Blogs > Daily Local Dan

A blog that takes a look at West Chester area government, politics, and community events.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

War Without End

The leaders of the Chester County Peace Movement and the Chester County Victory Movement told me last Saturday that, even though Obama has set what sort-of resembles a deadline for withdrawal of U.S. combat troops from Iraq, they have no intention of calling off their weekly demonstrations.

Karen Porter, the Peace Movement leader, told me her group will keep at it until world peace is achieved (which, she admitted, will probably never happen).

Rich Davis, the Victory Movement leader, told me his group won't quit until the Peace Movement calls it quits. He said he believes that the Peace Movement demonstrations demoralize the troops and military family members who drive through West Chester on Saturday mornings. He said the Victory Movement needed to stay around to repair the emotional damage the Peace Movement was causing.

Davis also characterized the competing demonstrations as a "war." He said that, if the Peace Movement agreed to demonstrate only once a quarter, he'd call off his weekly demonstration.

"Let's give this sidewalk back to the people on Saturday," Davis said. "I call what [the Peace Movement] is doing an occupation."

I actually think it would be a shame if the demonstrations stopped. They prove that West Chester is a legitimate, American town -- a town not affected by the modern, suburban malaise that makes people afraid to participate loudly in their democracy. Additionally, the demonstrations prove that West Chester's streetscape is conducive to democratic expression. Imagine similar demonstrations happening in Downingtown, Paoli or Exton. Wouldn't work.

Now, this doesn't mean I think the demonstrations are particularly effective. They are, in essence, politically-charged street theater. On one side, you've got people standing in circles, singing peace hymns to the accompaniment of an acoustic guitar. On the other side, you've got people yelling things like "honk if I'm paying your mortgage" and "Hussein Obama, worst president ever."

Then there are the costumes: Uncle Sam hats, face paint, biker gear, tie-dye, greasey locks, dredlocks, large effigies of the founding fathers, Che Guevara t-shirts, shirts depicting Obama as a terrorist, the words "jihad" and "revolution" painted on every available flag and article of clothing, etc.

None of this is likely to affect serious public debate. But at least the demonstrators realize that democracy requires more than just sitting at home, typing furiously on a blog.


Speaking of blogs, I discovered on Monday night that a Victory Movement blogger named Skye had been following me around on Saturday with a camera. Click here to check out some hot, paparazzi style photos of yours truly.

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Monday, March 16, 2009

Surprise! Westtown is a suburb.

I grew up in a suburb in eastern Delaware County. My public high school was a short walk from my front door, and it had well-lighted athletic fields. From my house on Friday nights in the fall, I could hear the announcers at the football games, and I could make out the sound of drums and marching brass. These were pleasant sounds. In my first year of high school, I joined the marching band and spent my Friday nights at that field, banging a very large bass drum while the brass section ran through a tired set of fight songs. I'm going to be honest: I hated being in the marching band. But I enjoyed the Friday night ritual. The halogen lights gave the fall air a special glow, and those games gave my classmates and I a unique chance to socialize with kids from all of our school's insular cliques. The combination of fall air, halogen light, steamy breath, talk with good friends, the excitement of being 14, 15, 16 - this is what it feels like to go to a Friday night football game.

So I was sympathetic with the scores of Bayard-Rustin students who came to a Westtown Township public hearing on March 4 to express their support for a zoning amendment that would allow stadium lighting at Bayard-Rustin's football field. Even the students who didn't play outdoor sports said they wanted to be able to go to Friday night football games on their home field. They were tired of having to attend their school's games on Saturday afternoon - a much less exciting time of the week. (This show of support, by the way, was orchestrated by the West Chester Area School District. The students wouldn't all have come on their own. A teachable moment.)

I was also sympathetic with the man on crutches - the brave member of a tiny opposition - who said he didn't want stadium lighting. The lighting, he said, would blot out the stars he was accustomed to seeing.

"My concern is that if this ordinance adds lighting to all of the schools in our township, there will be no more dark sky," said Russell Hatton, who said he lives a half mile from Rustin. "When people visit my home, they admire the fact that there is not a lot of light in this area."

Having your view of the night sky, which you took for granted, insidiously blotted out by artificial lighting? This sounded tragic. I'm not being sarcastic. I would be really upset if this happened to me (although I've never lived in a place that allowed me a good view of the stars).

I think the disconnect between those who support lighting and those who oppose it boils down to this: those who support lighting believe they live in the suburbs; those who oppose it believe they live in the country.

People who live in the country expect to be able to see all of the stars. People who live in the suburbs expect to be able to see some of the stars and also to be able to attend Friday night football games and enjoy other touchstones of the suburban experience. (People who live in cities -- good cities, at least -- willingly trade starry nights for a well-lit skyline and easy access to public transit, jobs, and culture.)

I'm willing to bet that many of those who oppose the lights ordinance believe that Westtown is, or should be, the country. I'm also willing to bet that they moved into Westtown's new, suburban-style houses years ago, believing that, finally, they had found serene living. They didn't bank on everyone else moving to those same, ever-multiplying suburban-style houses. Soon the Westtown countryside was blanketed with these houses. Then a new high school got plopped down on the farm next-door. But wait? Is this a cause for righteous anger? Or has an untenable dream finally ended? Westtown residents were never far from the comforts of urban and suburban life. As businesses left Philadelphia and came to Chester County's corporate parks, didn't the residents take jobs at these corporate parks? Didn't they thank God for this new convenience? Didn't they send their kids to the great public and private schools that had shown up in their backyards? Didn't they also thank God for this convenience?

If you want to see all of the stars, you have to live on a farm, in a cabin in the mountains, or in a third-world country that is not yet well-lit. You have to give up the conveniences of American urban and suburban life. This is the inevitable outcome of electric lighting, which I'm sure most of us don't want to give up. The dream being able to see all of the stars and to also be a 20 minute commute from your white collar job at the corporate park was too good to be true.

If you don't accept this, you can buy a plot at one of southern Chester County's recently subdivided farms. But if you do (and you probably shouldn't) the corporate parks and suburban schools, with their stadium lighting, won't be far behind.

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Tuesday, March 10, 2009

A borough-owned rec center for West Chester?

West Chester Borough commissioned a survey last year to see if residents would like the borough to open a recreation center. Borough officials were motivated to do this because the YMCA had announced plans to vacate it's Chestnut Street building, leaving the borough without a centrally located rec facility.

Although the YMCA recently announced plans to move some of its programs back to the Chestnut Street building, those programs will cater mainly to children. In light of this, some borough council members are still pondering the West Chester rec center question. I will have reported on this tomorrow.

The results from the rec center survey, which I glossed over in my article, are interesting and contain subtleties that I just couldn't find room for. To read a good summary of the survey results, click on the link at the end of this post.

For those not willing to commit themselves to pouring through pie charts, here are a few things about the survey that really struck me:

1) Of the respondents, 92 percent were white, 60 percent were women, 66 percent were over 45 years old, 64 percent came from households of two or fewer people, and 48 percent had household incomes greater than $75,000. Of the 1500 households the survey was sent to, only 304 responses came in (which was 4 responses more than the consultant's target of 300). Keep in mind that the demographic profile of survey respondents does not quite match West Chester Borough's demographic profile. The borough contains far more non-white and low income people than are represented in the survey results.

2) Quote from the survey: "A high percentage (57%) of respondents indicated that existing [recreation] facilities only meet some of their needs. This is a high response rate as most surveys are in the 40% range for this question. This indicates a lower level of satisfaction with existing facilities."

3) Quote from the survey: "Respondents are not willing to support a property tax increase. This was a strong negative response compared to other surveys but considering the economic times it is surprising that it was not higher. It is important to remember that the project will not be going before the voters anytime soon so the economic situation could (and should) improve in the future."

The survey's conclusion:

"The overall response to the concept of developing a community recreation center is fair. Respondents indicate that they would use a new center and be willing to pay user fees for a center that contained the amenities they prefer. The facility will have to be close to self sufficient operationally and passing a tax initiative to fund the project will be difficult. Considering the really poor economic times that were in place at the time that the survey was administered it is not surprising that there was a negative response to tax funding.

"Looking at the overall tone of the survey, continuing with the feasibility study for a possible future community recreation center in West Chester Borough is reasonable but with the realization that there will be funding challenges and the community will probably not be willing to consider tax funding until the current economic conditions improve."

To read the whole survey, click on the link below.


Thursday, March 5, 2009

A West Goshen woman turns 107 today

I really appreciate when someone I'm interviewing tells me exactly what's on his or her mind.

Yesterday, while I was interviewing Harriet Hartranft, who turns 107 today, Larry, our photo editor, came by to take a picture.

When Harriet saw him, she turned to me and said, "I don't know why they're bothering with pictures. I'm just about gone. My ears, my feet, my head, well, it's hard to keep them all together."

During our interview, Harriet didn't hear a single word I said. The article still came out OK. In fact, I'm happy with how it turned out. Read it here.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

A word of explanation on the Cooke article

Many readers took issue with the article I wrote yesterday about the death of Jimmy Cooke, a Bayard-Rustin 12th grader.

While we don't report on deaths like this if they happen in a private space, we have to report on them if they take place in public and threaten members of the general public.

I am deeply sorry for the loss Cooke's family and the Rustin community have experienced. Often, when you're writing an article like this, it's necessary to pretend the people you're writing about are no more real than characters in a book. Thinking this way protects you. But my protection failed yesterday after I got off of the phone with Caroline Adams, Cooke's girlfriend.