I am neither a historian nor a futurist. I am definitely not a pessimist but a cautious optimist.
My caution notwithstanding, as Scranton is about to celebrate its 150th anniversary, I have a sense that the city might be on the threshold of a new chapter in its history.
Can Scranton cease to be the butt of jokes, the place to be from and not in, and transform itself into a lively place to be in, with palpable assets and the courage and wisdom to solve its problems?
I think that the transformation already is happening. I feel a new “yes-we-can” energy emerging — a will and some remarkable skills that give us the power to create Scranton’s tomorrow.
Our timing is painfully ironic because the hazards that confront our world today are daunting.
Scranton Tomorrow, an organization that has been lighting the way for us through the years with such delights as First Night, First Fridays, outdoor movies and music on the square, is working hard to bring the city’s history to the fore. And it is an iconic American story — its meteoric rise as an industrial city, the capital of the anthracite coal industry — followed by years on a slippery slope, sometimes part of a national event, e.g., the Great Depression of 1929 — and sometimes more specific to our region.
There was enough community spirit on the part of government, the Greater Scranton Chamber of Commerce and good citizens to attempt to piece together a viable economy, but still hovering was a mood of resignation.
How have we come from just holding on to seeing our way into the future? We can point to an appreciation of our assets and a public will that is manifest in the enthusiastic and informed collaboration that has been formed to take on the job of creating Scranton’s tomorrow.
How and why did we turn the corner? Was it just time to recognize our assets? Was it pride in the success of our new medical college? Was it the insights of a highly skilled financial consultant?
Probably all the above.
The Democracy Collaborative, an organization committed to making communities economically healthy and just, has defined a new approach to development. According to its recently published report, “Cities Building Community Wealth,” “Building community wealth is an umbrella term for economic development activity aimed at inclusive prosperity. A key focus is community, which connotes both a geographic place and a sense of connectedness. It signifies something profoundly different from an economy indifferent to people and place.”
The Collaborative found that traditional economic development tends to involve two players, the city and the business community, in an arrangement where the city has been the subordinate partner. The new approach is a combined collaborative force that brings to the table anchor institutions, citizen groups, philanthropy, nonprofits and locally owned business.
Sound familiar? It’s happening here. Whether it came about organically, inspired by visionaries among us who established TCMC when it seemed to be an impossible dream, or the focus on our history, or the engagement of a skilled financial consultant, we have joined together in an unprecedented collaboration.
We are seeing and even feeling the change in attitude that is leading us out of a kind of darkness. It gives us the confidence to effect change — which leads us to an understanding that we and only we — working together across disciplines and institutions — can fix what is broken. And that leads us to assuming responsibility for our future — taking charge of our destiny. And that’s where we need to be.
We know better now what our strengths are and we are learning how to fix what is broken. Let our intellect and imagination and our commitment to collaboration and inclusiveness be our guide. We need each other in this large “disruptive” endeavor if we are to restore our city and its environs to a place to be.
We are beginning to define and assess the job, and that brings with it an optimism that is as important as any part of the planning process. We have city government, Scranton Tomorrow, the Greater Scranton Chamber of Commerce, the “eds and meds,” the strong social service organizations, the courageous entrepreneurs and the many citizens who have come to know that our destiny is in our own hands.
Together we are creating a vision of Scranton’s tomorrow and pledging to turn that vision into a reality.
Scranton Times-Tribune, Perspectives
December 27, 2015