"The truth will set you free. But first it will piss you off."

Gloria Steinem

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Recommended Reading: Community Blogs

It’s time I followed up on my blog’s description, and try to link together the many people in the Schuylkill Valley striving to help their local communities improve the quality of life.  I begin by recommending four websites in the text that follows. This is only a start; I hope to discover more such sites and would appreciate hearing of any you know.  We need to spread the word about the eternal truth I quote at the conclusion of this post.

First, not just a specific site, but a specific post.  Katie Bambi Kohler, who blogs as “cheesesteak princess,” posted an entry that everyone interested in the future of Norristown should read.  It is entitled “Hard Look at My Hometown.”  Its goal is to stimulate a conversation about Norristown, and I fully endorse the sentiment behind it.  I wanted to republish the entire post, but her editor at the Times Herald webpage asked that I only publish a link.  This is odd, as this blog also appears in the Times Herald, but I will comply.  Here it is:

Three locally oriented websites have also caught my eye, at least so far.  Each focuses solely on its own community, but even a casual search of their articles produces familiar terms and concerns.  Their concerns should be more widely understood, because they issues they address are shared across the Delaware Valley, each in relation to the status of the community under scrutiny.  Thus I recommend that local community activists, regardless of their specific location, peruse these sites regularly, and use them to learn more about the nature and complexity of our shared issues.

Two sites focus on Pottstown.  Even a brief glance at either will make a Norristown resident feel right at home, if uncomfortably so.  Consider:

Save Pottstown!! (http://savepottstown.com/)  has a mission statement that reads as follows:

We abhor injustice and Pottstown has, unfortunately, more than its fair share.  The goal of the site is to expose the corruption that has overtaken our fair town.  Whether that corruption be from elected officials, paid Borough employees, or business owners [sic].”

Consider a question the site wishes to pose to the County Commissioners:  “Why does Pottstown have so much subsidized housing and what is proactively being done to distribute subsidized housing more uniformly throughout the county?” (2/7/2013).  If more evidence is needed, almost every article on the site’s home page contains the word “crime.”

If you are searching for local cause-oriented websites, one entitled “goldencockroach” might not immediately catch your attention, at least not as a possibility.  I know I initially overlooked it.  The site (http://goldencockroach.wordpress.com/), has an equally specific Pottstown focus, as its mission statement explains:

We are citizens of Pottstown, Pa working together to achieve accountability for the Future of Pottstown by holding slumlords responsible for the blight, crime and destruction they contribute to our community.  We encourage our Elected Officials, Municipal Employees, Montgomery County and the State of Pennsylvania to embrace an expansive, borough-wide approach to planning and regulation through education, communication and transparency.

In considerable contrast is a site devoted to Conshohocken, entitled Conshy.org (http://www.conshy.org/).  It mission statement is much more general, and its attitude more optimistic: 

I wanted to talk about Conshohocken. I wanted a place to express my observations, my complaints and my thoughts.

My immediate impression was that the tone of the three sites listed above is directly related to how each borough is currently faring in today’s economic climate.  I would like to explore that thought further, and hope to.  I recommend you all add all these sites to your periodic reading list, although I neither endorse nor echo any specific statement they might contain.  We simply need more voices added to the conversation, and for residents of the Schuylkill Valley, these should be included.

So, until next time, let me echo the words of Red Green, that wise man of the Canadian north woods:  Remember, we’re all in this together.”

Friday, May 10, 2013

Did Conshohocken Revitalization begin with Section 8 Housing?

I was doing some research for future blog posts on the local impact of the federal Urban Renewal program when I encountered a website with the wonky name of “Redevelopment in Conshohocken Online Information” (http://www.conshohockens.com/).  In the section on the history of redevelopment’s progress in the borough the website makes a claim that is worth noting and discussing.  I have trouble accepting it at face value, but I have done no specific research on Conshohocken’s post-WWII history.  So I am asking you for help.

The website’s home page briefly covers the early history of Conshohocken.  More recent times dominate the narrative, beginning with the crises of both the Alan Wood Steel and Lee Tire companies by the 1970s.  The page focuses on a 25-acre site designated as Conshohocken’s Urban Renewal Area, the core of old downtown.  Demolition of this area began after receipt of a federal grant in 1974.  The site relates the first faltering steps of proposed projects, through the failure of the (second) borough redevelopment program in 1981, allegedly due to high interest rates. 

Then things changed.  The article argues that Conshohocken’s revival truly began in 1981 with a change in developers.  The crucial paragraph is quoted here in full:

“When interest rates started to turn around in 1981, the Borough turned
to Meehan-Weinmann to develop a 40-unit Section 8 Housing development
in the redevelopment area. Within a year the revitalization efforts of
Conshohocken came to fruition with the start of construction on the
Pleasant Valley Apartments.  Based on their performance Meehan-Weinmann
was then selected by the Borough and the Montgomery County
Redevelopment Bureau to sign a contract on October 3, 1983 as the
exclusive Redeveloper of the 25-acre Urban Renewal Area.”

Can this be true?  Was Conshohocken’s first real step toward revival the construction of Section 8 Housing?  Doesn’t this fly in the face of all that is accepted about types of residences, that apartment dwellers contribute less to a community than homeowners, and that Section 8 dwellers contribute the least of all? 

The chronological sequence of construction is indisputable, and the claim that the developer’s success with the Pleasant Valley Apartments led to its being selected for further development rings true.  Does this make a Section 8 Housing project the first actual achievement of borough revival?  The website claims this to be so, but is there another interpretation?  What is the general perception of those who lived through this time?  Did they share this view, and welcomed the Pleasant Valley Apartments?

This is a subjective question for sure, and one that can be best answered by Conshohocken residents, particularly the “old Conshy” hands.  I want to hear from you!  This is an opportunity to be heard on a subject on the lips of many right now, your neighbors just upriver in particular.  Your knowledge can only help, and better inform the controversy.

Please, before you comment, check out the site to see what it actually says; don’t just take my word for it.  Then tell me—and by extension, a steadily increasing number of people—what you think about this well, interesting observation.