For the last 20 years or so, Norristown has tried many things to try and re-invent itself and each effort has largely failed. I have been reading as many articles as I can get on how areas go from crime-ridden, trash strewn places, to hip and upcoming neighborhoods that improve a city’s tax base as a way to try and determine why. In every article it points to similar themes, one being a very controversial issue, that being re-gentrification.
One article, published in New York Magazine decries the negative connotations of hundreds of poor being thrown out of the homes they have lived in for generations. Lance Freeman, who undertook the study that the article is written about, says that the previous residents actually appreciated the work that was done and were less likely to move from these neighborhoods. He points to the fact that with many of the houses abandoned anyway those who are living there stay there. Of course there are those areas where the rent is raised and the people who can’t afford move out, but his study this happened less than expected.
A few things come across as positive ways to improve an impoverished area in many of the articles that I read and one of them was a Business Improvement District (BID). This was tried in 2004 in Norristown and failed miserably. It failed because a few near sighted business owners failed to see the potential outcome and only saw that the government was charging them yet another tax. That negativity spread and soon the other businesses climbed on board and voted it down. Perhaps it was because the municipality fronted the idea and was too closely associated with the project. People at that time were just recovering from an administration that was corrupt and mismanaged and they were still gun-shy for things from government officials. Almost 10 years have gone by and maybe now it may be accepted better.
The bottom line is that no one thing will make the difference. It has to be a total policy toward urban revitalization which affects not just economic development and lifestyle change, but a way to improve the living standards of the residents. Norristown can build all the pretty buildings they want but with no one there who has the knowledge and will to maintain them and help the people who live in them, they will decay like the falling leaves of summer.