Lehigh Valley Cities Reinvent Themselves

Communities throughout Lehigh Valley are luring newcomers with plentiful green space, revitalized downtowns and a diverse mix of shopping, arts and entertainment.

On Thursday, December 19, 2013 - 13:11

If the goal is to get the same answer again and again, then the question shouldn’t be “Why did you move to Lehigh Valley?"

Along with a mix of cities and towns of different sizes, the region offers all the key elements for a high quality of life, including top-notch education and health care systems, a unique arts and cultural scene, and parks and green space in every direction.

“You can be in the midst of our urban centers one minute and out on a hike the next, which is a big draw, not only for visitors, but new residents as well,” says George Wacker, communications manager for Discover Lehigh Valley. “The dichotomy of having urban centers that celebrate the arts and music, mixed with nature preserves, parks and other outdoor draws, means that we run the gamut when it comes to all activities. Variety is a great asset when attracting people."

Allentown's Appeal

Lehigh Valley’s largest city has a storied history and a future that’s just as promising. Rooted in manufacturing, Allentown's economy has diversified to include service-oriented industries and a revitalized downtown core full of new boutiques, restaurants and bars. Visitors can find parks galore – Allentown has more park space per capita than any other city its size in the U.S. All that land gets to put to good use by sports teams like the top-ranked IronPigs, the Triple-A affiliate team of the Philadelphia Phillies known for packing the stands at the 8,200-seat Coca-Cola Park each season. The Phantoms hockey team, an American Hockey League affiliate of the Philadelphia Flyers, will take to the ice in 2014.

The city offers plenty of cultural gems, too, including an art museum, a 1,200-seat symphony hall with a professional orchestra and the historic Art Deco Civic Theatre. Mix in historical neighborhoods and the city's reputation as Band City USA for its four city-supported bands, and Allentown's appeal is evident.

Bethlehem’s Steely Resolve

As the home of Bethlehem Steel for nearly a century, Bethlehem’s reputation as a manufacturing center has few equals. But the immigrants who worked at the plant laid the foundation for a multicultural city that continues to grow and evolve long after that operation shut its doors.

Foodies flock to Restaurant Row in the city’s historic district, where ethnic restaurants, art galleries and eclectic shops abound. Readers can revel in the inventory at the Moravian Book Shop, the nation’s oldest continuously operating bookstore. History buffs can tour museums like the Smithsonian-affiliated National Museum of Industrial History and the Kemerer Museum of Decorative Arts, home to one of the nation's largest antique dollhouse collections. The city also has six National Historic Districts in its boundaries to explore and a professional indoor football team, the Lehigh Valley Steelhawks, for sports fans.

Then there are the festivals, which are almost too numerous to name but include Musikfest, Celtic Classic, Oktoberfest, the SouthSide Film Festival, Christkindlmarkt and various art walks.

“The area is always open to new festivals or events, and they seem to be happening with greater frequency,” Wacker says.

Easton's Fun Square

While it may be smaller than Allentown and Bethlehem, Easton also has plenty of fun attractions within within its borders.

Popular events include Heritage Day, which celebrates the original reading of the Declaration of Independence here on July 8, 1776, and the Garlic Festival.

Easton's historical Centre Square hosts the nation's longest-running outdoor farmers market, along with a growing cluster of shops, galleries and eateries and the interactive Crayola Experience, a kid-friendly museum that showcases how crayons are made. Live entertainment fans can catch plays, concerts and other shows at the restored vaudeville-era State Theatre Center for the Arts, and kids can experiment with early machines used in civil engineering at the National Canal Museum.

Smaller Communities Thrive

With 62 municipalities in its two-county area, Lehigh Valley also has plenty of smaller towns, but they’re no less busy than their bigger cousins. Emmaus is home to Rodale Inc., publisher of Men’s Health, Prevention and other well-known magazines, and Nazareth draws admirers for its pastoral beauty and history as the birthplace of Martin Guitars.

As more and more people are drawn here, Lehigh Valley is becoming a place of continuous reinvention where everything old is new again.

“Lehigh Valley history is vast, and varies from early Colonial settlement to Bethlehem Steel’s reign as one of the world’s largest companies,” Wacker says. “Lehigh Valley has been diligent in combining historical places with modern events. The blast furnaces that that were once the focal point of Bethlehem Steel during its heyday are now the focal point of a new ArtsQuest Center and Sands Casino Resort Bethlehem.”