Swarthmore currently is not quite yet Norma Desmond (Sunset Boullevard) but, like many small towns in Delaware County, Pa, Swarthmore is certainly living off past glories and not sure about how to retain, or regain, it’s previous luster. Currently, a go to place for young families who have Ivy Leagueish intentions for their children, starting them with arts activities at the toddler stage at Swarthmore’s Creative Living Room, etc. and then one to one of the better school districts in the state, if not the country. Once the children have gradded from Penn or Stanford, or the holy grail itself, Swarthmore College, there is very little incentive to stay and pay these extremely high RE taxes. There is also a miniscule business tax base, one that had depended on stores that, in previous years, could at least break even, even if very avant or off gard, by the very fact of being located in Swarthmore. As the former scions have moved out or off this mortal coil, businesses in Swarthmore now actually have to provide some kind of necessary service, generally, to continue to make money. Into this economic maelstrom, we now have the spectre of the Swarthmore College Inn, about whose uselessness I’ve previously fulminated and have no intention of taking up one’s time and space in this column. However, it’s never enough to just be agin’ somethin’. Rather I’d like to present some alternative visions.
This first vision comes from a place I wandered into in a small town in Kentucky ways. This was a place which was free during certain hours of operation with desks and computer terminals. One had to pay for sodas and other refreshments. During non school hours, say four to six and seven to nine, it was strictly children of certain ages, with volunteer adults staffing the place. The idea was to have the children be a bit more social than they would be if they were at home, or at a Library, swimming in their computers. There were probably other components to this, but there mostly seemed to be a community center aspect to this.Whether there was a religious component to this, I don’t know, but I prefer to believe they were secular humanists.
What I would add to this is an alternate time senior aspect, where seniors could come and be at their computers. This might require less in terms of volunteers, thought at least one of them should have some computer tech knowledge. Again the idea of people at least having the opportunity to talk to each other, in between bouts of computeria, is what is most attractive here, a certain sense of community
Possibly we could be ahead of a curve for once, rather than running frantically to catch up. Adolescents of whatever age generally require something or someone to rebel against. Could the next big rebellion be the anti-Internet rebellion? Could people, either from a social or a financial need, either to reconnect with friends and lovers and others, or turn off the connections, either from fear of being recorded or just a need to speak freely, want to actually meet and conversate?
My first vision is a Discussion center where you pay for time at a table or couch or whatever but the coffee and conversation is free. Possibly some of the local businesses could donate donuts and other pastries as an inducement for people to stop in. The idea of a Patriot Act free discussion center where anyone could speak any heresies, left or right or over the top, without worrying about being recorded or a visit from your friendly ATF, FBI, or other government acronymn seems highly desirable just about now.
My third idea is old school/new school.
I was thinking of The Swarthmore Boutique Theatre. This would be somewhere between the Jerry Lewis Cinema idea (200 to 300 capacity but only family Friendly fare), Philly’s old
Felton Theatre, which showed German movies on one night, etc. during the
mid-1950’s and various places I’ve heard about in NYC and LA, etc.
THE SBT, under my management, would have an eclectic mix, possibly by nights, of silent films from various countries with a live organ and/or musical trio, etc., one night of British Films, one night of Indian Films, one night of Australian/New Zealand Films, maybe a Bollywood night,
etc. It would need to be either a non-profit, with all the incumbent administration, the product of a milliionaire with money to lose, or, possibly, and here’s the radical idea,
a joint project between Swathmore Borough and the College, but
including cinema enthusiasts from the Borough or, really, anyone, who wants to participate.
My idea with this is not to make money but to create a loss leader that would bring people into the Borough.
Possibly we could have cinema themed
coffeshops and restaurants. etc.
The College has a number of film experts
and we would hope they might participate
but not to the exclusion of others.
Would any of the above ideas be guaranteed to revitalize the Borough.
No, there are no guarantees but my hope is that we could have the communities woeking together on one project that might meet with some success.