Thursday, October 31, 2013

Making Things Happen

Just before waking this morning I had this dream--I was on Arts Hill and something was out of place (a large flower pot, I think). When I moved the pot, behind it was another object out of place. I moved that, too, and it revealed still another object, etc. When I awoke, I could have thought, "Wow, what a nightmare." Instead, I found myself thinking, "If that's all it takes to fix Arts Hill, let's get to it."

In the last 10 days, I heard one councilman say that council had done all they could do for Arts Hill, that Arts Hill and the Arts Council now had to help themselves. I heard another councilman, when talking about the economic situation of our downtown, say "We've tried everything. Nothing works in Norristown." A third councilman seemed to think council was working hard and getting things done, though outside of hiring a police chief, he was vague about accomplishments.

I think it's only natural that we look to our elected leaders for, well, leadership. As our borough manager, Crandall Jones, said at the Nudge meeting last Saturday, "People are telling me, 'We're all ready for things to get moving,' and they want to know why things aren't."

I think it's time to quit waiting for council to take the lead, and just go make things happen on our own.

Norristonians are good at making things happen. In the last year, groups of citizens began to clean our streets, paint over graffiti, create a mural, reclaim a park, organize amazing festivals, hold late night vigil walks to discourage crime, build community gardens, organize youth programs, restore one of our historic buildings, and start up neighborhoods in to help improve communication. We banded together to fight counterproductive development (and won one of those fights, at least). I'm sure I'm forgetting something--we did SO MUCH this past year!

It's not only our volunteers. Terrific entrepreneurs have set up shop in town. Christopher Duy Nguyen, the owner of Banh Mi Bistro at 31 West Main, posted a blog Tuesday about his enthusiasm for Norristown and how he wants to bring life back to downtown. Last night, I had dinner at Zachary's BBQ (1709 Markley) and had a great chat with Chef Keith Taylor. He assured me that he's going to start making things happen in the North End. Jus' Java at 1601 Dekalb, besides their usual breakfast, lunch, coffee and tea, is always trying something new (check out their facebook events  --book signings, Poetry Open Mic, jazz, Bible study). They're going to host their first Sunday brunch November 10th. I have it on good authority that Caffe Galileo on Swede will be opening soon. Then, of course, there's Almaz Cafe, and the folks who brought live theater to Dekalb Street, Fran and John Doyle, Erin Reilly and Matt Decker. Norristown is lucky to have all of these people contributing to our community.

All this momentum has been good for Norristown. Outsiders are starting to notice and show up for our events (does council even know that?). No effort made in the last year has been so small that it hasn't had a positive effect. But now, while we've got the momentum, let's start a conversation about what groups of regular citizens can do to help revitalize Arts Hill and our shopping districts. What can we do to make these parts of town appear inviting to investors? How can we make Arts Hill more "artsy?" Collectively, we probably know enough realtors, entrepreneurs, whoever, to help us make things happen.

The West End International Business District is a lively place on Saturdays. Let's ask the West End Business Association for their expertise. What's working on West Marshall that we can apply to Main Street and Logan Square?

I'm ready to hear ideas. Comment below or start brainstorming on Facebook or, if someone knows of a venue, let's have a series of citizens' town halls with representatives from our volunteer groups, and our business and arts communities. If council shows up, I guess we'll let them stay, unless they try to tell us we can't do something, then out they go.

Norristown can't afford that attitude anymore.

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