Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Watch What You Call Us

This is what blight looks like, but it's not in N-town. 
In the last month, I've heard the word "blight" applied to Norristown twice. Both times the word was used incorrectly. And when you use that word incorrectly, you insult the residents of the block you're talking about. So let's begin with the dictionary definition.

The Urban Dictionary defines "urban blight" as "consisting of the deterioration of part of a town or city due to ageing, neglect, and lack of financial support for maintenance."

Collins English Dictionary defines it as "the decay and deterioration of an urban area due to neglect or age."

The first coinage of the term was used to mean a whole section of a city. It came from the type of plant blight that not only kills one plant, but spreads. But more recently, urban blight can also be used in terms of "a blighted property"--say, a single house that's been abandoned or neglected by the owner until it falls into obvious disrepair and ruin. It's used to describe man-made structures, not empty lots, or at least, a combination of both if the lots look, for instance, like Montgomery Hospital's does at the moment. That's why we have a law that says if you demolish a building, the lot must be planted in grass, so it becomes green space.

We have a few blighted properties in town, mostly rental properties neglected by their landlords. There are a few areas of town where you have more of these properties than others, and our riverfront has abandoned industrial buildings, but in Norristown where people are actually living, we don't have whole sections of our town that could be called blighted.

Last month, when Sarah Peck was pitching her newest development before Zoning, she said the 1500 block of Willow was blighted. The photo to the right shows that block. It's a nice, even pretty, residential street, not deteriorated in any way. She said that because there was a foreclosure on that block, it's blighted. I feel sorry for the owners who lost their mortgage, but they obviously took good care of the house, as do the residents on the rest of the block. The word "foreclosure" has nothing to do with the definition of "blight." Ms. Peck owes the residents on that block an apology.

The other day, I saw the word "blighted" used to describe the empty field that had been at 1202 Dekalb before Arbor Mews was built. Here's a photo of it. Mown grass and mature trees. Green space. If you're going to call that blight, you might as well call Valley Forge Park blighted.

Here's an example of a blighted property. This photo shows the fence over Saw Mill Run beside August Moon's parking lot on Main St. It's obviously deteriorated from rust and has been for decades. I haven't been able to find out who exactly owns it. Does it belong to the factory building or because it's a bridge over a creek, is it Municipal property? I suspect it might be the latter (the Municipality actually owns August Moon's parking lot). Wouldn't take much for Public Works to slap some rust remover and paint on that fence and powerwash that wall, on Main and at least as far back as August Moon's sign. Or, I'm guessing if the Municipality bought the supplies, The Norristown Project might do the work for free. Or make it a Day of Service event. We shouldn't have something that ugly on Main Street when it's easily fixable.

So, to summarize, if you see something in Norristown that looks like the photo at the top of this article, fine, call it blight. (Those properties, by the way, are in Philadelphia.) But where Norristown has real urban blight, let's fix it before it spreads. Remember, "blight" is a strong, negative word--a word that, for the most part, Norristown doesn't deserve. The vast majority of residents don't neglect their properties and they should be applauded, not insulted.

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