Monday, September 29, 2014

Time For Another Attitude Adjustment

I was out in East Norriton last week, on Township Line Road between Swede Road and Dekalb Pike. While I waited for the light to change, I took a good look at the building between CVS and the gas station. It's some kind of old machine shop--I don't know if anyone uses it anymore. The loading dock door and crane are rusty. The side wall facing the road is missing quite a bit of stucco. The only thing that doesn't look dingy about the building is its baby blue doors.

I thought, if that were in Norristown, everyone would point to it and scream "urban blight," and say "Only in Norristown." But out in East Norriton, no one thinks anything of it.

Drive up Ridge Pike through West Norriton, Trooper and Eagleville. All the vacant lots up there are paved over, so I guess people don't notice them as much, just figuring they're an extention of the next parking lot. Maybe if we pave over our vacant lots in Norristown, no one will notice them (and hey, we'd get more parking downtown and on East Main). As it is, people from the surroundings 'burbs are quick to point out our vacant lots as evidence of how depressed and awful our town is.

Empty stores in King of Prussia
That stretch of Ridge Pike also has its share of empty buildings, as does King of Prussia and Plymouth Meeting. Last spring as I drove down Montgomery Avenue, I saw a whole row of empty stores at Suburban Square in Ardmore. Yet no one says the Main Line is depressed. It would be sacrilege to do so.

What's the difference be us and them?  Our speed limit, for one thing, plus our buildings are closer together and closer to the road. Unless you're stopped at a light in the surrounding 'burbs, you might drive right past vacant buildings and not notice them.

We have a higher population. A vacant house on a block full of row homes seems to be more noticeable than a vacant farmhouse that's falling apart up in Worcester. A dilapidated old house there has an aura of romance about it. Still, a house like that, off by itself, doesn't pose a health hazard to its neighbors. But if that's a concern, why is Norristown approving every high-density development to come along? And why aren't the neighbors effected banding together to protest those developments?

Crime? Norristown has an annual crime rate of about 38 crimes per 1000 residents. Ardmore's rate is 30. King of Prussia's is . . . 53!

The most obvious difference, I think, is income. Rich suburbanites versus low-income townies. Lots of people in the suburbs think they're somehow better than us, even if their roots are here in Norristown. They've got it in their heads that they or their parents before them struggled up out of their immigrant or whatever statuses and managed to escape Norristown, therefore whoever is left here are the losers. They can't fathom someone like me who stays in town by choice.

When I hear an out-of-towner dissing us, I stop them--I tell them Norristown is turning around. I tell them about our festivals, our arts scene, our restaurants, our architecture, our gardens, etc. I tell them crime is down. I point out to them that I don't say bad things about where they live and I'd appreciate it if they'd show the same regard. (Actually, they usually change their minds after hearing about the restaurants and festivals).

The sad thing is, too many N-towners--maybe the majority--also buy into the whole myth about the suburbs being superior. Our population has a horrible self-image. None of my friends from the surrounding 'burbs regularly talk about how bad their communities are on Facebook, but I read comments like that from N-town residents every day. Imagine you were going into a job interview and had to take 34,000 people in with you, all of whom would rather talk about your failings rather than your strong points. That's us. No matter how much I try to talk about the good going on in town, my work and the work of dozens of other N-towners who are giving their all to move this community forward is being sabotaged by the rest of you.

I'm not saying we don't have work to do in this town, but it's hard enough without pushing back against the bad attitudes all around us. We don't need to make it worse from within.

1 comment:

  1. Elena this is a great article and so true. Lets focus on the good things. Robin Parker