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Situating Wilkes-Barre, PA in Space and Time

Authors: Frank Hughes*, Binghamton University
Topics: Urban Geography
Keywords: small cities, race, economic and geographic restructuring, "post-Fordist" ghetto
Session Type: Paper
Presentation File: No File Uploaded

Recent decades have witnessed voluminous research on the impact of neo-liberalism and globalization on cities, but the overwhelming concentration is on places that cluster around the apex of the urban hierarchy. Instead, this paper focuses on the small city of Wilkes-Barre, PA and its environs, where one of the most visible changes involves the dramatic increase in African-American and Hispanic residents. This paper argues that this is driven by several interlinked processes occurring at different scales of geographic analysis. First, the local economy revolves around industries offering low wages, few benefits, minimal security, and harsh working conditions. As such, it depends on workers from the most insecure and vulnerable sectors of the labor force. Second, there has been an exodus of longtime residents from Wilkes-Barre and adjoining valley floor communities to the mountain communities that overlook it. Third, as economic restructuring and gentrification continue unabated in metropolitan Philadelphia and New York City, there is widespread displacement of those whose labor power is devalued while the value of their residential space soars. This paper tests this argument. It begins by identifying changes in local demographics before providing a detailed analysis of the local labor market. Next, it analyzes spatial inequality within the Wyoming Valley by comparing communities on its floor to those in the mountains across a series of socio-economic indicators. It concludes by arguing that the “post-Fordist ghetto” is being relocated away from the cores areas of expanding metropolitan regions to places like Wilkes-Barre that reside on their peripheries.

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