Words by Stephanie Sigafoos; photo by Laini
If you had asked me three years ago why I live here, I would have told you I didn’t move to Bethlehem for any particular reason. Rather, it was one of those life choices where I didn’t want to “leave home” (at the time, home being Bucks County) for a new job, a new life, and a new city far, far away where I’d be able to count the number of friends I had on one hand.
Sure, the allure of a city was calling. Before college had ended there was a job offer in Chicago, quickly dismissed when I found out the reason they call it “The Windy City.” Then, on a quick swing through Atlanta on a broadcasting convention, I had nearly fallen in love with “The Big A,” until I realized the summer heat could suck the life from your soul. Finally, there was Manhattan, where the water and the valleys of the Hudson flowed around 22.7 square miles of pulsating, glorious (and unaffordable) energy.
You might ask what this has to do with the Lehigh Valley, and Bethlehem in particular.
The answer is change. I’ve walked the same blocks in this city for years now and witnessed the transformation—the skeleton of Bethlehem Steel morphing into a “destination” entertainment district, or a vacant storefront popping up as a new espresso joint. Where painters and plywood can appear overnight (much the way scaffolding does in New York), giving way in weeks to hip new restaurants. Better yet, you can track the evolutions on a daily dog walk without the constant stream of honking horns, heavy foot traffic and throngs of befuddled tourists.
Indeed, change has become something of a constant here. Yet throughout the transformation the city has taken what could have become a permanent absence in the loss in Bethlehem Steel and turned it into a coming-of-age celebration. All around us, there is a Renaissance—a true cultural embrace of the arts that grows bigger and bolder year after year.
Still, Bethlehem has both retained and paid homage to the peoples of various cultures that founded and built this city. I walk the Moravian College Hurd campus several times a week. On foot, you can pass by God’s Acre, where converted Lenape were buried alongside the Moravians. Just down the road is the Sun Inn, which hosted George and Martha Washington, along with leaders of the Continental Congress. Not far away on South Mountain, the Bethlehem Star is lit from 4:30 p.m. to midnight, every day of the year.
These reasons—and many others—are why I have stayed, and why so many people want to live here. Because Bethlehem is accommodating for what we have now, and for what we’ll need later. I also smile at the people getting off the buses from New York or Philadelphia. Some days, especially during frequent visits to their turf, I tell myself I want what they have. Then I get back on the bus headed to Bethlehem, and it’s always nice to come home.
Editors’ Note: We stumbled upon this concept somewhat serendipitously last year, when Carrie wrote an essay for LLPG, we ran a story in the recent LLPG to Easton about artists who live here, and then Laini reprised it again recently. Why do you live here? We want to know. Send us 500 words on the topic and perhaps we’ll publish your thoughts!–Laini & Carrie