Wednesday, March 5, 2014

You're Asking The Wrong Questions

If you ask people in Norristown about youth and safety in town, you hear that there should be more youth programs, things for kids to do. If you ask about the arts in Norristown, everyone's for it--they want to see Arts Hill developed and promoted, they want more arts in other parts of town, too. If you ask about downtown, you hear how everyone wants a thriving Main Street, with lots of retail and restaurants and nightlife, and no drug addicts to frighten folks away. If you ask about historic preservation, everyone says, "Yes, we love our architecture."

But when a specific case comes up, you're all asking completely different questions. At the county Town Hall last week, the director of the Carver Center stood and asked for the county's help in keeping the Carver Center open. Apparently he'd been told that, now that PAL is so active, the Carver Center wasn't necessary anymore. I was appalled that he even had to make a case. I've heard certain politicians in this town blame Norristown's crime statistics on the size of our population. They say you have to expect it because we're a city. Yet, when it comes to providing youth with programs to keep them off the streets, helping them become good citizens and contributors to the community, well, they say, one youth center is plenty. According to the last census, 26.2% of our 34,427 residents were under 18 years of age. That's over 9,000 kids. Even 2 youth centers can't cover that many. No one should be asking if the Carver needs to stay open. We should be asking how our leaders can let it close. Do me a favor if you're on Facebook, go to the Carver Center's page and LIKE it as a show of support for them, to let them know we understand the service they provide and the town's need for it.

I've heard some of the same politicians above say Arts Hill is on its own, that Municipal Hall isn't going to support them. From what I've heard, efforts in the arts in other places around town haven't been supported much by Council or the greater community either (though I was pleased to see three Council members at the mixer at ACPPA last month). Yes, I know for a lot of residents, the price of admission to an event isn't in the budget, maybe not even on "Norristown nights" when tickets prices are slashed, but it costs nothing to share events and talk up arts activities in your churches and among friends. Go to the Arts Hill Festival in May and encourage others to do the same. Share news about the arts in N-town on Facebook. Quit asking "Why do I have to be the one to promote the arts?" and start asking "What else can I do to help bring in audiences, and to get artists excited about Norristown as an arts community?"

Downtown? Everyone's great at imagining what Main Street ought to be like, but when issues come up in front of zoning and planning and Council that are detrimental to our vision of downtown, no one shows up or even bothers to email one council member. When Gaudenzia decided to take over a large building of our downtown, partially as a therapy facility for drug addicts, only a handful of people came to the hearings.

In the last 2 weeks, each time I've talked to people about saving Montgomery Hospital, I feel as if I've been put on trial. I'm confronted with everything Einstein has said about the place, as if it's gospel truth. They say the buildings aren't historic and that they're on the brink of falling down, and not one of you has questioned these statements. Not one of you has asked Einstein for proof. Yet when the Preservation Society shows letters from the National Park Service and Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission, as well as the expert opinion of architects and contractors, you're skeptical. You say you want historical preservation, but when a specific case comes up, you say, fine, just demolish the place. You SHOULD be asking, what can we do to save the building and give it a new purpose?

When asked, most of us seem to have the same vision for Norristown, but when it comes down to specific cases, we don't ask "What solution best fits our vision and will help us get there?"  Instead, we refuse to get involved, or we take the easy path, and as Norristown gets farther away from our vision instead of nearer, we complain that it's someone else's fault.

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