I wrote this column for Main Line Media News in 2009 under editor Tom Murray, who would also become the editor of The Daily Local News until his untimely death. He was an amazing guy, and he encouraged community voices participating in local news.
But this is an issue we are continuing to deal with all over, and it is especially felt in Chester County with all the wanton and unnecessary development.
The photo in this post I took September 4 and it is the literally rotting historic farmhouse on the Clews and Strawbridge property in Malvern/Frazer East Whiteland Township. It is clearly demolition by neglect, and there’s nothing seemingly that can be done to ensure that the property is at least preserved pending redevelopment of that property. A developer recently had wanted to come in and build an apartment tower there and thankfully was turned down because it required a zoning change. I will note that in West Whiteland cerebral historic properties, like this have been preserved in the midst of commercial development. But a property owner has to want to do that.
Whether it is for historic preservation, land, preservation, community, preservation, or just sanity of the residents preservation. This is why we need to push elected officials in Harrisburg to enact an act of the state constitution and update the Municipalities Planning Code. truly, I do not know why this is not a state wide initiative.
Have a great day and thanks for stopping by.
The small neighborhood: A place worth preserving
The small neighborhood is like no other. As a resident – young, old, or in between – it gives you a truly authentic sense of community. This sense of community is something you can’t bottle, beg, steal, or sell. It exists as an integral element in the fabric of smaller neighborhoods.
As a young child in the 1960s, my parents made our first family home in the Society Hill section of Philadelphia. In Society Hill, I not only discovered my love for historic preservation, but my love for small neighborhoods and communities with particular individuality.
Small neighborhoods are just so very real. When you grow up in a small neighborhood, you develop a life-long affection for neighborhoods of a similar pattern that provide their residents with that singular sense of place: you know your neighbors, and they know you. Even children can appreciate this uniqueness, and as a child, I most certainly did.
As an adult, I have found that I seek neighborhoods like those I experienced as a child. This is why I chose my current neighborhood in Haverford. It had all the elements I loved: walkability, community, and interesting and quirky old houses. No, the houses aren’t the majestically elegant 18th century townhouses of Society Hill, but they are special nonetheless.
When I first heard of impending development in my neighborhood, I felt so very bleak. I knew that a change was coming that would irrevocably alter the face, fabric, and landscape of my neighborhood. And it has already changed our neighborhood even though nothing has been demolished yet. Just the very thought of the hum of multiple air conditioning units on a flat roof when all we are used to hearing is birds, the laughter of small children, and the oddly comforting, yet familiar noises of the train is depressing.
Development in moderation is something I can stomach. What I see happening everywhere today, I cannot. I see the past of this region being sacrificed daily at the altar of new construction. And every developer is the same: they see their projects as their Pygmalians; testaments to their individual legacies. I suppose that is only natural, as they pour their hearts and souls into their projects, just as we pour our hearts and souls into our neighborhoods. It is just a shame that they can’t see their projects as we see them: alien invasions.
We are facing such a development on North Buck Lane. The development is unfortunately a by-right development, so it will be built. I have been to multiple meetings on this development, and I have come full circle to my original starting point: this project is simply wrong for such a small neighborhood. It’s too big.
This project is like an adult woman trying to squeeze into a little girl’s dress. The ultimate shame of this situation is that up and down the Main Line, there are many projects like this playing out. And I have to ask, are these projects about enhancing neighborhoods or are they just about profit?
Local governments from townships all along the Main Line and beyond say they feel for the complex plights of the smaller, older neighborhoods. And all of us in the small neighborhoods along the R-5 and Lancaster Avenue corridor are under siege. But how can all these local governments say they feel badly for small neighborhoods when they don’t take enough steps to preserve them? When you live in a small neighborhood, you know density is a given. However, isn’t there a big difference between reasonable density and being sandwiched in like sardines in a tin can?
The small neighborhoods of the Main Line and beyond need and deserve protection. The architecture that makes each neighborhood in each community unique disappears daily and is replaced by what can only be described as super-sized and homogeneous.
Isn’t it also curious that no matter what local township is involved, it seems like zoning variances for new development and demolition permits for our older and historic homes can appear to be approved in a seemingly short duration of time? Oddly enough, it feels like the process average citizens must take to achieve historic preservation and changes to zoning codes that can protect neighborhoods takes much longer and is more complicated. Where is the balance? We need balance.
I mourn the sense of community that is lost brick by brick as older homes are demolished for McMansions and developments. I believe that we are overdeveloped all along the Main Line.
I truly long for the simpler times of my childhood when older homes were cool and historic preservation was the name of the game. I long for the times when small neighborhoods like mine were just allowed to be, and mourn the sense of place called home that is being lost a bit more with every day that passes, and every old and historic home that is razed.