From Thursday, October 3, through Sunday, October 6, the Society for American City and Regional Planning History held its fifteenth biennial meeting in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. The event tracked many of the recent developments in urban planning, architecture, and economic development. Many of the new research trends hold special importance for southeastern Pennsylvania.
Professors Lynne Horiuchi, Mary Corbin Sies, and Angel David Nieves showcased multiple initiatives to preserve priceless sites of world history through digital archives. For Professor Horiuchi, the confrontation with the decisions to incarcerate hundreds of thousands of Japanese Americans during World War II provides one of the fundamental turning points in the function of the United States as a republic. Professor Sies’ work on the Lakeland community in Maryland shows how the debates about a community’s value and dignity persist through the late twentieth century and early twenty-first century. Professor Nieves has created a layered, virtual representation of the Soweto Township outside of Johannesburg, South Africa. Each project is available through the conference Facebook page (SACRPH 2013), and they all offer techniques to maintain and improve communities like Norristown.
Local historical societies need a supportive and engaged private sector to expand their archival activities in these ways. Regional stakeholders like the beer distributors, commercial realtors, and auto dealerships miss crucial growth opportunities by overlooking the power of historical work to reach new consumers. These investment partnerships could develop online shopping portals, intensify business-to-business contracting, and stimulate youth entrepreneurship in both high schools and colleges. Projects on Norristown’s historic Catholic families, the importance of local figures in the American Revolution, and the consolidation of the black middle class after 1950 are all major research efforts that could energize the local economy using existing historical resources.
Professors Jeffrey Lowe, Katherine McKittrick, Mia White, and Jacob Wagner presented a detailed format for affecting this kind of transformation in both the strategies and tactics of revitalization and planning. With a new municipal council and manager, Norristown is poised to become a regional economic leader in the next decade. Coordinating the newest ideas about private sector investment with determined political leadership will inspire the senior citizen and renter-oriented population into a critical mass of small business innovators. These transformations derive from the pioneering work of Clyde Woods who understood the urgency of revitalization through the lens of ‘blues planning.’ It is an idea grounded in the ability of individual citizens to articulate and design economic and architectural innovation.
The combination of historical engagement, private investment, patient leadership, and blues planning accelerates the growth of southeastern Pennsylvania (and many other major metropolitan areas worldwide). A virtual version of historical Norristown will educate the youth and inspire local professionals to realize the area’s potential. Interested people have an unparalleled opportunity to realize this vision over the coming year. In October 2014, the Urban History Association will meet in Philadelphia at the University of Pennsylvania. This meeting presents a clear goal line for movement towards accomplishments imagined by groups like the Economy League of Greater Philadelphia, Building One Pennsylvania, and the Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission.
Let’s get started.