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

Gloria Steinem

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Why Phoenixville? Some Suggestions From Readers

I began 2015 with the first post in my “Why Phoenixville?” series.  I phrased it as a question—in fact THE question for historians—because I do not know the answer, nor do I know anybody who does.  That answer (or, more likely, answers) would be of great value to the other towns along the lower Schuylkill at the very least, and probably many more than that.  It’s a subject well worth pursuing, and I shall continue.

I put the question out for discussion and contributions among my readers, and have been continuously pleased with the results.  I printed a full post by a guest a few weeks ago, and this week I want to take up some of the subjects offered by others in their responses.  Several actually compiled lists, with points that deserve to be made.  This week I touch on just a few.

One topic that has been the subject of several different responses is the avowedly religious nature of Phoenixville.  Some claimed, in the words of one, “We seem more religious than the average community.”  Another writer put it more precisely:

This is also a very religiously diverse town. There are 33 different churches in this town of varying beliefs. This can allow people to find the church that best speaks to their personal beliefs and find the sense of community they have been looking for. This is almost unheard of in small towns.”

This statement is manifestly true, and several people commented about how active their churches are in the community.  Yet I have some questions about determining how religious a community is, even using the obvious data.  Take the situation in Bridgeport, for example.  The borough possesses about one quarter of the population of Phoenixville, and their economic conditions can scarcely be compared.  The final two Catholic churches within the borough’s boundaries have just shut down, leaving Bridgeport without a Catholic place of worship for the first time since 1892.  Does that make Bridgeport any less religious that Phoenixville?  I seriously doubt that.  These closures are about people and money, or rather the declining number of both, not the religious nature of those that remain.  Perhaps the point raised by another writer applies here: “The Borough's size seems just right; not so big that doing things is like trying to turn the Titanic, but big enough to actually have some resources.”  I’m not so sure that any size is “just right,” but smallness is usually more of an impediment that largeness.  I think Bridgeport falls into that category.

My second question about the place of religion in the revival of Phoenixville is one of the favorites of historians, referred to generically as the  “chicken-or-the-egg question.”  Is Phoenixville’’s religious/community orientation a cause of the borough’s revival, or a result?  In other words, did Phoenixville’s already religious nature attract people who wanted to live in a close-knit community, thus spearheading its revival, or did its revival, locally-generated as it has been, attract this kind of people?  The answer to such a question is usually “both,” because any individual component in so complex an equation can be both a stimulant to and a result of a town’s revival, particularly when it involves judging the nature of a substantial portion of the population.  Because we must employ those arbitrary and imaginary categories that I have written about previously, the question becomes at which end of the spectrum does this particular component, on balance, deserve to be placed, as cause or result?  I’d like to hear more about this aspect of the subject from you, my readers.  It’s important.

Other readers have made individual points that must remain classified as claims rather than facts, because they are not manifestly obvious. Two of these are subjects so vitally important to a town’s revival that—and with all due respect to their author(s)—they must remain as theses, not conclusions.  Each might be correct or it might not, which is just the kind of search in which I love to participate.  These two date back to my first post, and I regret having to wait this long to air their heartening opinions.  

One writer put the spotlight on the borough’s administrative staff.  This is a hugely important aspect of a community's revival, and the claim made is that the staff of Phoenixville Borough has been quite supportive of private efforts in recent years.   The writer specifically praised the (now-defunct) Community Development Corporation for its efforts.  This opens an interesting issue (why is it defunct?  Was it no longer needed?), about which I look forward to reading opinions.

Speaking of staff, the same writer—joined by a couple of others, but I’m using his words—also made the claim that

the leadership of the county government has always been supportive of Phoenixville’s revitalization and the voters of surrounding areas have not born any resentment towards the Borough if it sucks in a few more tax dollars than it generates on paper. 

The first, if true, is laudatory.  The second, if true, would be a miracle.  I hope that the historical record demonstrates that both are, but that would make them exceptions to the norm.

I very much want to hear other opinions on the subjects of borough administration, its relationship with the county, and the attitude of surrounding residents toward what has happened to Phoenixville.  These are crucial subjects, and because they involve several sub-topics and even more people, the answers are likely to be complex.  Let me hear from you.