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Spence Perry: We must not scare away hope

January 09, 2013|By SPENCE PERRY

The legislative machine in Washington crept back into motion early this month, and there were indications amidst the screeching and growling that it might be good to go long enough to get the country out of its self-inflicted economic ditch.

The holiday shopping season was modest, but it was more energetic this year than it has been for almost half a decade.

The local sense of family and community seems rejuvenated, and the “good will to all men” part of the carol seems more credible.

Hope, something of a stranger here, has come out in search of the pale winter sun. A little timid and wary because of recent experience, it nonetheless has made its presence felt.

Our responsibility is to do nothing to scare away hope. We need it here for a while.

Here are some approaches we might take, things we might do to make the little guy feel more at home.

We need to broaden community teamwork beyond our local community. Can we think regionally? Instead of each community seeking to have the monopolistic best of everything, could we not use the old law of economic specialization, with each community contributing what it does best to achieve a more splendid regional whole?

If you look at the Tri-State area, we are past the era when each small city (or county) can have its own college, art museum, symphony orchestra, baseball franchise, flower show or fair. The resources of local jurisdictions are not and probably will never be extensive enough to allow each jurisdiction to pursue these activities on an individual basis. Together, however, with each community pursuing that for which it is best suited, we can, as a region, have just about the best of all worlds.

We need not be coy about moving forward; economic selection will soon make these choices for all of us. This is particularly true, given the very real threat to local government funding for such activities and the possible reduction of charitable tax deductions at the federal level.

A major help to keeping hope around would be a more open-approach government and major semi-public/private activities (hospitals, libraries, etc.) Secrecy is the assassin of enthusiasm. For community economic development or local cultural institutions to succeed, it is important for all of those potentially involved to be included from the get-go.

Perhaps the local love of secrecy is a product of the area’s early 19th- and 20th-century industrial past, where top-down management was the expected norm. In this era, when the elite prescribed and the masses did as told, it was probably not wise to telegraph the leadership’s future plans. Now, it is fatal not to spread the word as soon as plan formulation begins.

Finally, in the early new year, there is beginning to be a feeling once again that, over time, with charity toward one another and a sense of quiet courage, we can work out our fate as a community and as a nation. This optimism, a usual background to American life, has been gravely wounded by the last decade’s experience. We welcome back optimism, but we must not presume upon it for too much too soon.

We must continue our practical and very necessary work of survival. We must keep in front of us the probable reality that anything we lose, any institution or tradition of importance that vanishes from our midst will be difficult, if not impossible, to recover. If the colleges, museums, symphonies, school systems and churches disappear, or are severely damaged, we will not be able to restore them easily, if at all.

We must remember that the peak years of small-town life as a source of influence or national culture as an economic generator were 1910-12. For small cities, the most successful period of growth was around 1925-30. Since then, the economic and cultural prospect for such places has been one of a slow decline. Our struggle for growth and improvement, and simply keeping what we have, is much against the current.

All a columnist can usefully do is give readers a picture of reality that confirms much of what they already know.

Ralph McGill, publisher of the Atlanta Constitution, put it to a young hot dog of an intern reporter very well. “Good column, don’t like your ending” he said. “It’s time for people in rural Georgia to get the message.”

They get the message — every time a store or bank closes, or their children move to Atlanta or New York, or another farm is abandoned. We don’t need to be gratuitous about it.

McGill was right. I’m sure that most of you have seen what I have seen and have been just as thoughtful about what is before us as well.

Spence Perry, a resident of Fulton County, Pa., is active in Washington County affairs.

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