our hope, and our economic growth demand a quality education for all children and youth. As families, extended families, supporters, and neighbors, we also must nourish homes and relationships that value learning, respect, and responsibility. Our York’s revolutionary fires burn bright and yearn for more kindling and fuel. Working hand-in-hand with you, these fires can burn brighter, sparking a patriotic, economic, and just renaissance.

Our York is the governmental, economic, cultural, recreational, higher educational, and multi-racial hub of York County. Your county seat also is the center of our county’s greatest concentration of poverty. We can and must do better. Together, our hands can conceive, craft, and build a better and more just York. I have no illusions; city government cannot do this alone. Business, individual, institutional, educational, non-profit, and religious leaders, equally and mutually, are essential parts of our journey.

As our York approaches its 275th anniversary in 2016, we share a moral, cultural, and economic imperative to preserve the best of our past, sustain what works and is good, and drive a dynamic future. I dare to earnestly ask more from you and more from those whom you know. I dare to ask because I know that we can deliver a better York with opportunity, fairness, and justice for all. From yourselves, your elected officials, families, friends, acquaintances, businesses, places of worship, and civic organizations, ask and keep asking what you, what they, and what we are doing to build a thriving county seat.

Morality, hope, and economic growth are acts of patriotism, virtue, and responsibility. They are as basic as banks giving loans to city start-ups and small businesses. We have smart, qualified entrepreneurs looking to start business now, and they are not seeking a hand-out. They want a hand-up so they can work hard and contribute. We can change the paradigm of poverty through sensible seed dollars, micro-loans, and, most importantly, hiring city residents hungry for work. Your patriotism, morality, and smart investments can pivot that paradigm toward opportunity and progress.

Morality, hope, and economic growth are as simple as recruiting friends, co-workers, and extended families to frequent our array of restaurants, to discover our revived fresh foods markets, and to feel downtown’s energy during First Fridays.

Morality, hope, and economic growth are as simple as immersing ourselves in the rich and inspiring offerings of the York County Heritage Trust, Strand-Capitol, Martin Library, Marketview Arts, Dreamwrights, YorkArts and other cultural and artistic venues. There, we can nourish and inspire our souls while appreciating the roots and achievements of our county and nation.

Morality, hope, and economic growth are as simple as regularly supporting our merchants, artists, artisans, and artist homesteaders who offer hand-crafted and hard-to-find goods and inspired works.

We can do all of the above with words, deeds, demographics, and dollars that drive our dream-in-progress of a thriving county seat. Let us make a cultural and economic impact to build a better York. Our solid quid pro quo can make York glow and grow.

Let us be judged by all of our public acts. York is you. York is me. York is your county seat and all of us. A strong hub makes for healthy spokes. So let it be said far and wide that old York, your core, our core, is your York, our York from county line to county line.

Let it be said, far and wide, from county line to county line and throughout a region and nation where freedom rings and reigns: let us be judged by our acts to build a better York. Let us be judged by a better York where creativity, consciousness, and capitalism are unleashed.


C. Kim Bracey began her second term in office as Mayor of the City of York on January 6, 2014. As the City's chief executive officer, she is responsible for all aspects of the general management of the City, including the city’s $98 million dollar budget, and for enforcement of all laws and ordinances. 

Previously Kim served as the Director of the Department of Community Development for the City of York from June 2003 until January 2009 under Mayor John S. Brenner. 

Kim has taken local leadership to a national level through her involvement with the U.S. Conference of Mayors and the National League of Cities and most recently attended the International Mayors Conference in Israel, where she was the only United States Mayor in attendance. 

Kim has been a staunch statewide and national advocate on behalf of the City of York.  She has provided state and federal testimony on subjects ranging from fiscal modernization of local government, economic and community development, and education reform.  As Mayor, she has overseen millions in redevelopment and job creation ushered in by federal and state revitalization grants procured by her Administration. She continues the arduous task of uniting segments of the community to develop novel and innovative new partnerships among the public, private and not-for-profit sectors.   

Kim is a staunch supporter and advocate of Leadership York, recommending city employees for the Leadership Training Program and serving as a mentor for the Mentorship York class of 2014.