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.

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