Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Something New For Our "Look"

Are we all REALLY hating the Markley Street Project yet? All the more so because we still have to endure it for YEARS? Half the time these last couple of months, my street has been closed at Markley, so I've gotten very creative about how to get around it. At least, with traffic going one-way, it's a bit easier crossing Markley at one of the smaller cross streets, assuming PennDOT workers don't back over you with piece of heavy equipment while you're waiting at a stop sign (beware of Poplar St--they treat it like an unused alley).

But I saw something new last night that gave me a glimpse of what our improved streetscape was going to look like. Oh, I've noticed the nice, clean new sidewalks, which can't help but spiff up the older neighborhoods. I've noted the new cut-out parking configuration, which I'm not sure I like yet. I'm waiting to see how they work when traffic returns to normal. But last night, between James and Elm Streets, I saw brand new, black, VERY Victorian-looking street lamps. They're sort of like the ones on Dekalb that hang over the street, but a nicer design.

I didn't expect to see them in a non-historic district that's mostly residential, yet in my opinion, they completely transform the look of Markley Street. They're classy. They say "Come into Norristown--we're quaint and historic--we're not like every other community around. We have a unique personality. You're going to like it here." They FIT our historical architecture and the "look" our Comprehensive Plan talks about. They're an accessory that can help redefine us.

When they improve the sidewalks on that lower stretch of Markley between Elm and Main, I'd love it if they put those lamps all the way down to the Dannehower Bridge, so as people enter town, the first impression they get of us isn't only McDonalds and billboards and parking lots. I'm hoping they'll show up at the Logan Square end of Markley, maybe even up Johnson Highway, to help give that retail area the perk it desperately needs, and to welcome drivers coming in from the north end of town. I'd love it if they put those lamps at every major entry into Norristown eventually--West Main and East Main, at least.

I do, of course, also hope the new fixtures are more efficient than the old and use less electricity, saving us money in the long run.

Still, I couldn't help thinking when I saw those lamps yesterday, here we are, using street lamps to emphasize the historical assets of Norristown, yet, when someone comes along wanting to level one of our historic buildings, like Montgomery Hospital, there's no huge public outcry against it. Frankly, the same thing happened when the Norris Theater was destroyed--and City Hall, and the YWCA, and all the other buildings we've lost in the last 50 years. If the community had banded together to fight for any one of those buildings, they would have been saved.

What would Norristown look like, our streets lined with classy Victorian street lamps, but our blocks filled with ugly, uninteresting, new construction like the buildings Elon proposes for the hospital site? My opinion? We'd look pretty foolish.


Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Join Norristown's Action Team

What you need to know most about today's topic is VOLUNTEERS ARE NEEDED - specifically, Norristown residents or business folks. For what? The Norristown Schuylkill River Action Team.

The PA Environmental Council launched a "Rivertown Program" to help revitalize distressed communities along the state's rivers by using the river itself as an economic stimulus. If you check their website, it doesn't even mention the Schuylkill, but our river is included. Four Action Teams have been set up at different towns along our river and Norristown is one of them.

Our Team has 2 specific goals. First, to get cyclists and hikers who use the Schuylkill River Trail through Norristown to take detours into town, to visit our restaurants, or take a cycling tour of our architecture (then visit our restaurants), or to come into town for our festivals (and leave some money here). Second, to give our residents more recreational opportunities along the river--let them know the Trail is there for them, too, as well as have places they can canoe and kayak and swim on a hot summer's day.

Schuylkill River Trail at the train station
What kind of an impact could this have? 800,000 people use the Schuylkill River Trail . That's for the entire length; not all of them come through Norristown. Still, the part of it that goes from Phoenixville through Norristown and Conshy into Philly is the longest completed stretch (26 miles), and therefore it's one of the busiest, especially on weekends. We keep talking about how a slip ramp will revitalize the town, yet we have an expressway of bikers coming through town NOW, and we don't need as much infrastructure put in place to connect those trail users with our businesses. Best of all, because the state and other groups are involved, there's grant money available to actually get stuff DONE.

Some of the easy things that are already in the works: signs are being placed on the trail for the Arts Festival this weekend, to let cyclists know there's an event going on only a block away. This could be done for ALL of our festivals. Permanent signage and information kiosks are also being planned, to let bikers know WHY they should come into town.

The Dragon Boat Club is involved with connecting the trail users to Riverfront Park. Right now, because of the tall brush along the trail, you can't even see the river or the park from the trail. Feed The Burbs has agreed to help clear the view and design a nice, low-maintenance landscape for that hillside (possibly even a community garden), which will give great views of the river, create a safer, more open feel for the area, and improve Norristown's look. Our Dragon Boaters will also be doing more to get the community down to the river--more events, a renovation of the approach to the park, water sport education, kids' programs, and a floating dock that everyone can use.

I've been going to Norristown Action Team meetings since the beginning of the year, but honestly, I'm about the only N-town resident there. (Bill Caldwell also comes on occasion.) They want more of the community involved, and we SHOULD be. Up to now, the team's been meeting once a month in the afternoon, but the time of the meeting can be changed to accommodate more residents and business owners. I'd love to see members of the Norristown Business Association and all of our youth organizations get involved with this.

We keep waiting for someone to come along to revitalize our town. Well, now someone has. If we lazily sit back and hope someone else comes up with all the ideas and does all the work, at best, there will always be a disconnect between trail and town. At worst, the work might never get done. Remember, other towns on the river have teams as well. Let's not let Phoenixville and Conshy leave Norristown in the dust.

If you're interested in joining the Norristown Action Team (or at least, coming to find out what it's about), email Lizzie Hessmiller of the PA Environmental Council at lhessmiller@pecpa.org . Say that you're from Norristown, and tell her the best times for you to attend a meeting.

If you want to keep up on what's happening with the Schuylkill River Towns project, LIKE their Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/Schuylkillrivertowns . Right now, most of the news is about the other towns. Let's make Norristown just as active.

Monday, April 28, 2014

How Healthy Is Norristown's Food System?

If you've been reading my Diary long enough, you've probably caught on to the fact that food is a favorite topic of mine. I love eating at our restaurants and I love growing my own food. Since the First Lady began challenging America to eat healthier 6 years ago, many Norristonians have started taking a look at our local food supply.

First, our food history: Until the invention of the refrigerated railroad car in 1875, Norristown got ALL its food locally. Even a hundred years later, in the 1970s, we had an abundance of local farms nearby. You could drive to a farm within 5 miles to get corn and other veggies picked that morning. You could pick your own fruit at many places. From N-town's early days to the mid-20th century, farmers brought their goods into town on market days. There was a Farmers and Fish Market on the first floor of the old City Hall at Airy and Dekalb.

There are still a few pick-your-own places in Montgomery County, though they've gotten hard to find. We ARE fortunate to be located right smack between the Garden State of New Jersey, and the fertile farmland of Lancaster County, but lately, you don't see many Jersey tomatoes or ears of Lancaster corn in season unless you drive closer to those places. Giant supermarkets claim they sell "local produce" in the summer. They used to, but last year, I looked up the farms they listed. The closest one was in Chambersburg, the next was in upstate New York. That's NOT local to Norristown.

A few weeks ago, we had a sustainable food workshop in Norristown. I was sick that week, but I asked one of the coordinators, David Swedkowski, to sit down with me and talk about it. (If you've gone anywhere in Norristown in the last few months, chances are you've seen David. He's a community organizer, is on the Arts Council, works with Feed the Burbs, and just landed an internship with the planning department. In short, he's everywhere.)
Anyway, the gist of the workshop was that students from Temple University came to Norristown to do an assessment of our sustainable food system. They looked at our community gardens, the availability of emergency food (at our food banks), school lunches, and other school gardening projects. They studied where most of our food comes from, how it gets here, and who has access to it.

My first question to David was, "Define what you mean by 'sustainable food?'" He showed me a photo of a poster from the workshop (above). In a sustainable food system, the food is healthy, assessible to everyone in the community, and produced and disposed of in such a way that it doesn't hurt the environment. The food is produced locally, because the farther you transport food, the more nutrition is loses, but local production is also better for the local economy.

N-town Farmers Market
Yet, if a lot of local farms have disappeared in favor of development, how are we supposed to get our food locally? We do have a "farmers market" between Swede and Dekalb in the summer. It's only one vendor from New Jersey. One person I know who went there said it was very expensive and the produce was only okay. High prices can be expected where you have no competition. One vendor doesn't make a "market." Plus it's only open when most residents are at work, and parking is always a problem downtown during the day. So I think Norristown needs to rethink its farmers market. Follow the sustainable food definition and make it more local and more accessible. Have it on Saturday mornings, and invite more farms, especially those closer to town.

We do have a VERY local food coop called Edible Forrest Urban Farm at 417 N. Forrest Avenue. It's run by the 2 brothers in the photo. They sell shares if you want weekly seasonable veggies as soon as they're available (they might be sold out of 2014 shares by now), but I've also seen them sell extra vegetables in front of their house.

Another solution is, of course, to grow the food ourselves, in our own backyards and community garden plots. That's going to take another whole Diary entry to discuss.

In the meantime, David has promised to let me know Temple U's conclusions about our town food supply as soon as he hears. I'll pass it on.


Friday, April 25, 2014

More Stuff To Do

A friend asked a group of us this morning what summer plans we had. Others talked about going away. It occurred to me that there's so many great events--festivals, etc.--coming up in N-town in the next months that I'm looking forward to staying in town.

A few more events for the coming week:

Tonight at 8 pm is the Norristown Ladies Flag Football Pre-Season Party at the George Washington Carver Center. $10 per person.

Saturday afternoon from 1 to 4 pm at Jus' Java -- Book signing and coffee chat on Vision by Michelle Govan, the author of "Soldiers in Stilettos" and "Up Now". LightRefreshments and a raffle will be part of the event.

Sunday from 2 to 4 pm, Norristown Ladies Flag Football hosts "Women Community Involvement", for women 27 yrs and older. Location: Norristown State Hospital "Norristown Youth Eagles Field".  Contact Ericka Wharton or Latisha Howell at norristownladiesflagfootball@yahoo.com.

Sunday April 27th, 3-9 pm at Almaz Cafe, a Chicken and Fish Fry, $25 per person. I have this as benefiting Norristown Ladies Flag Football (even though they're at the State Hospital until 4 pm?) If this is wrong, someone please chime in.

Next Saturday May 3rd, after the Arts Festival, you have your choice of two banquets:

From 7 -11 pm, the Montgomery County OIC will present Fantastic Voyage in The Empress Room at St. Helena's, 1489 Dekalb Pike, Blue Bell. $60 per person. Contact Denish Ashe, 610-279-9700 or purchase tickets online through PayPal www.MontcoOIC.org.

Or from 8 pm 'til midnight, Norristown Men of Excellence presents their Black Tie Scholarship Masquerade Ball at Theater Horizon, 401 Dekalb St. $40 per person, includes food and drinks, all proceeds benefit the NMOE Scholarship, Music by DJ Malc Geez, Hot 107.9.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Fish, Science, Galas, Gardening & ARTS

Tomorrow I'll be up early teaching kids the finer points of mystery writing and may not be able to post a Diary entry. But SO much is happening in Norristown this coming week, I wanted to make sure I posted it now. I may have more events by tomorrow, and if so I'll post them later that day.

Saturday from 8 am to 5 pm and Sunday from 7 am to 4 pm will be the Annual Stony Creek Trout Derby at the Norristown Farm Park and State Hospital Grounds. Enter at Gate 5 on Stanbridge St. Adults $20, Teens $10, Kids 12 and under $5. Food vendors on site. Baits, lures and tackle, fishing poles for kids. Trophies for longest fish. Proceeds go to the Montco Co-op Trout Nursery and children's programs. Call Mike Sherman at 610-751-1854 or go to www.stonycreekanglers.org. See the flyer at http://norristown.org/userfiles/file/events/1219.pdf

Saturday from 9 am to 1 pm, The Dragon Boat Club presents "What's in Your River" at Riverfront Park (Haws Avenue and the river). Join their resident biologist as he takes kids on an ecological tour of the Schuylkill River. The event will include paddling in a dragon boat and collecting samples from the water. After multiple samples have been collected, they will be analyzed under a microscope to identify what is in the Schuykill. To ensure your spot in the Dragon Boat, registration is recommended. Payment of $10.00 can be made online, all participants must have a waiver signed by a parent. Go to dragonboatclub.org for information and payment, or show up Saturday morning.

Also Saturday from 10 am to 2 pm, The Pathway School (162 Egypt Road, Jeffersonville) will host "Discovering a Career at Pathway". The event will showcase Educational and Clinical Employment Opportunities: Full-Time, Part-Time, Sub, Volunteer Opportunities. ES & Life Skill Teachers, Instructional Coordinators, Teacher Assistants/1:1s, Behavior Specialists, Clinicians, Psychologist, Therapists, Administrative Positions. The event is in the gym off the parking lot. Call 610-277-0660 for information. or go to www.pathwayschool.org or email at get.hired@pathwayschool.org

Same day from 11 am to 3 pm at Elmwood Park Zoo, come to "Party for the Planet" -a nationwide Earth Day celebration. The event will feature an Earth Expo, where local "green" vendors will be highlighting their environmentally friendly products. Visit elmwoodparkzoo.org/event/105 for a list of participating vendors. Party for the Planet provides a great opportunity to showcase environmentally-friendly products. If you have a "green" product or service that you'd like to display, contact mreale@elmwoodparkzoo.org or call 610-277-3825 x275.

Saturday night from 6:30 to 10 pm. at the ACCPA Community Art Center (506 Haws Avenue), come to their Beach Ball Spring Gala. $35 per person. (includes dinner and adult beverages). Live steel drum music by the Joe DeVito Band, 3-course meal with a "Dip Bar", Picnic Dinner, & Beachy Cookies & Candies, members only area with complimentary chair massages and Tiki Bar shooters, and a silent auction featuring original artwork, jewelry, vacation get-aways, spa days, sports packages, and more. Proceeds go to fund ACPPA's great arts programs for our kids. Go to http://www.acppa.net/#!the-beach-ball/c4vd to RSVP. Call 610-277-2270 for info.

Sunday evening at 6:30 pm, Coffee Talk (507 W. Marshall) will host Tom McGlynn of Feed The 'Burbs, our local expert on edible landscaping. Tom will lead a discussion on permaculture gardening--strategies to maximize taste, yields and nutritional value of food plants. This is recommended to gardeners of all experience levels. Contribution, $5. Call Coffee Talk for info, 610-272-4811. (I'm definitely going to this. I may even bring some basil seeds to share.)



Thursday, May 1st is the Arts Hill Reception from 5:30 to 8:30 pm at August Moon Restaurant (300 E. Main St). Light buffet, cash bar, live entertainment, raffle/silent auction. $40 per person / $75 per couple (in advance. Add $5 at door.) $500 table sponsorship (10 persons). RSVP and pay online at www.norristownartshill.org/reception or mail checks payable to "Norristown Arts Council" to 208 DeKalb Street, Norristown, PA 19401. Kindly reply by April 30. Proceeds go to fund our Annual Arts Hill Festival.

AND don't forget the Arts Hill Festival Saturday a week (May 3) from 10 am to 5 pm, on Dekalb between Lafayette and Airy. Dance, drama, poetry, film and LOTS of music this year. Food vendors, artists, crafts people. (Vendor opportunities still available). For info, email info@norristownartshill.org, or call 484-961-0884.


Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Antennas and the Upcoming Primary

Two short news items today, one from the past, one for the future.

CELL PHONE ANTENNAS

Remember the cellular antennas that Cingular and T-Mobile are moving off the hospital roof? The Times Herald reported that there was a Zoning Board meeting about it on April 10. Since this was a Thursday, it wasn't a normally scheduled meeting. It was never listed on the town calendar. I suppose it might have been advertized in the paper, but I'm guessing most residents never knew it took place.

The result of that meeting is that, thankfully, the 84-foot cell tower on wheels was denied. However, all the antennas will now be placed on the elevator penthouse of the parking garage. This tower is supposed to be less than 15 feet above the roof of the elevator. This is only a temporary location, approved for 9 months. Still, if Einstein and Elon are allowed to go through with their demolition of the hospital, I'm not sure where those antenna would be placed permanently. I should note that, according to the codes department, there's been no application yet for a demolition permit.

PRIMARY ELECTION

The primary election is Tuesday, May 20th. Put it on your calendar and plan to vote because this is an EXTREMELY important election. We'll be voting for candidates for governor, lieutenant governor, US congressional representative, and state legislature. Except for the latter, there's more than one choice on both the Democratic and Republican tickets. (You can view a sample ballot at http://www.smartvoter.org/ - just put in your address and zip.)

We're in District 13-the epitome of gerrymandering.
It's likely, especially in the US Congress race, that the person you vote for in the primary will end up representing us. So don't stay home, and don't simply go into the voting booth and play eeny-meeny-miny-moe. Don't rely on flyers you get from candidates or TV ads. Do your homework. Check candidates' websites and articles from reliable news sources--find out where everyone stands on the issues. I'll report whatever I can find out.

For governor, there are 2 Republicans running: Tom Corbett and Robert Guzzardi. On the Democratic ballot, you have 4 choices: Robert McCord, Katie McGinty, Allyson Schwartz, and Tom Wolf. Frankly, all I know at the moment is that Corbett has taken education funding away, as well as state funds for things like libraries, and he's given money our schools desperately need to the fracking industry. He's also refused to allow state health insurance exchanges or expanded Medicaid in the state. We have so many low income families and self-employed individuals in Norristown, many of whom don't qualify for Medicaid under the current guidelines, yet they're now required to buy health insurance. They end up paying more than they can afford in premiums. So my take is, for the good of Norristown, we need a new governor. As for where the other candidates stand, I'll let you know what I uncover.
 
Candidates for PA's 13th
Yesterday I had the chance to meet 2 of the candidates running for our congressional rep--Daylin Leach and Val Arkoosh. I asked both of them what they'd do to help Norristown if they were elected. I'm not going to tell you their answers yet. I'm going to wait and see if I can get replies from the other candidates first. On the Democratic side, Brendan Boyle and Marjorie Margolies are also on the ballot. Beverly Plosa-Bowser and Carson Dee Adcock are running as Republicans. I've heard that there have been some debates, though apparently none around here.

Perhaps one or more of our organizations would sponsor a debate at one of our theaters? It might be telling just to see who'd be willing to come to Norristown.

As I hear of candidate appearances or debates, I'll list them here on the Diary, so you can go meet these candidates and question them yourselves. The only one I know of right now is a Meet-And-Greet for Daylin Leach at a private home in Bluebell on May 4th from 3 to 4:30 pm. If you want to go, call Beverly at 610-275-7665 for directions.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Water, Water Everywhere, And it Costs Money

I spent the last few Diary entries telling you some of the green progress going on in our community. Today, for Earth Day, I thought I'd mention few changes around the house we all can make to save water, electricity, heating and cooling costs, all of which help the environment. Some can even be good for Norristown as a whole. Then I realized, as I started compiling energy-savings tips, I found I have enough to fill a week's worth of blogs. So today, I'll just stick to one subject--water--and save the rest for another time.

The average person uses 50-100 gallons of water per day. The average household of 4 (because of shared usages like cooking) consumes about 300 gallons per day. The main places water are used are kitchens and bathrooms, laundry, the garden, and sometimes the heating system. I checked my last water bill and found that my average is about 37 gallons per day.

Saving water is just a matter of trying not to let water go down the storm drain until you've used it more than once, and in the garden, using rain when you can instead of water from PA American.

Now, we probably all have heard the usual advice--don't let the tap run the whole time while you brush your teeth or if you wash dishes by hand. When you do wash, the larger the load, the more you save water and electricity.

Here's a tip I learned from an Australian friend of mine who's lived with a decade's worth of extreme drought: When you let water warm up before getting in the shower, catch that excess water in a bucket and, next time you flush the toilet, pour it in the back of your toilet when the water drains out. One person can save 40-100 gallons a month this way. Multiply that by the number of people in your house.

I have friends who took it one step further--when they put in a powder room, they installed a long trough for a sink. When you flush the toilet, the water goes on at the upper end of the trough where you can wash you hands. The dirty water then fills the toilet tank and turns off automatically. It has a manual override if you just want to wash your hands without using the bathroom, but it's an ingenious solution that saves water, and looks really cool.

For my garden in the summer, I hook up a 50 gallon rain barrel to the downspout that drains my 450 sq. ft. flat roof. A good drenching rain will fill the barrel easily. The overflow hose is connected to a sump pump hose with holes in it that runs through my side garden, under the trees, where the rain doesn't always reach the ground. I also fill about 20 gallons worth of plastic jugs from the rain barrel, in case we get a dry spell (I easily use 10 gallons or more a day on my vegetables in the middle of summer, so my backup system works for about a week).

Last year I didn't have to pay to water my garden at all, and the plants like rain water better than treated water. The rain barrel was bought from the Montgomery County Recycling Office much cheaper than I would have paid elsewhere. If you keep an eye on their website or follow them on Facebook, you can find out when they have sales. You can find downspout diverters online. Mine cost about $30. It paid for itself in one season.

Rain garden using overflow from rain barrel
You can also put in a rain garden fairly easily if you have a downspout that can be diverted to drain downhill onto a piece of unpaved ground. Dig out the area, loosen the soil and add top soil, peat moss and compost, with maybe a bit of gravel on my bottom if you need better drainage. Put in plants that like moisture, like ferns, up close to the downspout, and ones that work better in dryer conditions at the far end. The rain garden will absorb the runoff and not send it down the storm drain, and you save on watering costs. If everyone in Norristown did this, we might curtail a good bit of flooding in town.

So there are my suggestions for water conservation. Check out this link for a whole list of others.

Anyone have any other tips they want to share? 

Monday, April 21, 2014

Norristown - A Green Community?

DEP Building on Main  
Tomorrow is Earth Day, and as I said last week, you can join one of the clean-up teams around town in the morning, form your own after school or after work team in your neighborhood, or simply clean up your own property.

But, although picking up trash and tidying up is important for the image of our town, it isn't all that Earth Day is about. Merely removing litter isn't going to help the climate change problem. Today, I'm going to highlight what IS being done in Norristown to help the planet.

Two office buildings in town have LEED Green Building Certification. LEED stands for Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design. To obtain the certification, a building design must pass strict requirements for energy and water use.

DEP's cistern
The first building is the PA Department of Environmental Protection's Southeast Regional Office, located on Main St. right across from the public square, near Swede. The department is responsible for programs that reduce air and water pollution in this region of the state, so it makes sense that their building design incorporates environmental sustainability. The structure has a gold level LEED certification. The main lobby is open to the floors above, and the plants in that area help to keep the air on the upper floors fresh, to avoid sick building syndrome. Also located in the lobby is a cistern where rainwater from the roof is collected and is then used to flush toilets. They have auxiliary solar panels on the roof.

The building has recycling bins for everything possible, but they also recycle the binders they get in from businesses submitting regulatory reports. In the main lobby, they set up a shelf where these binders are placed--anyone can go in to help themselves. The free binders are popular with teachers and home schoolers. The DEP encourages its employees to use public transportation (the back of the building is right across from the Transportation Center) and to bike into work. Their parking garage has a secure bike rack, plus shower and locker facilities for those who cycle in. You can watch a short video on the DEP building and see its amenities at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2lFjhnlMvZs.

Green roof at the DEP 
You might say, of course the DEP's going to have an environmentally friendly building--that's their job. But across town is another LEED certified green office building: the headquarters of US Maintenance at Logan Square.

Remember, USM's building was originally a department store, first Sears, the Ports Of The World, then it sat empty for a long time, then we were told it was going to be a film studio in what lots of people think of as one of the greatest scams the county and borough ever fell for. We're still paying for it.

USM's Lobby
Then USM decided to move their corporate headquarters here, providing hundreds of new jobs for Norristown, and when they converted the old Sears building, they added solar blinds, skylights, high efficiency lighting and A/C systems, Energy Star appliances, bike racks and showers, preferred parking for alternative fuel vehicles, reduced water usage systems, and a green roof (yes, grass on the roof, which absorbs 50-90% excess runoff--important at Logan Square where everything else is asphalt).


USM's Green Roof 
They reused and recycled materials during construction, and have an ongoing recycling and green cleaning programs. Water usage was reduced by 32%. The whole building uses about 45% less energy than a traditional office building. You can learn more about USM's Silver LEED CI (Commercial Interiors) Certification at this link.

It's worth noting that USM reused an old store, adding some features for architectural interest to what otherwise was a rather plain, drab building. That's a much greener solution that demolishing a building and putting up new construction on the same spot. The same could be done with Montgomery Hospital, instead of the wasteful plan Einstein and Elon have proposed, not to mention the trade-down in architectural quality.

Could we do more to make Norristown the sustainability capital of Montgomery County? Of course we could. What about incentives for developers who incorporate green building technologies into their plans?

Montgomery County Community College students just installed these very cool-looking wind turbines in Pottstown. Think about it--we've got a street named Airy for a reason. All those breezes at the high points of our town could be put to good use while adding an artsy look that we really need for our Arts Hill district. The added energy could be used at Municipal Hall or to light street lamps in that neighborhood. Perhaps a project like that could be funded with a grant from the state, or maybe we could even work out a rental agreement where we light streetlights, and the energy company we rent from gets the land for the turbines rent-free, plus the excess revenue from energy sold to PECO.

The Municipality's expenditures for liquid fuel have been running about $22,000 per month. Surely we could come up with some more sustainable strategies to reduce that cost, couldn't we?

I do know that at least 2 of our council members bike to work. Olivia Brady has some good ideas about establishing bike lanes through our alleys for safety. We ought to have an Environmental Town Hall, to discuss solutions like this.

What do you think?

Friday, April 18, 2014

Eggs Again, Spring Break, and More

It's a holiday weekend, so many of you will be spending time with family and friends, but there are still plenty of activities around town the next week. Check out the calendar links in the right-hand column for the regular programs at the library and elsewhere.

Today from 10 am to noon, bring your kids to the tot lot at Elmwood Park (next to the bandshell) for an Easter Egg Hunt.  3-4 yr olds at 10 am, 5-6 yr olds at 10:30 am, 7-9 yr olds at 11 am. Meet at tot lot 10 minutes before the starting time. All children will hunt for eggs in the playground and be supervised by the Recreation staff. No parents will be allowed in the tot lot during the hunt. Every child who finds at least one egg will win a prize, whomever finds a gold egg wins a special prize. For more details call 610-270-0467.

Spring Break Youth Party! Saturday, April 19th from 8-11 pm at the George Washington Carver Community Center (249 E. Jacoby St) $5 admission fee OR $3 fee with a student ID.

Saturday from 8 to 11 pm at Jus' Java (Dekalb and Brown). "Java After Dark" presents "Conversations With Alex." Topics of discussion to include: Can you handle what you Attract? Do you know who's right for YOU? BYOB. Food menu available. Mature audience only (ages 25+). $5.

On Monday from noon to 2 pm, Historical Society of Montgomery County presents the 2nd of a 4-part series on "WORLD WAR I: The Great War" which will examine the outbreak, conduct and aftermath of the first total war of the modern age. $40 per person. For information or to reserve a seat contact The Historical Society @ 610-272-0297 or contact@hsmcpa.org.


Tuesday at 8:30 am, the Norristown Business Association will hold their monthly meeting at Casa Bonita (801 Dekalb). This month's guest speaker is Lawrence Schade, Business Specialist and Brokerage Associate with Wells Fargo Bank. If you have a business in Norristown, you should join this growing organization. For info, contact Eddie Turner at 610-275-3727 or info@norristownba.org.

Tuesday is Earth Day. Join the clean up teams around town--9 am to noon, meet at the bandshell in Elmwood Park, or from 10 am to 1 pm, meet on the 2nd floor of the Montco OIC (Arch and Basin).

Tuesday night at 7 pm at Municipal Hall is the Zoning Board Hearing. See the agenda here.

Next Friday at 7 pm, Greater Norristown PAL (340 Harding Blvd) will host a Zumba Fundraiser. Get in shape and support the youth! Come on out with your family, have fun and get fit! For tickets and information contact either Cynthia at 610-633-7076 or Erica at 610-226-7977.

Also next Friday, Norristown Ladies Flag Football is having a Pre Season Football Party at 8 pm at the George Washington Carver Community Center. All are welcome! It is FREE for ALL coaches and team members, but $10 for everyone else.

Happy Easter and Passover.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Earth Day - Spring Cleaning Time

We're only 5 days away from Earth Day on April 22nd. I wanted to give you a heads-up about what's going on in town that day so you can plan to volunteer. But you know me--I have to start with a little history first.

The first Earth Day took place in 1970. It was a Wednesday, so most of the events took place the following Saturday, the 25th. In Norristown that day, students from Norristown High and Rittenhouse started in the morning at the mouth of Stony Creek and worked their way upstream, dragging debris out of the creek and cleaning the banks. At the same time, boy scout troops started cleaning the creek at Elmwood Park Zoo and worked their way downstream. The idea was that the groups would meet up in the early afternoon, but planners underestimated how big a job it would be. By 4 pm, the groups were still over a block apart--the scouts at Elm and Markley, the students just past the bridge over Markley between Marshall and Airy. I was with the students and I remember we kept a count of what we took out of the creek--24 shopping carts, over 50 tires, enough auto parts for 12 cars, and a refrigerator, not to mention bags and bags of litter, soda cans, etc. (I seem to recall the soda cans count being around 125.) We finally quit because we ran out of bags. Half the crew got poison ivy. Most of us got wet at least up to the waist. But the creek had never looked so good.

Since then, we've had only sporadic Earth Day clean-ups in town. Less than we should have. It should have been an annual event.

Time to remedy that. Next Tuesday, a group of Norristown Municipal employees will be hosting a clean up event, starting at the Elmwood Park bandshell on Harding Boulevard at 9 am, rain or shine. Staff members from each department will be at the park picking up litter, clearing flowerbeds and painting the band shell. Volunteers are welcome to join in. Norris Sales will be donating gloves for the event.

Also next Tuesday from 10 am to 1 pm, The Norristown Project and Montco OIC are hosting a cleanup on Arch Street. They're looking for volunteers to assist with cleaning up the neighborhood to help beautify the community. Volunteers are asked to meet at the OIC building at 1101 Arch Street on the 2nd floor to sign in. The group will then head out, working their way out from the OIC, picking up trash and debris. If you're interested in helping out, contact email NorristownProject@gmail.com.

But, like that first Earth Day in 1970, it's a weekday. People have jobs, kids have school. This doesn't mean you're off the hook. If everyone cleaned up just the front of their own property next Tuesday after work or school, Norristown's neighborhoods could look terrific for the start of spring. I'm doing my own house. If you're a business, clean up your storefronts and sidewalks. Get together with neighbors to do your whole block. Do you have a park near you? Or a public space that needs attention? Get some friends together and clean it. Busy on Tuesday? Do it on Wednesday or on the weekend. Students, don't wait for adults to tell you what to do. Show the community you can be leaders.

If you'd like host a bigger clean up event, it's not too late. Contact gprete@norristown.org for more details.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

The Need For More and Better Journalism

When I wake up wondering what to blog about, I go to a few places for ideas. One is my Facebook "Norristown" pages--that is, the pages for our Municipality, the Business Association, the CTC and Violence Prevention Initiative, the Preservation Society, Men of Excellence, Dragon Boat Club, The Norristown Project, Norristown Nudge, the Norristown Library, our theatres, plus those for local restaurants and coffee shops. Today there were a few notices for upcoming events, but nothing that inspired a Diary entry.

Two other places that have been decent sources in the past: the websites for The Times Herald and Norristown Patch.

The problem with Patch is, all of the Patch outlets in this part of Pennsylvania (and maybe all over the nation) fired their local reporters at the beginning of the year. Despite the sub-heading of "Local News" on their website, and their name "NORRISTOWN Patch," you won't find one bit of Norristown news. The lead "local" story today is from Point Pleasant, New Jersey. On Facebook, the Norristown Patch feed is now all "trending" stories--meaning stories picked solely by Internet popularity. They're from all over the US, few are from reliable news outlets, and the content is what you'll find in your basic supermarket checkout line tabloid. Less than a year ago, Norristown Patch was a great source for news of what was happening NOW in Norristown, from police reports to fires to gunshots heard, and also a good source for event news. Now, nothing. So I've scratched Patch off my list of sources and UNLIKED them on Facebook.

Today in the Times Herald, the only genuine Norristown news article was Carl Rotenburg's recap of last night's council meeting.  He mostly concentrated on the new Fraternal Order of Police contract, but also added a summary of the new zoning ordinance at the bottom (though, if you were specifically looking for the zoning info, you probably didn't find it, because the article's headline only mentioned the contract).

Other than that article, though, other local news came from surrounding communities. Clicking on "Sports-High School" or "Obituaries" now takes you to other websites.

When I was growing up, the Times Herald showed up on our porch every evening--a good-sized newspaper stuffed with mostly Norristown news--not just crime and borough council news, but items on what was happening in the school district, what our churches, scout troops and civic organizations were doing (though, they did tend to ignore the doings of minority groups).

While working on my 4th book, I went to the Historical Society to research what Norristown was like in the 1930s, I flipped through microfilms of even bigger newspapers--2 editions a day, with comprehensive national, state and local news. Before that, Norristown had 2 papers--The Times and The Herald--which eventually merged. The photo at left is of a 1942 Times Herald, still proudly boasting the name of our town in its masthead. Compare how much news is on the front page to the photo above.

I can't blame the Times Herald for paring down their content--the Internet is putting most newspapers out of business, so I'm grateful we still have a local newspaper, and that they still cover things like council meetings, and haven't gone the way of Patch where we have no local reporters at all.

Yet, in every free society, journalism is incredibly important. We need unbiased observers who'll seek out the most reliable sources for news, and not get their information from blogs and social media as so many news outlets are doing these days. We need to be kept informed if our community is going to improve and grow.

I don't know the answer for Norristown--maybe a citizens' news website? Student or volunteer reporters? What ideas does anyone else have?

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Council Agenda: Zoning, Consultants, Police, etc.


There's a Council Meeting tonight at 7:30 pm in Municipal Hall, with a few interesting items on the agenda.

First, and to my mind, the most interesting, is the discussion about the new zoning ordinance. Remember the workshops last fall? If you don't, click here, scroll down to the bottom, to the August 12, 2013 blog, which was my first Diary entry on the workshops. You can scroll up from there to find the others.

Several residents and I attended these workshops. We were told that our input was important, but were also frequently given the impression that they'd rather have us sit there and listen politely instead. But I think, after several months of these workshops, we let Norristown and County Planning know which zoning changes we liked and which we hated. The plans for the residential areas, with a block-by-block zoning that wouldn't allow housing that's unlike anything else on the block, seemed to be the best plan--assuming it's followed and variances aren't given out to developers like Halloween candy. We told them we didn't mind tall buildings at the riverfront downtown (as long as they were sensibly designed so as not to restrict the riverbank and cause flooding), but that we didn't want anything taller than about 4-6 stories on Main, so views of the river and our historic buildings wouldn't be compromised. We had to remind them constantly where the Central Historic District borders were (you'd think planners would know). I think we came away with a much better zoning ordinance than we started with, and MUCH better than what we've got now. The new ordinance would give our zoning board and planning departments teeth. Projects like the ultra-dense development at 1202 Dekalb wouldn't be allowed.

But here it is, the 4th month in the new year and the zoning ordinance is FINALLY coming up in front of council, which makes me wonder where it's been. The agenda item says: "To discuss the latest draft of the proposed zoning ordinance and map and to move forward with the public hearing and adoption process." I find myself wondering how much the ordinance has been changed since the last workshop, and whether any changes reflect what was discussed in the workshops. Still, that's what the public hearing process is for.

Another interesting item on tonight's agenda is the Small Business Development update. We've had a few new places, like Mina Mart, open recently, and I'd love to hear if more new businesses are in the offing.

Two items have to do with hiring consulting firms to administer the Housing Rehabilitation Program and the Historic Facade Improvement Program. I'm always a bit skeptical about the borough hiring consultants because we so rarely hear about them again. We hear that so-and-so was awarded $35,000 then we don't hear any kind of result. Possibly this is just a communications failure. But if we start hearing about houses being rehabbed and facades being improved, I'll be the first to congratulate these firms.

Other agenda items cover a Joint Task Force on Policing (between Norristown's force, the County Sheriff, the D.A., and SEPTA police), and a proposed requirement that absentee landlords must use local property managers.

The agenda has other items as well. You can view it here. If something strikes your fancy, come to the Council Meeting tonight and weigh in.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Where We're Vulnerable

When I was in 9th grade, I came down with a case of walking pneumonia, the result of taking a day-long field trip to NYC in January while recovering from a bad cold. My doctor told me from then on, I'd be more susceptible to respiratory bugs. Sure enough, since then, on an average of every 8-10 years, I've gotten bouts of bronchitis or near-bronchitis. I've at least learned which germs are likely to head for the lungs. I've also learned that the more I try to do during the bouts, the harder they are to get rid off. The last one in 2003 put me out of action for 6 weeks.

A couple weeks ago, I went to a 3rd district Town Hall meeting and a woman sat next to me. Ten minutes into the meeting, she started to cough--not a polite little cough, but one that said she had a major respiratory illness. By last Sunday, I knew I had her bug and that it was made of the kind of germs that could easily turn into bronchitis. Because of it last week, I missed the school board budget meeting, a workshop about sustainable food in Norristown, palm braiding and helping to decorate St. Pat's church, the opening of Mina's Mart, Family Feud night at Caffe Galileo, a music event at the University of Delaware that I'd already paid for, 4 days of blogging, and most importantly, a paying teaching job and 6 days of work on my current writing project. I still have laryngitis, so I couldn't sing in church for Palm Sunday, and I'm not sure if I'll be able to do Holy Week services. If you know me, you know that when I can't sing or write, I get really grumpy.

So I spent a lot of time last week wondering why that woman felt she had to attend that meeting, sick as she was. And I spent time thinking about Norristown's particular health vulnerabilities.

One vulnerability has to do with one of our economic strengths. We have a lot of businesses run by self-employed locals. As I've explained before, if people who live in or near Norristown run our businesses, the profits stay in town, instead of going to some out-of-state corporate headquarters. Many of our businesses patronize each other, strengthening our town economy further. We have a growing number of these new entrepreneurs, and we need to support them for the heroes they are, for the good they're doing our community.

But if you're self-employed, you don't get paid sick days, and you don't always have enough staff to keep your business running without you. Losing a week's worth of business can be devastating to a small operation. Yet, part of your business is to bring in the public, so how do you avoid germs?

Our other vulnerability is that our average income is lower than surrounding communities. We have a per capita income of about $20,000 and a median household income of less than $43,000--about half that of King of Prussia, for instance.

If you're low income, you probably avoid going to the doctor until you absolutely HAVE to. Even if you have health insurance, you know that the cost of your co-pay for an office visit is only the tip of the iceberg. You'll come out of his office with scripts for medication or bloodwork or both. It's not the health insurance that has kept low income people from going to doctors--it's the unknown out-of-pocket costs. You can't budget for an illness.

So I don't blame anyone in Norristown for not going to the doctor when they're sick--I only blame them for going out in public and spreading their germs around. Work is one thing--I've worked for idiot companies that don't allow enough sick time and encourage workers to come in when they're ill or risk losing their jobs. But when you're that sick, you DON'T need to go to public meetings. You don't need to visit our small businesses--they'll be happy to wait until you're better. You don't even need to go to church.

The vast majority of our citizens don't earn money when we're sick at home, so we each need to take responsibility for keeping our town healthy, and therefore keeping our economy healthy. Do your part and please stay home when you're contagious. Do it for Norristown.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Spring Break, Spring Cleaning, and Eggs

Sorry I've been AWOL all week. A virus got me. I would have much rather been blogging and braiding palm at church and getting a start on my garden. But spring must be here, because all of a sudden there are a zillion things to do around town. Click on the calendars links to the right to see all the listings.

First, note that today (Friday) the Code and Planning Departments will be closed due to employee development training.

Tonight from 7-9 pm at Caffe' Galileo, 317 Swede St., the Norristown Business Association and Dragon Boat Club will host the 2nd monthly Family Feud Night. Tonight Feed the Burbs (come and find out who they are) will challenge the reigning champions--Norristown Municipal Council. Caffe Galileo will be serving up their famous coffee and steamers.

Last weekend to see "Buried Child" at Centre Theater. Friday  and Saturday at 8 pm, Sunday at 2 pm. For tickets: click here, or call 610-279-1013.

Saturday morning at 9 am you can have breakfast with the Easter Bunny at Hancock Fire Co on West Airy. Adults-$8. Kids 4-7 years-$5. 3 and under FREE. An Easter Egg Hunt will follow.

Also Saturday morning, the Dragon Boat Club is holding an Easter Egg Hunt at Riverfront Park. Free to all kids. Come at 10 am to build an Easter basket, then hunt for eggs at 11 am. For info, www.dragonboatclub.org

Also Saturday from 10 am to 1 pm, Coffee Talk Artists' Co-op,507 W. Marshall St is hosting "Pisanki" (the Polish art of decorating eggs). Contribution $5. Call 610-272-4811 for info. Come and learn.

Saturday from noon to 4 pm is Clean-Up Day at Riverfront Park. Volunteers are needed to help clean up the park and along the Schuylkill River Trail nearby. Wear long sleeves and pants (poison ivy) and bring gloves if you have them.

KYW Movie Critic Bill Wine will speak at the Library will be at the library (Powell and Swede), Saturday afternoon at 2 pm. His topic: BASED ON THE BOOK: BESTSELLER CINEMA! Free program.

ACPPA's Spring Break Camp this year is a Cook-a-Thon, and runs Tuesday through Friday, 9 am to 3 pm. Ages 5-12. Half-Day Registration, $40/child; Full-Day, $60. For information, http://www.acppa.net/#!springbreak/cl6j

Tuesday night, 7:30 pm, Municipal Council Meeting. No agenda yet.

Wednesday, 9-10:30 am, the Latino Collaborative of Mont. County will meet at the Montco Intermediate Unit, 1605 Main St. Marisol Lezcano, Deputy Director of Commerce for Workforce Development and Executive Dir. of WIB will be presenting. Please RSVP to Advolifeline@aol.com

For gardeners: Wednesday at 6:30 pm at the Norristown Library - "Groundcovers, more than just Pachysandra." Presented by Pauline Myers, Penn State Coop Extension. Info on the library website.

Thursday, April 17, 6:30 pm, the Montgomery County Anti-Human Trafficking Coalition’s Rachel Yudt will be speaking along representatives from the Department of Homeland Security, and Montgomery County Detectives in the Community Room of the Montco Human Services Center (old Sacred Heart-Fornance and Dekalb). Come to a presentation and Q&A forum that will inform participants of the nationwide and local implications of human trafficking. Participants will also learn strategies to lessen the risk in their home and community. Learn the facts from the experts!  Presented by GNPAL, In His Eyes Outreach and Buck Jones. Parking available in the MCHSC garage.

Happy Passover! (I've already had 2 plagues in the last 5 weeks--does that count?)

Friday, April 4, 2014

A HUGE Variety of Events Coming Up

Opening Day is Saturday! 
Now that the Municipal Calendar seems to be working again, I've added a link to it in my right hand column. Remember to check both calendars for all events. What I list here tends to be one-time happenings, or those that last a limited time, like our theater productions, but Norristown has many ongoing programs every week, for instance, at the Library, the Zoo, and at places like Jus' Java and August Moon. Here are the stand-outs this coming week:

Friday at 8 pm, Buried Child continues at the Centre Theater. Other performances Saturday night at 8 pm and Sunday at 2 pm. For tickets: http://thecentretheater.ticketleap.com/buried-child/ or call 610-279-1013

Saturday starting at 9 am, the Norristown Little League will host their annual Opening Day Parade to the baseball fields. The parade will kick off at Eisenhower Middle School and march to the fields. Immediately after will be the Tee Ball's first game.

Also Saturday from 1 to 4 pm, as part of the National March Against Deportations, there will be a local march from starting in front of La Plazita at 506 Marshall St and ending at Main and Dekalb. Please join in and wear a white shirt!

Sunday from 1 to 4 pm will be a bilingual Health Fair at St. Patrick's Church, 714 Dekalb St. Health screenings, "Ask the Doctor" booth, and info on cancer, exercise, nutrition, home care, social services, and financial planning. Free food, music, dancing, and a children's corner.

Sunday from 2 to 5 pm, Norristown residents can get into Elmwood Park Zoo FREE. Adults must show photo ID as proof of residency. Children must be accompanied by a borough resident. Non-residents will be charged normal admission rates. Borough residents are defined by living within the following four boundaries: east of Forrest Avenue south of Johnson Highway west of Sandy Hill Road/E Fornance Street, north of the Schuylkill River

Also Sunday from 2:30 to 4:30 pm, the Historical Society of Montgomery County, DeKalb and Roberts Sts., will host historian Gene Pisasale who'll speak about THE WAR OF 1812: The War Which Forged a Nation. This is a FREE program. For information: 610-272-0297 or contact@hsmcpa.org.

At 4 pm Sunday, Ebenezer Concert Choir will perform their "Faithful" concert at the church on 234 E Spruce St. The church will also accept donations to help fund a wheelchair ramp for its visitors.

Monday night at 7 pm, there will be Norristown Area School District Budget Committee Meeting Presentation at the East Norriton Middle School Multipurpose Room. Residents are encouraged to attend to learn about the district's budget process. Click on the links to read questions and responses from the 1/13/14 meeting and 2/14/14 meeting.

126-128 E. Main 
Tuesday at 7 pm, the Planning Commission meeting at Municipal Hall. On the agenda is a conditional use request to allow 4 one-bedroom apartments above existing retail space at 126-128 East Main.

Thursday from 1 to 3 pm, come to the Grand Opening of Mina Mart, a new grocery store and deli at 428 Arch St. The grocery section has been partially open since February. Thursday, the deli will open, featuring take-out breakfasts and sandwiches, and that day, promotional discounts. The owner, Ms. Ivonne Patino, seeks to offer healthier, fresher foods to Norristown. Representatives from the Norristown Small Business Assistance Center and officials from the municipality will be on hand.  

Another Family Feud Night, next Friday at 7 pm, this time at Caffe Galileo, on Swede across from the Courthouse. The reigning champions, Norristown Council, will take on Feed the 'Burbs. Last month's game was crowded. Come early to get a good seat.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Habitat is Back!

If you're a homeowner, you know that the biggest job is just maintaining your house.Right after you get that roof leak fixed, something goes wrong with the plumbing, or water gets into the basement. You know you should do something about the drafts coming in around the windows and doors. The cracks in the plaster are getting bigger, and the woodwork really ought to be painted again. Et cetera. Et cetera.

But if you're on a low income, home repair and improvement projects are often sidelined so you can feed and clothe your family. In a low income neighborhood, this means many houses on a single street will show the need for care. People riding through think to themselves, "This neighborhood's really going downhill." It doesn't help if you have abandoned properties in the same block.

This is why the proposed plan by Habitat for Humanity of Montgomery County is so good for Norristown. Their project will, over the next 2 years, repair and rehabilitate more than 40 homes on Cherry Street, between Chestnut and Spruce.


If you drive down those blocks of Cherry Street, you realize that this has been the home to Norristown's working class for centuries. The houses are modest, yes, but sturdy, and some have nice architectural features. The street is pleasantly tree-lined and could be downright pretty if the houses just received a little TLC.
Half of our usual class of developers would look at Cherry and say none of the houses could be saved. They'd want to level them all, along with the trees, then throw up cheap wooden housing that wouldn't last 20 years. Or put up another Family Dollar store. They'd leave us with vacant lots. The rest of the developers wouldn't touch the project at all.

Habitat for Humanity's focus is on the neighborhood and the residents. Marianne Lynch, executive director of Montco's Habitat, in a statement to the Times Herald, said, “We are shifting our mission to help homeowners stay in their homes. We are a catalyst for the neighborhood to improve...." In addition, Habitat will try to acquire abandoned properties in the project area, to rehab them and sell them on the open market.

Someone is bound to say I shouldn't compare Habitat to for-profit developers. That's it's comparing apples to oranges. But my point is that the Habitat approach--simply taking what we have and improving it---is more in keeping with the part of Norristown's Comprehensive Plan dealing with preserving our look. Somehow though, when developers come in saying we need modern makeovers in our town, no one will say no to them. 

Habitat in N-town, 2008.
Habitat has helped Norristown out before. Between 1992 and 2011, they did extensive rehabilitation on 21 homes. This new project are lighter repairs, but will effect more blocks. And once the neighborhood starts looking good again, those fixed-up abandoned houses should sell.

I'm happy to say that Council unanimously endorsed the project, and agreed to help in any way they could

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Norristown's Natural Therapy

Yesterday I was feeling the need to take a vacation. I couldn't afford, in money or time, a long vacation, so I went to Valley Forge Park, which is one of my favorite places on earth. A historian I wanted to hear was speaking at Washington Memorial Chapel last evening, so I'd planned to go anyway, but since it was a nice day, I went over early and spent some time in front of the Chapel, looking out over the pretty rolling hills and meadows. For me, that's all the therapy I need.

Still, you don't have to go even as far as Valley Forge to find serenity in nature. Norristown has some of its own. As I mentioned last week, we have a river. The view of the Schuylkill from Riverfront Park is lovely. We're fortunate enough to have an undeveloped island in the river at that point, so all you see from the park are the woods on the opposite bank. I pray that Norristown is smart enough to never allow a developer to ruin that view. But, besides a great view, along the banks you can occasionally see graceful herons and other long-legged water birds, and on the river itself, 3 or 4 kinds of ducks and geese. On a hectic day, it can be a very calming place.

Our other parks are also decent natural places. Walk along Stony Creek between Sterigere Street and the Zoo. You'll see ducks and water birds there, too. You can hear the sound of the shallow water splashing past the rocks. In spring and early summer, you can hear bull frogs, too.

I worked at Valley Forge one summer, and I remember a tourist asking me about the trees. She'd never seen trees so tall (I think she was from one of the prairie states). We tend to take our trees for granted in this part of Pennsylvania, but take a look at the older trees around Norristown sometime. Some of them are as tall as 6-story buildings. There's a tall oak down the street from me that's bright green in spring, dark green in summer, and a gorgeous red-orange in fall. My favorite winter trees here are the sycamores, with their bright white limbs against a blue or stormy gray sky--they look like big skeletons.

I hope Norristown's equally intelligent about the preservation of our healthy old trees. Sure, we have laws about developers needing to replace trees that they destroy, but they plant short, skinny new ones to replace specimens that are centuries-old, and in many cases, the ordinance is waived altogether. The photo above is of 1202 DeKalb--those beautiful old giants won't be replaced at all when Sarah Peck's overcrowded development is built there.

The Montgomery Hospital site has 3 old growth trees, along with several smaller ones. Together with the hospital building, they keep the streets shaded and cool in summer. Imagine it if Einstein is allowed to level the block. I guarantee Elon will do everything in their power to plant as few trees as possible, and even if they did, the shade produced by new trees can't equal what's there now. With the sun reflecting off the cement and mirrors on the parking garage, medical building and apartment buildings, that block is going to be awfully hot in the summertime.

In their passion to make sure that every space within our borders is developed, I worry that Council forgets that all human beings occasionally have the same need I had yesterday--to get away from the hubbub, to enjoy a pretty piece of nature, maybe to just sit under a shady tree for a half hour and relax. Wouldn't it be nice to have places like that in Norristown, instead of creating yet another reason for people to leave town?