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

Gloria Steinem

Friday, November 22, 2013

It’s Time For A Conversation About the Future of Our Towns

     The elections are over; the winners and losers have been determined (except, perhaps, in Virginia, but that’s another story).  It's time to come back together and talk with each other.  This is important everywhere after an election (even in Virginia, where it’s probably not going to happen), but it is particularly important in our smaller towns.  That means no more politics, at least until the next election.  Once winners and losers have been decided, our municipalities really have little use for politics, at least of the ideological variety.  They do, however, have a pressing need for cooperation among those who just recently were competing against one another.
     Our political structure is largely irrelevant to the task of governing at the local municipal level.  Within polities of a few thousand people, how does party politics apply at all?   Elections at the local level are fundamentally about personality; those who actually vote do so for the individual, not out of party loyalty.  We are periodically required to contest each other within a political structure, but outside those periods it should be ignored to the maximum extent possible.  Do your visions for your community differ so much that cooperation is impossible during those long periods between election campaigns?  They better hadn’t, because in the face of widespread apathy, those who do care need to come together between those required periods of conflict and talk about the shared future.
     This is part of my mantra, and that’s why I am pleased to announce one such effort, to take place in Norristown.  I am calling on ALL those who seek a better community to come and be heard.  Here are the details:

A Conversation with Michael Tolle About Norristown's Future
Saturday, December 7, at 3:00 PM
The Montgomery Hose Fire Company, 201 W. Freedley Street, Norristown

     I’m honored by the feature billing.  I will be there, to initiate this much-needed conversation.  In truth, however, I am only there to get things underway, then hand off the conversation to the people who count, the residents of Norristown.  This will not be some open-ended gripe session.  Good people have given much thought to Norristown’s situation, and have structured this conversation.  We will have well-known community contributors to lead the discussions, and I am proud that they have joined in this effort.  It all leads to the fundamental question:  What do the residents of Norristown want their town to look like in 2020?  I am trying to spread the word throughout the Norristown community, using its many clubs and organizations.
     After this formal conversation has ended, I hope to keep the conversation going about how to make Norristown a better place to live.  Norristown’s history is replete with bi-partisan civic groups that came together to tackle community problems, only to fade into the mist, with nothing accomplished.  That mustn’t happen; it’s these between-election times that community work is most needed.  Getting together and talking is the easy part; actually getting things done is rather more difficult.  I will be physically leaving shortly after the Conversation, but I plan to stick around (metaphorically), using this blog.  I want to make a contribution to these kind of efforts.  My goal is to help people understand why our urban areas are the way they are, because there is so much misunderstanding floating around.  You cannot attack problems if you don’t understand what really caused them.  That’s why I frequently refer to my efforts to “puncture myths.”  Besides, people are more likely to avoid errors if they learn from those committed by their predecessors.  History offers countless examples of people doing the wrong thing, even when they had the opportunity to know better.  Let’s try to avoid that, by getting a better handle on why.

     I am pleased to sponsor the first of these community conversations in Norristown, but
such post-election conversations are needed everywhere.  Norristown should only be one of many.  These will be different conversations, because each community is in a different situation.
     Some are similar: upriver from Norristown is Pottstown, fighting crime and neighborhood deterioration.  The two towns are similar, but they are not identical, so again the impetus must come from within the community itself.  That impetus is building, and I hope to aid in the effort.
     And what about Bridgeport, so long in the shadow of Norristown, and now…?  This past election brought out citizen awareness and comments, which are continuing, discussing long-standing issues.
     Downriver, both the Conshohockens need such a conversation, but one of a very different nature.  Much is happening in their communities, but whether it constitutes "revival" is an open question.  Whatever it is, it's well underway, and if the residents of both Conshohockens want to have a say in what is taking place around them, time is not on their side.
     Then there is Phoenixville.  Phoenixville suffered from the same post-World War II economic and social decline as the other towns along the Schuylkill, but recent decades have seen it take a remarkable upward path.  Why is Phoenixville the only river community seeing self-generated local revival?  Do the residents of Phoenixville know, and if so, will they share?  No one should be too proud to ask; Phoenixville has a track record worth not just envy, but emulation.
     Conversations about the future are needed, amongst those who can actually make things happen.  That includes your municipal government, by the way (that's also part of my mantra).  In each case, the impetus has to come from you, within your local communities.  But you are not alone!  How can I help?  Let me know.