First Suburb citizens plead for legislative help

By Shannon Keough Brittany Wright
October 9, 2008

Megan Pellegrino

Leaders from the older suburbs surrounding Philadelphia received positive feedback to their proposals from state and local political leaders and Gov. Ed Rendell at the Southeastern Pennsylvania (SEPA) First Suburbs Project.

On Sunday, Sept. 28, 500 representatives from towns like Norristown, Yeadon, Upper Darby and Lansdowne – all members of the First Suburbs Project, met to engage elected officials and residents on local issues. By holding a community organizing event, citizens were able to see where their tax dollars will go to stabilize and revitalize their communities.

Flooding, humidity and the Eagles game did not stop community members and leaders, along with students from Cabrini College and Ursinus College, from attending the event in the small, church in the center of Norristown to advocate the need for change in their communities.

“One of our goals is to educate the public about issues surrounding older developed suburbs. We received great feedback from people and organizations that attended. We also feel we secured some real commitments about the housing plan, infrastructure and public education. Anytime we can communicate with legislators is something we can be proud of,” Jonathan Schmidt, the lead organizer of the First Suburbs Project, later said in a phone interview.

Governor Ed Rendell touched on how the communities could flourish if only they continue the fight and not flight of the issues and focus on mass transit.

“I congratulate all of you for your civic engagement in an organization like this. Don’t be discouraged if your goals don’t go into fruition. The country has to change its ways of thinking about many things. Economic development can be driven by mass transportation. We have enough highways . focus on city rail systems because they are more environmentally sound. All of these things are tied together,” Rendell said.

“If we don’t try to get the future we want, then we’ll be forced to have the future we get,” Jacquelynn Puriefoy-Brinkley, Yeadon Borough Council, said.

A first suburb is defined as an older suburb that is financially unstable due to lack of funding from the state. Norristown is just one of them surrounding Cabrini.

“This year, we will not be taken for granted. This year we are organized. We are speaking to our representatives with a unified voice,” Brinkley said.

The meeting focused on the improvement of the communities in the areas of housing, educational and infrastructural needs.

“The American dream is bogus,” Bernard Vescovi, a new resident of Norristown who has lived all throughout the United States, said.

Citizen involvement is important because they are helping to fund the projects by paying high taxes. These citizens pay higher taxes because they live in an area where many people have moved away, leaving the tax burden on the current residents.

On the topic of housing, Nathaniel Goodson, Jr., of the Upper Darby Township Council, said, “Our town has become a vicious cycle and a transit society. As they [residents] leave, our tax base goes down and the population that remains is poor and unable to support our town. It [the town] loses attractiveness and competitiveness.”

Representatives agreed to take the advice of local elected officials to support the three issues discussed at the event. “The answer is yes, working together. Together we can rise and get what we need for our communities,” representative Josh Shapiro said.

“Middle-income families are the backbone of society,” Michael Gordon, council member of the Jenkintown Borough, said on the issue of education finance reform. “All communities do not have equal abilities to raise money for schools. Increase state funds and distribute funds better than in the past.”

Norristown is an older town and therefore faces many problems, including lack of sewage, sanitary water and quality roads. “Infrastructure is an invisible threat; it could become a chord struggling our other goals,” Golden said.

Norristown and other first suburbs are actively working together to protect the middle class in this economic crisis.

Mayor Jayne Young of the Lansdowne Borough said, “We are not accidents of geography and we choose to live in these counties. The economic crisis is of Main Street, not Wall Street. Residents flee to higher ground. We are the middle class, the most racially and economically diverse. . We are just as valuable as Wall Street.”

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Shannon Keough Brittany Wright

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