Monday, September 21, 2009

The 2 faces of Chester

They are the two faces of Chester.

On Saturday, thousands streamed into the city and enjoyed a picture-perfect day along the city’s waterfront as part of the county’s annual Riverfront Ramble.

Less than 24 hours later, another group of city residents are enjoying a late summer game of hoops on a playground at Eighth and Caldwell streets. A car rolls by. Gunfire erupts. When it is over, a 19-year-old is dead. At least three others are wounded.

In these situations I usually defer to Mayor Wendell Butler. I once heard him offer what I thought was the best explanation of the challenge Chester faces as it struggles to overcome an image of a place that is unsafe and should be avoided.

Butler said people need to know that they can come into the city, do whatever it is they need to do, and return home safely.

That certainly was the case on Saturday. It is perhaps the city’s biggest secret. From Harrah’s Chester Casino & Racetrack near the Eddystone border, up and down Route 291, under the Commodore Barry Bridge and to the Wharf at Rivertown, the city is seeing the beginnings of a renaissance.

Under the Barry, the unmistakable vision of a stadium is beginning to reach for the sky. It will be the home of the region’s new Major League Soccer franchise, the Philadelphia Union. Chester, once a might industrial icon, once again will be a major league town.

But it’s not enough for visitors to enter the city, take advantage of its gorgeous natural resources as thousands did on Saturday at the Ramble, and return home safely.

Those who live in Chester must be free of the burden of street violence as well. Parents must know that their kids can visit a local playground to shoot some hoops and return home safely.

That did not happen Sunday night. There were about 100 people on that playground when gunshots rang out.

The rebirth of Chester is doomed to failure if it does not include those who live there.

That is the city’s challenge. Saturday’s Riverfront Ramble should go a long way to proving the city is not as it is so often portrayed. Sunday night’s gunfire was a step in the wrong direction.

Especially for those most affected, the residents who call Chester home.
They’re the ones in the line of fire.

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