Several centuries ago, humans graduated from cave dwellings and being wanderers, to forming cities and practicing specialization of labor. But things occurred that resulted in the demise and abandonment of those cities and, indeed, entire civilizations disappeared.
More recently, in the last 250 years in Pennsylvania, approximately 100 cities were founded, grew and flourished -- and ultimately disappeared. They had centrally located general stores, post offices, dance halls, places of worship and factories, not to mention bars and pool halls.
By the way, can any of you remember living in the city and walking to work? These towns were created because of society's demand for coal, steel, lumber, leather goods and so on. When the supporting natural assets were depleted, jobs disappeared and so did the town's residents. This included the owners of the general stores, postmasters, school teachers, ministers, and also the many other support employment positions.
Now you might ask yourself, just how does all of this relate to the proposed "facelift" of York City's Continental Square?
Well, similar economic forces have exacted a toll on our center city and its asset, ie. central location, former retail and service concentration.
For several decades, society has demanded greater ease of access and greater variety of choices, which translated into greater and larger space needs.
First came the York County Shopping Center, a strip mall. Shortly thereafter we were given enclosed, temperature-controlled malls that were strategically located to the north, south, east and west of the city. Sears, The BonTon and almost all of the retail operations either moved or went out of business. We would be remiss if we didn't recognize that this phenomena is not unique to York, but beset communities throughout the state and the U. S.
While the automobile and our improved road system helped fuel the economic boom of the suburbs, it was a double whammy for city residents, who now have no place to park due to the proliferation of auto ownership.
I believe our center city will not become vibrant, bustling and alive until we fill the untold number of vacant or underutilized properties in the first, second and third blocks north, south, east, and west of York City's center.
And I believe that paying to park a car or having to drive around and around searching for a treasured parking spot is a deterrent to even venturing downtown. I further believe that going in search of the proper change in order to feed a meter, only to find that in five minutes or so you have a significant ticket on your car creates ill will and a determination to avoid the city at all costs.
Now having filled you with gloom and doom, let me offer some uplifting observations. The most recent census tells us that cities are now gaining in population. Retailers have recognized this and are strategizing to benefit from this trend. They recognize the space limitation of center cities but are studying the neighborhoods and accommodating the neighborhood's buying habits by stocking preferred items rather than the large variety of choices available in the suburbs.
Yes, perhaps there is light at the end of the tunnel.
First: Solve the severe parking problem.
Second: Fill those vacant spaces with viable, economic uses.
Third: Then address the appearance or functionality of the square.
-- Don Hake is a York City resident and business man.