Part II of In Sight’s in-depth coverage of Pennsylvania steel town Aliquippa explores the community residing on both sides of the town’s tracks and looks at how, if possible, it can survive on limited resources.

In Sight: What were the perceptions you had about Aliquippa vs. the reality once you began documenting the community and the people more closely?

Marovich: I had heard that people living in surrounding areas believed there was serious crime and lingering racial issues in Aliquippa. But after doing some research and talking with community leaders and police, I found that the reality is not as scary as the perception.

The city has a history of racial issues in the late 1960s and early 1970s, but that was true in many areas in the United States at that time. Speaking with police during a ride-along one night, I was told that most violence that occurs in Aliquippa involves people that know each other arguing about any number of things, but race really does not play a part in the altercations, which are usually related to domestic violence or drug deals gone bad.

While there are drug problems, there is not much violent crime. There have been three homicides in the past five years.

In Sight: What do you feel, if anything, can be done for Aliquippa to survive?

Marovich: Some of the old-timers still long for the good old days and talk about how things will be when the mill comes back. But most people realize those days are gone. Most of the storefronts along the main thoroughfare of Franklin Avenue are still boarded up, and there are a lot of empty lots between buildings.

Recently the city was able to attract United States Gypsum to the area, and they built a plant along the Ohio River located on part of what was the former J&L site. There is still a lot of land on the old mill site — land that sits on the river and a rail line. It is a prime spot for some new industry, such as a car manufacturer.

The residents understand that the city needs to attract more businesses and jobs if Aliquippa is to fully recover. New businesses will raise the tax base and provide funds to rebuild the decaying infrastructure. The people of Aliquippa are strong, resilient and proud of their heritage. They are doing their best in difficult times, and they are continuing to press forward.

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