Let’s keep the ‘here here’

by John Derr
Posted 4/1/21

In a 1937 book titled "Everyone's Autobiography," Gertrude Stein wrote, "there is no there there," lamenting that her childhood home had been torn down and replaced with an office building.

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Let’s keep the ‘here here’

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In a 1937 book titled "Everyone's Autobiography," Gertrude Stein wrote, "there is no there there," lamenting that her childhood home had been torn down and replaced with an office building.

This type of feeling is often shared by those who revisit a hometown or a vacation spot and find it unfamiliar in some way. Whether it is a favorite diner that was razed to make room for a new CVS or the movie theatre that is now a Chipotle, Buffalo Wild Wings and SportsClips, the changes alter the "sense of place" long attached to the town.

Some areas create a strong "sense of place" in residents and visitors. And I don't think that happens by accident. Typically, the community has a long-term commitment passed through generations to preserve not just the physical characteristics of the area, such as architecture, green space, streetscapes, etc., but the cultural, artistic and humanitarian values of the community as well.

Chestnut Hill is a community with a strong sense of place. The architecture, the Belgium-block Avenue, and the tree-lined, pristine streetscapes make it a memorable destination for shoppers, diners and other visitors. People who live in Chestnut Hill are typically proud of that distinction. Institutions like the Woodmere Art Museum, Morris Arboretum, Chestnut Hill Hospital, the Conservancy, the Business Association, the CHCA, Friends of the Wissahickon, Chestnut Hill College and the Chestnut Hill Local, to name just a few, all work together with the community to create that strong sense of place so many attach to Chestnut Hill. To paraphrase Gertrude Stein, there is still a lot of here here.

Two separate articles in the Chestnut Hill Local last week reported what I feel are potential challenges to the Chestnut Hill "sense of place." I agree with Maureen Pie’-Bruno, the neighbor opposing the proposed apartment building on the site of the former Sunoco station, who said, "[The proposal] is changing the character of the neighborhood more so than any of the other infill projects we've seen around the neighborhood lately, and, as the very top of the Northwest corridor, that's changing the Northwest in a lot of ways. It's changing how it feels."

Because a developer has already purchased the property, it will remain to be seen what compromise can be reached between all parties.

St. Michael's Hall is another issue. As Woodmere Art Museum mobilizes to raise funds to purchase the historic home from the Sisters of St. Joseph, they should receive the full support of those in a position to help them raise the money needed. The sale of the four-acre property to the Woodmere Art Museum will provide the revered Chestnut Hill institution with the expansion it needs and preserve the land and the 168-year-old home from future development.

In Chestnut Hill and in the many other historic communities in our area the effect a development may have on "sense of place" must be considered, and decision-makers must be sure to preserve the “here here.”

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