Blogs > Daily Local Dan

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

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.

Labels: , ,