This is the traditional day for returning gifts and exchanging them for other things you think you want more. The problem is, you often find out that the item you're exchanging was bought on sale, so you get less for it than you thought you would. And the objects we think we want cost more than they should, considering they're probably made in a sweatshop overseas and possibly of poor materials or construction. You might end up swapping something of high quality for something that will break or rip or look dated in a month.
It's appropriate, then, that I talk about what exchanges Norristown has made over the decades since about 1980, or technically, what exchanges our government has made for us. We traded the Norris Theater for a McDonalds, the YMCA for a big box of a CVS, and several downtown buildings, including Woolworths and Grants, for another ugly box--AutoZone--with an equally ugly parking lot. With the McDonalds, we got burned twice, because they decided they didn't like the Norris Theater site, so they demolished the Wonder Bread building, too.
Our council has even exchanged downtown buildings for vacant lots. Sure,
some those buildings were destroyed by fire, but some weren't, like the
Valley Forge Hotel. And in all cases, the lots left behind sat derelict
for DECADES and most still do. Our council reps complain that the
property owners refuse to develop or sell. Well then, give them a
deadline, and if they don't sell, put the property up for auction to
someone who WILL develop it--on condition that we get some retail stores
or other downtown-appropriate businesses. No more drug rehabs,
check-cashing places or bailbondsmen. No more tax-exempt owners. Either
that or expand the public square and turn the empty lot on the corner of
Main and Dekalb into a well-kept park or garden that we can all enjoy,
and that outsiders will come into town to visit.
this to my mind is that I've heard that our Historical
Architecture Review Board (HARB) was told by certain council members that
council would no longer support them, which I take to mean that these
representatives don't feel obliged to listen to HARB's recommendations.
HARB is the advisory body that reviews proposed development in our
historic districts and makes sure exterior changes aren't in conflict
with the architecture of the building or surrounding neighborhood. They
are the only frontline we have protecting our gorgeous old buildings
from damage or demoition. You can read more about HARB here.
I know not all our current council members have this antagonistic view toward historic preservation. Some of them actually have the brains to realize that the architecture that makes Norristown unique is a sale-able COMMODITY. Marketing is all about image. Why project an image of "Norristown--We're Trying Hard To Look Like Everywhere Else?" That sounds like a teenager afraid of peer pressure, if you ask me. We could be saying "Come To Norristown To See Our Beautiful, One-Of-A-Kind Architecture (and stay for our arts, food, etc.)"
So I think we ought to be prepared in 2014 for more attempted exchanges by Council. Norristown can't afford to lose more assets. I hope our 2 newest members of council, slated to be installed in January (Derrick Perry and Sonya Fisher Sanders), will give some thought to how Norristown can use its architectural capital to bring in business, instead of allowing others to demolish the one thing that could save us.
(Note: I'll be taking another day off from the Diary tomorrow (this time for a Revolutionary War battle reenactment). Be back next week.)