Monday, December 22, 2014

I Wish I'd Written This

When will we get that our communities are about bricks, mortar and people?

I Wish I'd Written This

kids research school projects on computers and get homework help from library aides. It's also a refuge for some seniors who live nearby.
kids research school projects on computers and get homework help from library aides. It's also a refuge for some seniors who live nearby. At the Point Breeze library, on Federal Street near 23rd,

My column today about the importance of saving our city's libraries evoked passionate response from readers about what makes a place a real community.

I want to give a special shout-out to neighborhood and schools activist Helen Gym, who forwarded to me a truly beautiful piece of writing by activist Debbie Wei, who is working feverishly to keep casinos from opening at the Gallery - a move that would critically impact the life of Chinatown and its residents.

Wei's essay has nothing to do with libraries, but everything to do with community. So her words speak eloquently to my column's point that closing eleven libraries will be the equivalent of stilling the heart of the communities they serve.

Read Wei's words for yourself. She makes the point better than I ever could have.

A Question of Place
By Debbie Wei
Published Nov. 15, 2008
AsianWeek.com

"As Philadelphia’s Chinatown fights a proposed casino mere feet from its doorstep, I’ve been thinking a lot these days about why saving Chinatown means so much to me.

"Several years ago my youngest son, who studied kung fu and Beijing Opera in Chinatown, told me: “My favorite place to be is Chinatown. I know everyone there. I can walk around and hang out. The guy in the laundromat always gives me candy and everyone knows I’m a lion dancer and the old people all smile at me.”

"Chinatowns around the country represent an increasingly rare phenomenon. They are communities in the deepest sense: places not only defined by geography but also by memory and relationships. It is why my son would rather buy his candy in Chinatown even though he could get it cheaper at Walmart. When he buys his candy in Chinatown, he knows the clerks, he feels happy to see them and they are happy to see him.

"The responsibility that comes with relationships and knowing that there is something bigger than yourself is part of what makes a community live — it is part of what makes us fundamentally human. It isn’t just about a geographic area. It is about emotion, about connection to a place.

"Real communities like Chinatown support and sustain close relationships, and an understanding of each community member’s dependence on one another. Children growing up with a sense of connection to a place, who are part of a community, have a stronger sense of self. With roots. With commitment to the city in which their community sits.

"The myth of a narrow view of economic development in Philadelphia is that we no longer need to be connected to a place for it to develop economically. Tourists will supply the economic engine. And we no longer need small, local businesses. Our every need can be met by distant corporations, driven by technology and machines. Our contact with other people can be through electronic media. Who needs community any more?

"Another vision for economic development, however, seeks to have communities come together around common local experiences and our hopes for the future of our communities and cities.

"The 'economic development' plans that place stadiums, mega malls and casinos in residential communities reflect a type of thinking that doesn’t give a damn about people or the environment. If these fields of schemes don’t pan out economically, we can just build more, expand and move on to other people and other places.

"A different economic development model would recognize the value of permanent residential communities in Philadelphia and place concerns about the health and safety of people and places in equal regard to dollars — money which is speculative at best.

"Historically, in real communities, people knew each other. People had relationships. Therefore, people acted with the belief that the economic is not as important as the ethical and the social. Without communities, the ethical glue that has held us together through the millennia becomes undone.

"True progress has to do with the human heart and the relationships we build and sustain over time. Our future as a city is not about me and mine, not about rugged individualism, but about collective
responsibility. It’s about what is ours — all of ours.

"When you see us in the streets protesting, this is why we fight. By keeping intact our love for a place — for a community — we keep alive our hope for humanity and become a part of a much broader global movement with our need to prioritize the local, treasure our relationships and recommit to our collective responsibilities as a species.

"And if we allow Chinatown to die, with Chinatown will die the hopes, dreams, memories and connections of thousands of people to a city they no longer can claim as their own."

……….

Debbie Wei is a founder of Asian Americans United and the principal of the Folk Arts-Cultural Treasures Charter School. For more information on the Philadelphia Chinatown casino struggle, contact Asian Americans United at (215) 925-1538, or sign a petition and get more details.

Ronnie Polaneczky Daily News Columnist
About this blog

When my phone rings here at the Daily News, nine times out of ten the caller begins the conversation with, “Yeah, so what happened was…”.

Because this is Philly, the caller doesn’t say, “My name is Bob” – or Mary – “and I wonder if I could have a moment of your time?” Philadelphians are too direct for that. They just say, “Yeah, so what happened was…”, and then tumble into a tale they think oughta be shared with a wider audience. I love getting these calls (even the ones where it becomes clear, after 30 seconds, where the caller sowed the seeds of his own misery), because they give me chance to connect with fellow citizens in a way that no other job allows. Well, okay, no other job for which I’m remotely qualified.

That’s why my blog is titled “So What Happened Was…”. To me, it’s the quintessentially Philly way of saying, “Once upon a time.” When I hear it, I know a good story is coming. And I can’t wait to see how it turns out.

Ronnie Polaneczky has been an award-winning columnist for The Philadelphia Daily News since 1999, offering a front-steps perspective on every aspect of city life, from the sublime to the stupid. In her past life, she was the editor-in-chief of Atlantic City Magazine, associate editor at Philadelphia Magazine and a fulltime freelancer published in Ladies Home Journal, Good Housekeeping, Redbook, Reader's Digest, Men's Health, MarieClaire and others. She lives with her husband, daughter and various pets in the city's Fairmount section, where she dreams of one day singing The National Anthem at an Eagles game. In addition to her column and blog, you can enjoy Ronnie's musings in podcast form here.


Read more from Ronnie Polaneczky at Earth to Philly, the Daily News blog on anything and everything "Green Reach Ronnie at polaner@phillynews.com.

Ronnie Polaneczky Daily News Columnist
Also on Philly.com
Stay Connected