It has been a great couple of days for Lehigh Valley culture! The Farmers Market has been open, pork and sauerkraut has been braised, families ate together, and the people of Allentown celebrated the start of another 250 years as a city. Showing the diversity of the town, last night, I ended up celebrating at four different locales--a house party, a formal black tie affair downtown, the Allentown Street Party, and an informal get-together at a friends house. To protect the innocent, I'm not going to mention happening at private parties, but, that's more than equaled out by the fantastic show the City of Allentown put on downtown.
But, before diving in, I want to talk about optimism. The city had reason to be proud last night for the great turnout at the street party. This, however, wasn't reflected in the comments many people made on the morning calls website, such as this one:
No murders, stabbings or shootings yet?
This sure is not the same All-America City I remember as a child on the 200th Anniversary. There was a sense of pride and accomplishment in 1962. That is missing today.
When we encounter someone like this, I think it is appropriate to ask them to be introspective for a moment--to consider if they are the one who actually lacks a sense of pride and accomplishment in their city. When was the last time the person who wrote this actually went downtown and saw the gorgeous post-modern architecture of the new PPL building next to the art deco gem of the old?
Or, when did the commenter drive around Turner street to admire the architectural detailing on many of the fine brick homes. Has this person ever seriously considered a different, more urban way of life and the benefits that urban living can have? I don't mean to be flippant, but what Allentown really needs is people to believe in the idea of the downtown . And that means optimism. Optimism about the build environment, optimism about different peoples, and optimism in ourselves. This spirit of the community is neither a conservative nor a liberal value--it should not be political. Great advancement could come to the downtown with ideas from either side of the aisle so long as we care enough to try to communicate those political visions within the city!
A great example of this were the occupy Allentown protestors who were at the street party last night protesting against the new arena. I don't necessarily agree with all the aims of this organization, but, it is important that they were out there expressing their voice and creating dialogue about what the downtown should be like instead of pretending like it is some giant black hole.
Something else I don't think negative commentators understand is that the downtown is not a human wasteland either. There are plenty of people who care about what is happening there and who came out in the cold with their families to celebrate as a community--to recognize that urban space has been important in the Lehigh Valley for over 250 years.
This brings me to my final points which are replies to concerns raised time and again by naysayers: crime and parking. Both of these issues are incredibly complex to discuss in the abstract, but on the ground, they were not issues whatsoever. Last night there were absolutely no problems at the street party. I am aware someone was superficially wounded elsewhere in the city by a stray bullet but the police presence in the street was strong and the crowd was in incredibly good spirits.
Parking and traffic were similarly non issues. Arriving at 11:00PM, there was still parking within 100 yards of Hamilton Boulevard. Closer than what is typical at the mall. Traffic ingress and egress was not a problem either.
This all goes to show one simple idea that bares repeating time and again--it is easy to cast stones in the abstract--to postulate about all these horrible problems. But what you really need to do is get downtown and experience what it offers. If you have issues after that point, there should be a dialogue about them and a fix if possible. But, lets not just hate for the sake of hate. What type of philosophy is that? Why would a community want to make that its banner!
Happy 2012! Looking forward to another great year in the Lehigh Valley.