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

Gloria Steinem

Saturday, July 20, 2013

When Were the "Good Old Days"?


I previewed this question at the conclusion of my last post, but such a question requires more explanation before I actually begin to discuss it.  So here goes.

I begin with four words, despite the fact that invoking them might generate unpleasant memories for too many of you.  They are the dreaded “Facts of History:” Who, What, Where and When.  My ex-students know how little I focus on them in the study of history, but together these four words can serve as an adequate starting point on our quest.  The question I have posed is a When, but as I am sure you are already grasping, such a question in our community context makes little sense unless it is linked with a What.  Knowing what changed for the worse makes it easier to determine when that change began.  We will thus treat When and What largely together.

We will do the same with both the Who and the Where, but after we identify them we will largely dispense with them both.  They will be superfluous.  Who should be considering the question I have posed?  Let’s answer by discussing the Where.
The question of when were “The Good Old Days”? is not asked about where you live now.  It’s about there, and back then.  You may have come from ANYWHERE (and I am by no means limiting this to the U.S.), and you may actually live ANYWHERE now; the point here is not about the specific details, but about attitude.  Do you have a connection—even just an emotional one—with the terms “community” and “neighborhood”?  Do you find where and how you live today less than desirable as either or both?  Those are quite broad questions, and those who answer “yes” to either can be of any age, gender, location, race, ethnicity, or just about whatever.  You are the ones I seek.

Age is the only qualification worth mentioning now.  Depending on your age, the answer to my question might be in your memory, or it might lie in the memory of your parents and thus perhaps of yourself as a child.  Or, if you are young enough, the answer might be back when the old folks talk about but you yourself were not present.   In other words, the question can be addressed to just about everybody, regardless of age.  Just remember my point from my previous post, that important things did happen before you came along, regardless of how old you are.

Now back to the When (and the What).
When were “The Good Old Days”?  When was your town a community, when the interdependent parts seemed to produce a social stability and at least modest prosperity?  When was “before things began to go wrong”?  Doesn’t that depend on what changed?
When that change began, do you (or your sources) connect it with any memory, of an event or a sequence of events?  This did not have to happen quickly, although it may have been felt suddenly, as with the closing of a big industrial plant nearby.  Perhaps decline seemed have sneaked up on you, only to accelerate once you actually noticed it.  Examples here might include the seemingly quick decline of an industry on which your community depended, or perhaps of “downtown” itself.

Your memory need not have much to do with a company, an industry or a downtown.  It’s your memory, not mine.  You experienced it.  Did it instead stem from changes in population?  Did the better people begin to move out and the worse move in?  We are attempting to more fully understand the truth about what happened, so political correctness be damned.

To aid you in sorting out the when/what, I offer….a date.
Dates—and certainly not exact ones—will not play a significant part in my presentations, but they cannot and must not be avoided entirely, and are bound to crop up now and then.  Now is one of those times.  This is due to the fact that the subjects on which I blog are the direct result of what I hear from you.  From the very beginning, when I was first introducing my book, I began to hear the two phrases that have continued to dominate the discourse: “Section 8”, and “Halfway Houses.”  The latter phrase has a direct connection to Norristown residents, but Section 8 (or “Subsidized Housing”) evokes deep, visceral responses from everyone, everywhere. 

As an example of my approach (I offer questions, the answers depend on you), I offer this thought:  Were the “good old days” before or after 1975?

Those of you who have already read my book know that 1975 is a significant date in my analysis of downtown Norristown sad decline.  The reason, however, may be coincidental to our discussion at this point.  In my book, 1975 marks the end of a period, the date of downtown’s “death.”  By contrast, I employ 1975 in my question above because 1975 marks a beginning, the earliest possible date to identify the effects of “Section 8” or “Deinstitutionalization” (the placing of formerly-confined mental patients in “half way houses”).  In truth, 1975 is a little early, as the triggers for both programs occurred late in 1974, but it’s a round number, and easy to remember.

So, depending on the date you choose “when things began to go wrong,” the issue of “subsidized housing” is either very important, or perhaps less so. 

What do you think?