Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Cooperation, Not Competition

Norristown used to be a community of mostly farmers. I'm not talking hicks either--we were home to the Montgomery County Agricultural Society Institute, which had a huge campus on the West End in 1877 bordered by Stanbridge, Oak, Hamilton, and Beech. In those days, in April and May, the farmers and their families would all band together to help each other get their crops planted. They didn't compete. They knew they were responsible for the food supply of the region. If a blight or pest infestation hit a field of corn, they'd all work to try and figure out the problem, because they knew it could easily spread. They did the same each fall--all helped each other to bring in their harvests.

I was reminded of this over the weekend, because I realized I had bought pepper plants last week, the weather was heating up, and those plants had to be put in the ground as soon as possible or die. But Norristown was a busy place this past weekend--the flea market, the Riverfront cleanup--so I didn't get a chance to finish preparing the soil until yesterday. With rain in the forecast the next few days, the peppers had to be planted today--and early, because I wanted to go to the Norristown Business Association meeting at 8:30 am.

Yes, this is a rather long-winded way of explaining why the blog's late today, but also it's an analogy for how things seem to be getting on in Norristown at the moment. Too many people/organizations trying to do all that has to be done without asking for help. We have a lot going on and a lot of work coming up, in every area--from planning events to fixing our economy to keeping our town safe to building a future for N-town kids. Some of that work has to be done (or at least started) NOW.

For instance, we can't have community events and educational/recreational programs for students at Riverfront Park unless we get rid of the excess mud and weedy brush first, and help the Dragon Boat Club recover their equipment. Some of that equipment includes things like youth paddles and life vests, used to bring kids out on the river and teach them water safety and natural sciences and another way to have fun without hanging out in gangs. Sure the Dragon Boat Club will probably do everything that needs to be done eventually, but if other groups pitched in, think how much faster Riverfront could be ready for the summer's events.

We all seem to be simply waiting for the Arts Council and the theaters to invigorate Arts Hill. They do a good job, but why are we sitting back and making them do everything themselves? I was at Theatre Horizon 2 weeks ago and as I walked back to my car on DeKalb, I was struck by how empty and dark the street felt. We need night life on Arts Hill. Maybe a jazz club, an ice cream place, a microbrewery--SOMETHING that's open after performances where theater goers can stop and leave a little more money behind in town. But to attract businesses, we need to make Arts Hill LOOK like a special place more than one day a year. Riding up DeKalb, you see black streetlamps, black parking kiosks, black trash cans, and black benches. This would be fine if the street were lined with funeral parlors. We have lots of creative folks in Norristown who could band together for a community art project that would liven up the look of our arts district.

You can help the theaters just by talking up their shows. Share info on social media and by word of mouth with your friends and relatives. Easiest to do when there's a show running at one or both of the theaters. Which would be NOW for Theatre Horizon and June for Centre Theater.

What I'm trying to say here is, like those farmers from Norristown's history, our volunteer groups and businesses and government all need to let go of their "every man for himself" attitudes and start forming partnerships. We seem to get so much more done when more than one organization is involved in a project. And once projects get underway--once people start seeing progress--momentum is created for more projects.

If our local farmers had been as competitive and/or territorial as some people I've met in Norristown, early residents would have starved and we never would have become the county seat.

A year ago, I was one of the people who stayed home and didn't lift a finger to help this town. I don't have a lot of money or skills, but in the past 12 months, I've found that sometimes just showing up and asking "How can I help?" makes a huge difference.


  1. Thank you for pitching in this weekend at Riverfront! You are also correct about cooperation and not competition. Sure, a certain level of secrecy on planning should be kept to stay relevant (TNP is guilty).. but as far as events go, organizations and businesses should come together to achieve a common goal. ex. TNP and DBC teaming up on a community cleanup at Riverfront Park.

  2. I have a question. What exactly did the Montgomery County Agricultural Society do? I have an old map of Norristown that was in a bigger Atlas book at one time and from the drawing it looks like they had a barn (stalls) and a big oval track (horse track)? Maybe you can tell me more? Thanks