The city of Chester has a dual image – one touting the future, the other mired in its tumultuous present – and tensions between both sides are coming to a head this month.
On the one hand, the future: A brand-new soccer stadium, touted as the centerpiece for a $500 million riverfront revival. Feeding off of World Cup fervor, PPL Park – home to the Philadelphia Union MLS team – is slated for a sold-out inaugural home game on June 27. The energy and anticipation is palpable from the Sons of Ben, the Union’s fan club.
On the other hand, the current state of Chester: four homicides in eight days. A state of emergency issued, with beefed up police patrols and a 9pm curfew in high-crime areas. Chronic issues of crime, poverty, and unemployment. A population in steady decline, reduced to nearly ½ of its peak population in the 1950s.
Which image of Chester will prevail — will the energy and excitement building up along the waterfront spread beyond the river bank and into a city desperate for change? Or will the city’s woes creep towards the newly christened stadium and tarnish the hoped-for revival? To be sure, the underlying issues are far more complex than simply being a public relations problem, but the tone of the news coverage in the weeks and months ahead will play an important role in determining which image of Chester will prevail.